After winning the prestigious British F-3 title and impressing the F-1 world with his first test in the category (with a Williams, at Donington Park), Ayrton Senna still had to face a big and important challenge in 1983’s season: the Macau Grand Prix.

The Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix has launched the careers of countless young drivers over the years, but for one it was not only a springboard to success, but also the start of an enduring friendship.Gerhard Berger talks to Editor Jonathan Noble about the very firrst running of the event. Gerhard Berger has no doubts about the single race that helped launch his career. It was the 1983 Macau Grand Prix – and it also marked the first time he would meet the man who would become his closest friend in Formula One: Ayrton Senna.


The Austrian had been racing in the European Formula Three championship that year, but fancied a step up in competitiveness the following year. As a toe in the water exercise
for such a move, he agreed a deal with Pino Trivellato to race for his outfit in the Macau Grand Prix – which that year was running to F3 regulations for the first time.

“I had an offer from them but I wasn’t sure,” says Berger looking back on events that year. “But we thought about Macau and then I could see how they worked, and I could see how they were doing.

And that is how it started.” The trip to Macau was Berger’s first time outside of Europe, and it was a real eye-opener for the Austrian. “It was great,” he smiles. “I remember going on the boat from Hong Kong to Macau and staying one time in Hong Kong. I had never been out of Europe so that was my first time somewhere like this.

“I still watch the results of it, because any guy who wins it in their first time there has to have something special. If a driver is quick at Macau at his first time then great. If they win it after five attempts forget it, but if a guy goes first time to Macau and is quick and doesn’t have a material advantage then that means a lot for me.”

“I remember Hong Kong was really quite funny. I had a special radio for the helmet that I’d got in England and brought with me. Cathy Muller asked me, Ah, where did you get that nice radio? And I said, I just bought it here. Very cheap. Ah, she said. I want one, too. So I said: It’s very easy. You go by taxi, and then I made a map. You go right, left, right, left, right,left, right, left, straight. Ten minutes with the taxi you will find it and there you will get it cheap. So off she and some other drivers went in a taxi. Right, left, right and on. They came back five hours later, everybody upset, to find out that I’d bought the thing in England.”

And Berger also learned a key lesson that being a successful racing driver did not necessarily just mean early nights and drinking mineral water.“I remember it was the night before the race and I went home from this disco at about 3am. And there, still sitting in the disco, was Emanuele Pirro and these two girls. He was there even longer than me. It was a great experience.”

There was obviously a more serious side to his weekend, though. Macau provides a challenge like no other outside of F1, and Berger was well aware that he could not just expect to turn up and have an easy time.“For me it was a new experience. I didn’t expect a lot of success there, because it was a new circuit to me. I still had little experience in Formula 3 and didn’t know anything.

“It was unbelievable. The first few laps I went around I didn’t know and it was the first time I had seen something like this. But the funny thing was I didn’t find any line. I was nowhere.And then suddenly there was overtaking me a car, an F3 car, it was orange, driving like from another planet.“I just kept trying to follow him and try to find my line. It was the Swedish guy, Eje Elgh, and he had one of these Japanese F3 cars and he was able to show me the line. And following him I was quick. So thanks to him I found my way around there – although I don’t think he knew he helped me.”

Berger found that Elgh’s assistance paid off as he was able to qualify near the front of the field,and then had a fairly straightforward run to third place behind Senna and Robert Guerrero.“I had a good race. I was in third position,Ayrton was leading and Guerrero was second. I was watching them and, on every corner Ayrton made a couple of metres and slowly was able to pull away. Guerrero was struggling to follow him,and I was struggling to follow Guerrero.

“The Teddy Yip car was the best car to have at the time and I remember going up to the garage to watch them. Going there was a privilege.They were the excellent team of Macau.” The third place trophy was not the only prize that Berger walked away with that year, though.He was also accidentally awarded the fastest lap trophy too – something that race winner Ayrton Senna did not like too much.

“It’s a very challenging circuit, with long straights, in which we’ll reach our top speed with an F-3 car this year – more than 240 km/h. And soon after you have to take it very slow on the hairpins. There’s no room for error, otherwise you crash. The weather is great, pleasant, like in Brazil”

-Ayrton Senna, Macau Grand Prix 1983

Those circumstances brought the pair together at the Sunday night prize-giving though – and started off a relationship that would reach its peak in F1.“I remember somebody came to me and said that I had the quickest lap,” recalls Berger. “So I looked at the data, and I realised it could not have been me. But anyway… that was it.

“In the evening I was at the party and suddenly Ayrton comes around the corner, and says: ‘You have the quickest lap time award but it is mine because I set the quickest lap time! “I said, ‘ok, just take it, I don’t care’. That was the first conversation I had with him. He was very serious. He wanted it back but they gave it to me anyway. And that was the first time I had a beer with Ayrton, that evening somewhere in Macau.”

Berger had done enough that weekend to secure a full-time drive in the European F3 championship, and from then on he went on to bigger and better things. And even now, as team owner at Scuderia Toro Rosso, he admits that without Macau his career would have been very different.”My name was blazed everywhere,” he says. “Even people in F1 heard about Berger’s name in F3. Even if I didn’t win it, everybody had heard about Ayrton, and that was really for me a good step forward.”

“I still watch the results of it, because any guy who wins it in their first time there has to have something special. If a driver is quick at Macau at his first time then great. If they win it after five attempts forget it, but if a guy goes first time to Macau and is quick and doesn’t have a material advantage then that means a lot for me.”

source|photo: ©

Results of the Macau Grand Prix 1983

Driver/Possition Constructor Time
1. Ayrton Senna West Surrey Racing 35min 50.31sec
2. Roberto Guerrero Eddie Jordan Racing  + 1.22 s
3. Gerhard Berger Trivellato Racing  + 16.85 s
4. Martin Brundle Eddie Jordan Racing  + 18.89 s
5. Eje Elgh Autobacs Racing Team  + 34.85 s
6. Allen Berg Eddie Jordan Racing  + 35.11 s