Undoubtedly, 1 May 1994 was one of the saddest days in the sport’s history. Ayrton Senna’s crash on the Imola circuit took away one of the greatest stars in Formula 1, bringing to tears million of his fans and not only in his home country Brazil. Talented and charismatic, the Sao Paulo-born racing driver has been at the peak of his career. Senna passed away before his time, but what he did on the race track forever turned him into a legend. And we look back to those brightest moments almost three decades after the death of Ayrton Senna.
Formula 1 debut
Ayrton Senna made a name for himself early in his career thanks to his successful performances in the Karting World Championship and Formula Three. So, in 1984, the time had come to drive on the top level. Some leading Formula 1 teams like McClaren, Williams, and Brabham wanted the Brazilian to race for them. Anyway, Senna chose to represent a relatively new brand Toleman.
Ayrton made his debut in front of the home ground in the 1984 Brazil Grand Prix. In Rio de Janeiro, luck was not on his side as he was forced to retire early in the race. The very next start was already a success for the young Brazilian, who took his first points in South Africa, finishing 6th. Senna repeated the position in the next Grand Prix in Belgium. His first podium and the top debut season performance came in the sixth race, where he finished second after Alain Prost. The Sao Paulo driver recorded two more podiums (3rd places in Great Britain and Portugal) to finish 9th in the overall standings in his first F1 campaign.
The first Grand Prix win
The following year Ayrton switched teams and joined Lotus-Renault. With a much better car, the Brazilian pilot started showing his capabilities. Once again, he didn’t start well on home soil in Rio, but the first F1 win came right after that. In Portugal, Senna deserved the pole position. He drove all the way to the top to achieve his debut Grand Prix win. The Sao Paulo aces showed that he is no longer a rookie but one of the leading racing drivers.
Anyway, Senna reached the top podium on just one occasion after that. His second and final win of the season came in the 13th round on the Belgium circuit. Ayrton added four more podiums (twice being the runner-up) until the end of the campaign to finish 4th in the overall standings.
The start of the phenomenal streak on the Monaco circuit
In 1986, Senna improved his results, adding two more Grand Prix victories and reaching the podium in 8 out of 16 competitions. However, the Lotus car limitations stopped him from being closer to the title race after getting on top early in the season. The Brazilian once again finished 4th in the overall standings.
Ayrton made another leap to glory the following year. Even with an inferior car to the Williams raced by his compatriot Nelson Piquet, who took his third world title this season, Senna became a real contender for the F1 crown. However, the Brazilian was stripped of his second place in the final race of 1987 in Australia. This way, he finished third in the overall standings behind both Williams drivers – Piquet and Nigel Mansell.
One of his two wins this season set the beginning of a fabulous streak. Senna once again shone at the Monaco Grand Prix, where he recorded his first-ever podium three years earlier. In 1987, the Sao Paulo ace secured his victory in the Principality, followed by 5 in a row from 1989 to 1993. The latter was one of the famous F1 records until 2021, when Lewis Hamilton leveled it with five straight wins at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The first title
Before the end of the 1987 season, Senna announced that he was leaving Lotus to join McLaren. It was the most brilliant move of his career. But what he found there was not just a teammate but the fiercest rival in pursuing the world title. Alain Prost, who had been twice world champion by then, approved the younger Brazilian recruit even if Ayrton turned out to be his top rival.
And it was a year to remember for Senna. He broke F1 records securing 8 wins in one season, beating the previous top achievements (7 by Jim Clark in 1963 and Prost himself in 1984). The new McLaren ace gained 13 pole positions in 1988, overshadowing those 9 of his compatriot Piquet in 1984.
But in the end, it turned out that the title went to Senna because of a weird peculiarity of the scoring system. In fact, Prost scored more points than his teammate, but back then, only the top 11 performances counted for the title. However, no one actually argued that Ayrton Senna was the deserved F1 champion.
A leader in every lap for three straight races
In 1989, Ayrton Senna achieved another fantastic feat. Once again, his home country did not bring him luck in the opening round. After that, the Brazilian recorded three straight wins in San Marino, Monaco, and Mexico. He started from the pole position in all those races and never gave up his place up front. Being a leader in every lap for three consecutive competitions was a fantastic achievement that stood until 2012 when Sebastian Vettel equaled it. Besides, he started every single race on the front row.
Anyway, this time, the title went to Alain Prost. Throughout the season, the tensions between both McLaren pilots increased significantly. The culmination came in the penultimate round when Prost and Senna collided and went out of the race, which favored the Frenchman. Prost took his third crown, but it was he who left after the end of the season, joining Ferrari.
Senna reaches back on the throne
In 1990, Senna was the undisputed McLaren top driver. And again, his primary foe was Alain Prost, no longer a teammate. After winning three of the first five races, the Brazilian took a commanding lead atop the overall standings. The Frenchman answered with three straight wins with his Ferrari.
However, before the penultimate round, Ayrton took one more victory than Prost (6 to 5). In Japan, the Brazilian secured his second world title, but how he did was somewhat controversial. Senna was 9 points ahead of his rival, and Ayrton Senna’s McLaren started from the pole position on the Suzuka circuit. Both contenders collided on the first corner and went off the track without a chance to get back on the track. This outcome brought Senna back on the throne, but Prost made bitter remarks after the accident.
Triple world champion
Beyond any doubt, 1991 was the best year of his career. Senna was dominant in Formula 1 from the start, winning the first four races. It was the first time Ayrton went triumphant in the home Grand Prix. Besides the Brazil race, the McLaren star finished on top in the USA, San Marino, and Mexico.
Ayrton barely faced competition since the Prost’s Ferrari was disappointing. Even with three midseason victories in a row, Nigel Mansell was too late to compensate for his early setbacks after returning to the Williams team. Senna won 7 races that year to defend his title. At 31, he became the youngest triple world champion.
Five wins in a row in Monte Carlo
After five straight years in the Top 3 of the drivers’ championship, 1992 brought a significant drawback to Senna. This season, Nigel Mansell and Williams were dominant in F1, winning the first five races. The Brazilian achieved only three Grand Prix victories and fell behind the other Williams driver Riccardo Patrese and the new star Michael Schumacher in the overall standings.
Anyway, Senna managed to prolong his streak on the Monaco circuit. Ayrton also won the 1993 race in Monte Carlo to set the record for most consecutive wins (five) at the same Grand Prix. His sixth and final triumph in the Principality was one of his five victories this season. The Brazilian only managed to become a runner-up in the drivers’ championship, falling behind his old rival Alain Prost who went out of retirement to win his 4th World championship before finally ending an enormously successful career in Formula 1.
The last win
In 1993, Ayrton Senna was able to turn around four races coming from behind to win. His only pole position that year was on the season finale in Adelaide. The title was already out of the question. Still, the Brazilian wanted to finish his career in McLaren with a victory. It was his sixth and final year with the team before moving to Williams.
Ayrton Senna’s McLaren provided a top-class performance showing the young bucks Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill that he is not ready to give up. What was more remarkable than the 41st Senna F1 win was the emotional end of the race and the season. Knowing that his most prominent foe, Alain Prost, was quitting for good this time, Senna openly welcomed the Frenchman on the top step of the podium, looking for a pacification after years of bitter rivalry.
The Imola tragedy
Leaving McLaren didn’t turn up to be a good decision for Senna. He was unhappy with his new car at Williams and was forced to retire the first two races after starting from the pole position. And then came the San Marino Grand Prix.
Once again, the Brazilian recorded the best time in the qualifying session to secure another front grid start. And it was to be his last. The tragedy struck Imola the day before the race when the Austrian debutant Roland Ratzenberger died after a heavy crash. 24 hours later, the world lost one of the most outstanding sportspersons.
The fatal crash happened on lap 7 at the high-speed Tamburello corner. The Senna car went out of the track and hit the concrete wall at a velocity exceeding 233 km/h. The impact had grave consequences, and neither the on-site emergency treatment nor the doctors at the Bologna hospital had a chance to save the driver’s life. Ayrton Senna’s death was confirmed officially at 18.40, 1 May 1994.
After the fatal impact, an Austrian flag was found folded in Senna’s car to make the tragedy even more heartbreaking. The Brazilian driver aimed to waive it after the race to honor Ratzenberger, who died the previous day. But tragically, Ayrton didn’t make it on his own.
All the world mourned the loss of the grand champion. He was already a legend by then. And it is always worth it to return to the most memorable Ayrton Senna moments.
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