The fifth-winningest Formula 1 driver in history, Ayrton Senna left a towering legacy despite a relatively short career. Today marks what would have been his 59th birthday had his life not been taken following a crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix F1 race.
Birthdays are about celebrating, and we feel the best way to celebrate Ayrton’s life and career is to highlight a few of the cars he drove during his time in the F1 ranks. His debut in 1984 was during an era of incredibly fast and notoriously dangerous racing, when cars produced record power numbers and regulations were still playing catch up.
Senna’s career spanned multiple teams and involved some of the great F1 manufacturers. Here are our picks for the four best cars that Senna wheeled during his time on the circuit.
1988 McLaren MP4/4
Senna’s first year at McLaren resulted in his first World Championship and formed the foundation of his rivalry with teammate Alain Prost. The MP4/4 was virtually unbeatable, taking 15 victories of the 16 races that season, and Senna stood atop the podium eight times with a record 13 pole positions. The McLaren’s 1.5-liter Honda V-6 is pressure fed by twin turbochargers, and despite being tuned to 650 horsepower, the engine proved very reliable.
1985 Lotus 97T
Rocking one of the best liveries to ever grace race cars, the Lotus 97T brought Senna to his first Formula One win. Despite being considered down on power from the top teams, and amazing chassis made the Lotus a rocket ship. Unfortunately, it was an unreliable rocket ship, which held back the car despite its phenomenal capabilities. This car was also an example where Senna showed off his amazing qualifying skills, grabbing seven pole positions.
1993 McLaren MP4/8
With a Ford V-8 that was down on power compared to both the factory Benetton team and other engine suppliers, the fact that the MP4/8 was competitive is a testament to both Senna brilliance behind the wheel and the car’s technical sophistication. He managed to finish second in the world championship despite several mid-season mechanical failures. This car took Senna to this final victory, as well as his record sixth win a Monaco..
1984 Toleman TG184
Determined to compete in Formula one in 1984, Senna joined Toleman after several talks with several other teams fizzled out. The TG184 gave him a rough start; he was forced to retire from seven races over the course of the season. Still, Senna managed to grab his first podium finish and was on pace to win the Monaco Grand Prix before rain stopped the race early. The design could only be considered blocky compared to the flowing F1 cars of today, but the pull-rod front and pushrod rear suspension layout isn’t all that far off from what modern race car chassis use.