Nick Trott and Mike Duff discuss the story of Ayrton Senna’s legendary win in the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 race at the Nurburgring GP circuit in 1984 – and how it inspired Mike to buy his own 190E.

12 May 1984

Mercedes-Benz provided 20 identical near road-spec 190Es for a 12 lap race, and gathered together a strong field of Formula One drivers past, present and future to provide the thrills. Nine of them – Sir Jack Brabham (1959, 1960 and 1966), Phil Hill (1961), John Surtees (1964), Denny Hulme (1967), Niki Lauda (1975 and 1977), Alan Jones (1980) and Keke Rosberg (1982) – were former world champions, while another – Stirling Moss – could arguably claim to be the greatest of them all.

Of the remainder – Carlos Reutemann, John Watson, Klaus Ludwig, Manfred Schute, Jacques Laffite, Udo Schutz, Hans Hermann, Elio de Angelis, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna – all had exemplary records in International racing. For hello-raisers like Hunt and Rosberg, the race was a chance to have fun, while Moss, Surtees and Hermann had barely raced for decades. But for the young Senna, a virtual unknown who had made his F1 debut just two months before, this was an opportunity to prove himself by beating F1’s established stars. And win he did, fending off the attentions of Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann and Keke Rosberg.

“In The Hard Edge of Genius by Christopher Hilton, John Watson remembers: ‘Ayrton took it very, very seriously. His attitude was that he had to win it. That day was cold and wet and he did a bloody good job.’ The race was also Senna’s first meeting – and first confrontation – with his arch rival Alain Prost, who recalled in an interview with Nigel Roebuck in 1998: ‘I was coming from Geneva to Frankfurt on a scheduled flight, and Ayrton was due to land half an hour before, so Gerd Kremer of Mercedes asked me if I would bring him to the track. On the way we chatted, and he was very pleasant. Then we got to the track, and practiced the cars. I was on pole with Ayrton second – After that he didn’t talk to me any more! It seemed funny at the time. Then in the race, I took the lead – and he pushed me off the track after half a lap. So that was a good start…’ After the race, an elated Senna said of his victory: ‘Now I know I can do it’.

“Compared to the production cars the transmission was adjusted to 4.08:1 instead of standard 3.07:1 so that they reached a top speed of 190 kph. In comparison, the Nardo car transmission was 2.65:1 to reach top speed at 260km/h. Furthermore the cars were 15mm lower, had a rollcage, racing tires, exhausts were changed too. But the cars kept their electrical seat adjustment.”