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Why Ayrton Senna will always be considered one of the Formula One greats

Written by Matthew Brixton-Lee, Edited by Simran Kanthi

During his incredible ten-year career, Ayrton Senna achieved 41 wins, 80 podiums, and 65 pole positions. Along with that, he managed to secure three World Drivers' Championships against some very tough rivals such as Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. These achievements alone are marvellous and to this day Senna is seen as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time alongside the greats of Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton. But the big question still circulates. Why is Senna considered a legend despite having four fewer world championships than Schumacher and Hamilton? I will be taking a look at his extraordinary career that explains why Ayrton Senna is and will always be one of the greatest Formula One drivers.

Senna's debut in Formula One was in 1984 with the Toleman team. He managed to drag that year's backmarker car to incredible highs. The most notable and well-known example is the Monaco Grand Prix. Senna was in 13th position on the grid and as Monaco is notorious for its lack of overtaking, the master class that followed was all the more impressive. Senna passed car after car until he was up into an incredible and hardly believable 2nd place. He was on course to catch and pass Prost when the red flag was thrown and the race was halted and never restarted. Although it was his first podium, Senna believed that he was robbed of a win. However, he wouldn't have to wait long for his coveted first win.

At the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, in only his second race for his new team Lotus, Senna secured pole position by over four-tenths to Prost. Senna then went on to dominate the Grand Prix in wet conditions, lapping everyone up to the third place and winning by over a minute. He led every lap of the race for the first win of his career, meaning it was also one of the four Grand Slams that he would later on achieve. Senna would go on to win six races for the Lotus team before moving to McLaren in 1988.

1988 saw Senna partnered up with Frenchman Alain Prost at the dominant McLaren team. Senna delivered fine performances and an epic comeback drive in Japan to secure his first Drivers' Championship in his debut year with McLaren beating teammate and rival Prost by only three points. However, this battle would continue on into the following year. 1989 saw both McLaren drivers fiercely fighting to secure the championship. The championship was very famously decided in the penultimate race at Suzuka where Senna and Prost collided in spectacular fashion at the final chicane. Prost was out on the spot but Senna was able to continue and eventually went on to win the race. However, he was later disqualified for rejoining the track illegally. This gifted Prost the title for 1989 and saw the two fierce rivals' on-track battle become more spectacular.

For the 1990 season, Prost parted ways with McLaren and joined Ferrari. The season was another thriller with Prost fighting Senna in the newly rejuvenated Ferrari. The penultimate race at Suzuka was again where the championship was decided. A year after their first crash, Senna and Prost collided at turn one with both cars out on the spot. This made Senna the World Champion for the second time in his career. Senna was now a two-time world champion and in his prime. He dominated the 1991 season securing his third and final World Championship with McLaren.

The following years of Senna's career would really test his speed with McLaren dropping off in pace. However, Senna did not disappoint and still managed to finish runner-up in 1993 when his rival Alain Prost won his fourth championship in the dominant Williams. 1993 was also the year when Senna delivered a dominant performance at the soaking European Grand Prix at Donington Park. Senna jumped up from fifth to first on lap one and from there would go on to absolutely dominate the race.

At the end of the 1993 season, Senna left McLaren in favour of the all-dominant Williams team. His season started off with two pole positions. However, they came to two retirements and no points. The third round at San Marino was his last as Senna tragically died in the race. His death rocked the Formula One world and has caused drastic improvements to safety that still save drivers to this day. Ayrton Senna is a driver that every person who has ever watched him race can agree is right at the top of Formula One's Hall of Fame and will always be.

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1 Comment

Oct 17, 2022

A well put together piece Matthew - Monaco 84 Senna probably was hard done by, I recall it was Ickx who was the official waving the red flag and at the time the inference was that as a Porsche driver he had done Prost a huge favour, I find it hard to believe that, but beyond doubt Senna was awesome that day. Some other days however, like Suzuka 89, no way he was making the chicane after 130R, not in a million attempts, he challenges Prost to have the shunt and thankfully Prost turns in, won't be bullied and rightly the shunt is put at Senna's door. 1990 is a similar situation, Prost is enough clear to claim the line…

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