Pierre Gasly, Toleman TG183B, Silverstone, 2024

“So emotional – very, very special”: Gasly drives Senna’s first Formula 1 car

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The car Ayrton Senna made his Formula 1 debut in 40 years ago fired back into life at Silverstone earlier this month with Pierre Gasly at the wheel.

Gasly is a lifelong fan of the Brazilian three-times champion, who died at Imola 30 years ago. The 28-year-old Alpine racer wore Senna’s helmet design as a tribute the first time he raced at the track in F1 in 2020 and will do the same this weekend.

He also wore the helmet when he took the Toleman-Hart TG183B around the home of the British Grand Prix recently. Senna drove the car at the beginning of the 1984 season. Toleman, which entered F1 three years before that, eventually became the team Gasly drives for today.

“I can’t remember such an incredible experience,” said Gasly. “Driving Senna’s first-ever F1 car exceeded all my expectations.

Pierre Gasly, Toleman TG183B, Silverstone, 2024
Gasly will wear Senna’s helmet again this weekend
“It was so emotional. I had never before been in a racing car older than me and the purity of the driving was incredible – just three pedals and a simple steering wheel, quite unlike what I’m used to in a modern F1 car. It was a once-in-a-lifetime episode that I will never forget. Very, very special.”

Senna and the TG183B

At just 540 kilograms, the TG183B weighed almost one-third less than Gasly’s usual A524. Designed by Rory Byrne, it sported an unusually tall front wing which housed its oil and water radiators and a double rear wing arrangement which was also novel for its time. Power came from a 1.5-litre turbo designed by Brian Hart, producing around 700bhp.

It was based on a car Toleman originally introduced for the final races of 1982. Derek Warwick gave the team its first points finish with the TG183B late in 1983, and the team continued with the car for the first four rounds of 1984.

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Senna retired eight laps into his debut on home ground at Jacarepagua with a loss of turbo boost. He’d already signalled his potential by qualifing over 1.7 seconds quicker than team mate Johnny Cecotto. He took his first point next time out at Kyalami with sixth place, despite damaging the TG183B’s nose when he struck debris.

Ayrton Senna, Toleman, Jacarepagua, 1984
Senna made his F1 debut in a Toleman TG183B
He repeated that result at Zolder, though only took the point several weeks after the Belgian round when Tyrrell were disqualified from the championship and Stefan Bellof lost sixth place. On his final weekend in the TG183B Senna registered the only ‘did not qualify’ of his career: He didn’t run on Friday as Toleman had fallen out with tyre supplier Pirelli and technical trouble confined him to the garage on Saturday, meaning he missed the cut by over two seconds.

However once Toleman introduced its new TG184 and ditched Pirelli for Michelin (a decision which caused the team great trouble 12 months later) it enjoyed its strongest ever season. This not only cemented Senna’s status as a star of the future but also sowed the seeds of his future legendary status.

At Monaco, the TG184’s second race, Senna starred in dreadful conditions, hauling his way through the field and taking seconds out of race leader Alain Prost’s advantage when the race was controversially abandoned. He added two more podium finishes before the season was over, at Brands Hatch and Estoril.

That proved the finest hour for the team created by Ted Toleman, who passed away earlier this year. Toleman was bought by the Benetton clothing company and later taken over by Renault, which now operates it under its Alpine sports car brand.

Pierre Gasly, Toleman TG183B, Silverstone, 2024
Pierre Gasly, Toleman TG183B, Silverstone, 2024
Ayrton Senna, Toleman, Jacarepagua, 1984
Ayrton Senna, Toleman TG183B, Jacarepagua, 1984

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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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8 comments on ““So emotional – very, very special”: Gasly drives Senna’s first Formula 1 car”

  1. Ayrton The Legend

  2. Three podiums in that car is insane. It’d be about the equivalent of scoring three podiums this season in a Sauber. Puts some perspective on what a talent the man was.

    1. Senna never raced for “podiums.”

    2. Not really. Back then half the field would retire in every race. The cars raced each other, there were collisions, crashes, engine and even tyre explosions. With a solid drive in a bad car, every once and again you would pull the long end of the stick.
      Today? Race finishing rate is almost 100% – no collisions, no exploding engines, barely any technical failures. A Sauber has no chance of ever getting onto a podium.

      1. FreddyVictor
        16th May 2024, 8:23

        Indeed – Stefan Johansson replaced Senna at the Monza race, qualified P17 and finished P4.

      2. I know reliability had a huge part in allowing podiums for bad cars up through the late ‘90s, but Senna’s two Toleman podiums were done on merit/pulling a car farther up the grid than it should have been while Johansson’s 4th result really was mostly down to basically 6 cars finishing which included the horrible Osella, ATS and Alfa teams:

        -Monaco was mostly due to Senna’s raw pace and rain equalizing or even giving him a small advantage in drivability w/a slightly less extreme turbo

        -Brands Hatch had 12 finishers with several much faster cars, including the Lotus and Brabham BMW behind him.

        -Estoril: 17 cars finished and while I had forgotten he was in the Lotus by that race, all the fastest cars finished. So, that was more like getting a podium in a car that should be a contender for positions 3-7.

      3. However, I agree, it’s NOT the equivalent at all of achieving 3 podiums in a Sauber this season. More like two in Aston’s current form and one in this season’s McLaren.

  3. Toleman -> Benetton -> Renault -> Lotus -> Renault -> Alpine

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