Ayrton Senna, who would have been 54 years old today, March 21, 2014, is generally regarded as the greatest Formula One driver to have ever lived.
It is difficult to narrow down Senna’s 162 Grands Prix to just five for this list, but we gave it our best shot:
5. 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix
One of the most physically demanding races for the Brazilian was the 1991 Brazilian GP. Senna led away from the pole but had his work cut out for him having to hold off Nigel Mansell in the championship-winning Williams FW14B. Pressure was relieved from Senna when Mansell retired late in the race. However, in the closing laps, Senna’s gearbox began to fail, forcing him to have to drive with the car stuck in sixth gear. Senna won by a mere 2.9 seconds and, due to the physical stress he had endured trying to fight with the car, had to be assisted out of the cockpit and up to the top step of the podium, where he was finally able to celebrate in front of his home fans.
4. 1988 Japanese Grand Prix
Ayrton Senna only made one major mistake during the 1988 Japanese GP, and it was a very costly mistake indeed: stalling on the grid. The McLaren driver fell from his second starting spot to 14th in the first corner. Senna began to pick off spots from the midfield cars early and was aided when rain crept across the circuit midway through the race. Senna’s talent shone through as he stayed out on slick tires, setting lap records on his way to running down and passing race leader and teammate Alain Prost, helped in part by a broken gearbox on the Frenchman’s car. Now with the lead, Senna continued to gap Prost, winning the race by 13 seconds and earning his first World Championship.
3. 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix
Everyone’s first F1 victory is special but, for Senna, it was a particularly defining moment as it further solidified what the 1984 Grand Prix of Monaco showed: Senna was an ace in the wet. The treacherous conditions made it a challenge for some of Formula One’s greatest to even finish the race, with Patrese, Prost, Berger, Rosberg and Mansell all spinning on the slippery surface. Senna, however, seemed unfazed, and finished more than a minute ahead of second-place finisher Michele Alboreto, and a lap ahead of anyone else.
2. 1993 European Grand Prix
Arguably, the opening lap of the 1993 GP at Donington Park was Ayrton Senna’s finest lap ever. Sitting fourth on the grid in his McLaren, Senna got stuck in traffic and headed into Turn 1 in fifth position, as cars began to spin off track behind him. By the end of Lap 1, he was leading.
Senna soon disposed of Michael Schumacher heading out of the first corner, before passing Karl Wendlinger on the outside just one corner later, putting him behind the Williams duo. By the time they reached the halfway point of the lap, Senna had caught Damon Hill and passed him through a right-left sweeper. However, he was now about 10 car lengths back of rival Alain Prost. Senna continued to press on, though, and ran the Frenchman down, passing him in the hairpin before the end of the first lap. Through changing wet and dry conditions, Senna and the McLaren team played their cards perfectly, earning him the victory by 83 seconds.
1. 1984 Monaco Grand Prix
Wet-weather races are notorious for rewarding drivers who have the skills, and not necessarily the car. The Toleman TG184 was only enough to earn its drivers the 13th and 18th starting spots, respectively, with Senna taking 13th. But, when the rains came on race day, Senna was given his chance to truly showcase his motor racing skills to the F1 crowd. Monaco is no easy track to pass on, yet during the opening 11 laps of the rain-soaked race on the Monte Carlo streets, Senna had been able to work his way up from 13th to third, falling in behind the McLarens of Alain Prost and Niki Lauda.
Senna soon disposed of Lauda, but was still 30 seconds back of Prost’s McLaren. He began to run the Frenchman down at a rate of four seconds a lap, while Prost began waving his hands across the starting line, signaling to the officials that he thought the race should be stopped. On Lap 32, with Senna just a few car lengths behind Prost, the red flag flew and Prost was credited with the victory. It was Senna’s first podium, yet he and everyone else knew that had the race continued for just a couple more laps, it could have been a different story.Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Formula 1, Nigel Mansell