Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Hungaroring, 1992

Senna turned down contract to drive for Williams in 1992 ‘out of loyalty to Honda’

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Ayrton Senna was persuaded by Honda to turn down a contract to drive for Williams in 1992 shortly before the Japanese manufacturer pulled out of Formula 1, his former manager has revealed.

The world champion chose to remain at McLaren after being courted by Williams during 1991, when he won his third and final title.

According to his then-manager Julian Jakobi, Honda president Nobuhiko Kawamoto “persuaded him to stay and [that] Honda would remain committed”. However Honda cancelled its F1 engine programme at the end of 1992, when Senna lost the championship to Williams’ Nigel Mansell.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Jakobi revealed Senna had offers from both teams, and chose to remain at McLaren after speaking to Kawamoto.

“Ayrton wanted to go to Williams,” said Jakobi. “But he was loyal to Honda.

“His basic instinct was to go to Williams earlier. But he was loyal, particularly to Kawamoto who was the president of Honda. He was very close to him because Honda had basically brought themselves and Ayrton to McLaren in 1988 and they’d won three championships together.

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“I remember him telling me in 1990, even late ’91, when he won the third championship, that he didn’t feel instinctively that the Honda was what it [had been]. He was worried about the future.

Nigel Mansell, Williams, Hungaroring, 1992
Mansell won the 1992 title with Williams
“In ’91, I remember going. to Spa with two contracts for Ayrton, one for McLaren and one for Williams. And Ayrton knew, I think, that he should have gone to Williams.

“We had both the contracts ready to sign and we thought on Sunday morning that he was going to sign with Williams. But then he’d spoken to Kawamoto overnight in Japan. He came in on the Sunday morning and said ‘I’m going to stay another year’.”

Jakobi believes Mansell would not have stayed at Williams alongside Senna in 1992.

“He stayed in McLaren for ’92, but he could have already gone [to Williams] for ’92 and Nigel probably wouldn’t have been there. And that was the year he won the championship. But then when Ayrton backed out, Mansell stayed.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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10 comments on “Senna turned down contract to drive for Williams in 1992 ‘out of loyalty to Honda’”

  1. I think the guy clearly got his years mixed up, as he did throughout the podcast (great listen though).

    There was rumours of Senna going to williams in Aug of 90, for 91. So i suspect it was for then. Ferrari were trying to get Nigel to change his mind about retiring, Williams were talking to him to. Remember Alesi was in the mix about this time.

    I see no chance of it being for 92. Nigel had a pretty solid contract already in place.

    1. My thoughts exactly. Senna’s contract was up for renewal in the summer of 1990 and he was considering all options, including Williams. Around the Spa race McLaren announced what I believe was a 2-year extension, through to the end of 1992. It’s not uncommon even for people involved at the time to mix up the years, it’s been 30 years after all…

      1. exactly it is quite amusing that everyone is jumping on it.

        We remember those years numbers because we are fanatics. But those involved it is just their everyday life. I can’t remember exactly what year i did x,y,z at. And certainly not 30 years ago :)

    2. bren85q, whilst I do not think he is the only person to have made that claim, I do agree that there are aspects that sound more like the 1991 season instead of 1992.

      Williams were certainly talking to a lot of drivers before the 1991 season, courting Mansell, Senna and Alesi, amongst others, with Alesi himself indicating he feels that he was being used to try and give Williams more leverage in their talks with Mansell and Senna. Senna’s misgivings about Honda do also sound more like the comments that he was making about the RA121E in late 1990 when he tested it for the first time, albeit some of those did continue into 1991 as well.

      The idea of Senna showing such loyalty to Honda does also seem to be contradicted by the fact that, in July 1990, we know that Senna signed a pre-contract with Ferrari to race for them in 1991 and 1992 – loyalty to Honda wasn’t an issue then.

      If he was already negotiating with Ferrari over a potential contract and even signed a pre-contract for them, it would seem more natural for Senna to be negotiating over a potential contract for Williams that started in 1991 – and it would certainly fit in with the rumours that Senna was using the threat of signing for Williams to extract more money from Ron Dennis during his negotiations with McLaren in 1990.

      Given Senna’s original three year contract expired at the end of the 1990 season, having a pre-contract from Ferrari and an offer from Williams would be two major bargaining chips to play when negotiating with Ron Dennis. Williams might well have continued talks with Senna into 1991, but it would be quite plausible if it was in 1990 instead.

  2. Interesting. Never heard of that before. Another one of those “what if” us fans love to ponder.

  3. The guy with the union Jack, though.

    1. ‘Union’

  4. My recollection of Senna on his last year at McLaren is that he was sigining race-by-race contracts with Ron Dennis. The gossip was that he was earning around 1 million dollars per race, with McLaren. He was disgusted with the engine power deficit.

    1. That was ’93 when McLaren had to settle for an older Ford. Senna was trying his best to get the latest spec Ford, but Benneton had the contract.

  5. Ambrogio Isgro
    2nd May 2020, 2:32

    He wanted to go to Williams in 93, but Prost vetoed him

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