When Ayrton Senna arrived at McLaren in 1988 he was an outstanding young driver, but he wasn’t yet the complete champion he would become during his time with the team. At 28 years old he was starting his fifth season in Formula 1 with six wins under his belt; at McLaren he would convert all that promise into three World Drivers’ Championships.
The relationship got off to a sensational start: McLaren gave Ayrton one of the greatest Formula 1 cars of all time in 1988, the MP4/4, which he drove to a record-breaking eight wins in one season. It was enough to win him his first world title in his first year with the McLaren team.
But what Senna found at McLaren wasn’t just a competitive car – he found a team that shared his competitive ethos, his intensity about winning. ‘You commit yourself to such a level where there is no compromise,’ he once said of Formula 1. ‘You give everything you have, everything, absolutely everything.’
McLaren matched Senna’s uncompromising approach, demanding everything from every team member, squeezing every last drop of performance from the car. The result was a string of titles for both the driver and the team: in 1989, Senna finished second in the championship to team-mate Alain Prost, after which, bolstered by new team-mate Gerhard Berger, Ayrton won two more drivers’ titles in 1990 and 1991, placing him amongst motorsport’s all-time greats.
Ayrton remained at McLaren for two more seasons, where he continued to score memorable race wins. Highlights included a record sixth Monaco win in 1993; and what is often described as the greatest single lap in Formula 1 history, during the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington in the UK.
Senna bowed out of McLaren with a final victory at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, his 35th win in six years with the team. It was an emotional farewell: he was joined on the podium by Alain Prost – Ayrton took his hand and raised it high, a public reconciliation after years of fierce competition. Ayrton joined a rival team for the 1994 season, and just three races into the championship, on 1st May, he was tragically killed during the San Marino Grand Prix in Italy.
Today, Ayrton Senna is remembered as one of Formula 1’s greatest racing drivers. His three world championships, 41 race wins and 65 pole positions are testament to his uncompromising talent, to his single-minded focus in the pursuit of victory, and to his unmatched feel for and intuitive connection with his race cars.
Ayrton Senna’s time at McLaren helped define both the man and the team: six years that have become legend. His indomitable spirit has always been alive at McLaren, and the new Ultimate Series that bears his name will further amplify both his link with McLaren and his global legacy.