No.5 Senna Makes His “Debut” In Monaco
Senna’s first year in Formula 1 should not have been a competitive one. Signed to the uncompetitive Toleman team, Senna’s car was considered by many to be second-rate. Senna’s first few races with Toleman were uneventful, but it was the race in Monaco where Senna became a star.
Qualifying at a dismal 13th, Senna should not have had any chance to win on the tight and technical Monaco track, and his chances should have disappeared as soon as the first drops of rain started to hit the tarmac. But Senna thrived in these conditions, revealing his superhuman car-control skills by passing cars in impossible conditions, even gaining an unbelievable three seconds per lap on race leader Alain Prost. Right as Senna was about to take the lead, race officials decided to cancel the race — officially due to safety concerns, though it was probably because they didn’t want Prost to lose. Senna did get his first F1 podium, though — the first of 81 over his 10-year career.
No.4 Prost Protests Senna
Senna versus Prost is one of the greatest rivalries ever in F1, if not all sports. Senna and Prost were teammates on McLaren during 1988 and 1989, and the two drivers dominated F1 during their tenure on the team. During the 1989 season, both drivers were in contention for the driver’s championship. The battle was close and, by the time the two drivers got to the Suzuka Circuit in Japan, Senna needed to win to have a chance at the title. Prost would win outright provided Senna didn’t finish the race.
Senna was a ruthless driver. He would take a line and pass if he saw an opening, other drivers be damned. With tension between the two at an all-time high, and sensing that Senna was about to pass him, Prost cut in early and wrecked both his and Senna’s vehicles. With Senna now seemingly out of contention for the championship, Prost exited his car and sat back as it was towed off track. Senna, ever the competitor, worked to get his car moving and eventually back into the pits. After having the pit crew replace the front end, Senna re-entered the race, now way behind in second place, with just five laps to go. For most drivers, a win would be impossible.
Senna, of course, was not most drivers. He regained the lead on lap 51 of 53 and won the race. Prost, however, was in the race steward’s office protesting Senna’s re-entry. Prost, who had a closer relationship with the head of F1, got his way, and Senna was stripped of his victory.
No.3 Senna Gets His Revenge
Prost’s little hissy fit in Suzuka obliterated the already-strained relationship between himself, Senna and the McLaren team, so he left for Ferrari for the 1990 season. Senna remained on McLaren. In a repeat of the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, the outcome of the 1990 race in Suzuka would determine whether Prost or Senna would take home the driver’s championship that year.
A non-finish by Prost at Suzuka would give the driver’s championship to Senna. Senna managed to qualify on the pole position, with Prost qualifying second. But likely due to politics, Prost got the better starting position, putting Senna at a severe disadvantage. However, just as with every other race, Senna would take his line, regardless of where the other drivers were.
Prost got a slight advantage off the start, but in the very first corner of the race, Senna took what he felt was his line, and both cars wrecked and flew into the kitty litter, shattered beyond repair. Prost walked away disgusted with Senna, and Senna walked away with his second world championship.
No.2 Senna Wins in Brazil
Despite Senna’s numerous successes in Formula 1, it was years before he would win an F1 race in his home country of Brazil. Already a hero at home for proudly acting as a cultural ambassador for the then-troubled country, a win for Senna in Brazil was a dream for both the man and nation. And at the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, with two world championships then under his belt, Senna was poised to make a nation’s dreams come true.
This should have been an easy win for Senna. He started from the pole position and held a comfortable lead for most of the race. Sixty laps into the 67-lap race, it started to rain. Senna thrived in the rain, so again, the win should have been even easier. But then his car broke.
Senna’s McLaren didn’t break completely, but its transmission jammed in sixth gear, which by all accounts should have made the car completely undriveable. But as has been established, Senna had a knack for achieving the impossible while behind the wheel of an F1 car.
Determined not to lose this win at home, Senna pushed beyond his physical limits to keep the car on course through the end of the race. He managed to lead the race from start to finish, but his body was so physically spent, he couldn’t move, nor could he even be touched. Though he struggled to physically to make it up to the podium, he found one last bit of strength to hoist his trophy and share his win with Brazil.
No.1 Senna Steps Out To Help Comas
French driver Erik Comas had a particularly nasty crash during the qualifying sessions for the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix. In a sport where every man is literally out for himself, it was expected that the drivers would just swerve around Comas’ wrecked Renault and continue their attempts at laying down a fast qualifying time. But not Senna.
Senna, not far behind Comas, was the first to arrive to the scene of Comas’ crash and, out of concern for his fellow driver, parked his McLaren and ran out onto the hot track, dodging other F1 cars. While this may seem like a odd entry for a number one position on a list like this — especially given Senna’s racing legacy — we feel that this small gesture shows that, while Senna was a great driver, he was an even better man.
Senna showed great concern for his fellow drivers right up to his final race. The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was particularly tragic: When friend and fellow driver Rubens Barrichello was involved in a horrific crash during qualifying, Senna disregarded official Formula 1 orders to stay away from Barrichello and “broke into” the hospital to remain by his friend’s side.
Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed during the following day’s qualifying session, prompting Senna to rally his fellow drivers to push Formula 1 officials to increase driver safety, a move which, video shows, irritated the F1 brass. On race day, Senna carried an Austrian flag in his Williams, planning to fly it in honor of the fallen Ratzenberger. Unfortunately, this would be the race where Senna himself would have his fatal accident.