On 11 April 1993, the ‘greatest lap in Formula One history’ was completed by Ayrton Senna on a rainswept racetrack in the East Midlands. This April, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of this incredible driving achievement, made even more poignant by the Brazilian’s fatal accident just a year later on 1 May 1994. But there’s much more to why Ayrton Senna will forever remain a legend.
Sensational victories including extraordinary performances in appalling weather conditions mark Senna’s Formula One driving career. An increasing rivalry with McLaren team-mate Alain Prost – particularly after their infamous 1989 Suzuka collision that put Prost out of the race and led to a disqualified win, fine and six-month ban for Senna – only served to enhance his determination. Of a total of 162 Grand Prix entries, he raced to 41 wins (one in four races), 65 pole positions (40% of races), 80 podiums (50% of races) and three world championships.
While the staggering statistics speak for themselves, perhaps even more extraordinary than his driving achievements was the man’s attitude on the race circuit. Ayrton Senna was not only setting his own targets, challenging the racetrack itself and demonstrating sublime car control through it all. Driving at 350 km/h inspired in Senna a transcendental still that could only compare to a meditational trance rather than the adrenaline and exhilaration one might expect.
Senna would often hint about transcending consciousness and driving on instinct; he would get ‘in the zone’, except that his ‘zone’ was on another level. In fact, the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix made it evident that Senna was not in it just for the winning. Well into the lead, with the race in hand and receiving instructions to slow down, he simply could not. He hit the barrier just a few laps from victory and was out of the race, handing the podium to his rival Prost.
Perhaps it was also owing to the Brazilian’s mystical and transcendental confidence that he was able to do the seemingly impossible. This was particularly so in adverse weather conditions, as already demonstrated in the Monaco 1984 and Portuguese Grand Prix 1985.
The apex of his capabilities in wet conditions, however, was witnessed at the Donington Park European Grand Prix 1993. It will remain forever etched in motorsport history as ‘the greatest lap in F1′. Starting in fourth position and dropping even further at the start, he succeeded in achieving first position by the end of the first lap, having overtaken Prost, Hill and Schumacher.
Alas, Ayrton Senna’s dazzling driving career and his life came to an abrupt halt during a fatal accident at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. The court determined that Senna’s steering column snapped due to a flaw in the design and execution of a last minute modification carried out by the Williams Team. However, the Italian courts pronounced the verdict 13 years later and too late for putting justice into action. It would have served as no consolation to Ayrton Senna’s fans anyway – the legend was gone and nothing would ever bring him back.
Donington Race Circuit is where Ayrton Senna drove the legendary ‘greatest lap in F1 history’ on 11 April 1993 and there is a Senna Memorial in the grounds of the track. The 4-6 May 2018 edition of the Donington Historic Festival will commemorate 25 years from this event. The annual three-day event showcases motorsport, with world-class racers, rare and historic racing cars, trade stands and car club displays. In this edition, there will be Formula One cars driven by or against Senna on the track and a display of fans’ mementos.
Several racing drivers have named Ayrton Senna as the source of their inspiration. Lewis Hamilton is one such driver and Senna’s family even presented Senna’s driving helmet to Hamilton on matching his pole record. Enaam Ahmed, AutoXotica’s very own brand ambassador and upcoming British racing champion, also owes his budding career to the formidable Brazilian driver. Senna’s focus, determination and drive beyond the ordinary inspired both these British drivers, making them also extraordinary. Senna’s legacy continues.