Images that move us
6 of our favorite Ayrton Senna moments
Today would have been Ayrton Senna’s 60th birthday. Though Senna is no longer with us, to celebrate his legacy we have a widely-available trove of videos and interviews chronicling his character and brilliant racing talent. The 2010 documentary (simply titled Senna) is the 162-minute motherlode of original footage and even family videos, but if you’re planning on some quality garage time this weekend and want your Senna memories in smaller doses, check out this list. We polled the Hagerty staff for some YouTube clips of the rain master: Here are six of our favorite Senna moments.
1985 Portugal Grand Prix
Twenty-five years old, at only his 17th Grand Prix weekend, and driving for Lotus. That combination alone would perk up the ears of any F1 fan, but Portugal in 1985 wasn’t just a decent start for the young Senna. That weekend he would earn his first F1 win against a field including Nigel Mansell and Niki Lauda—and, in lap nine, a very near miss with Mauro Baldi’s distressed #21 car. The quick reflexes of a yellow-flag-waving marshall helped avoid disaster for both drivers, giving Senna warning as he crested a slight rise. “My goodness, that could have been dramatic!” the announcer’s tinny voice exclaims in this clip.
The weekend was dramatic in all the best ways for Senna, who barely managed to stay in his John-Player-liveried Lotus while driving back on pit lane towards the podium. Cheer along—you might not be able to help yourself.
1986 Spanish Grand Prix
The 1986 Spanish GP saw “an enormous number of retirements,” according to this clip of the last 14 or so laps, but all eyes were on Mansell (Williams) and Senna (Lotus-Renault) in the lead of the pack. The two drivers were “not very good friends at the moment”; wheel-to-wheel contact at Jacarepaguá, at the Brazilian GP that year, spun Mansell off track and consigned him to third place. Naturally, each driver blamed the other, and the tension produced some compelling racing.
Senna hounded Mansell until he finally snuck through on an inside line and clung to first even as Mansell, with fresh rear rubber, hunted him down. Senna won his third Grand Prix by inches.
1988 Monte Carlo Grand Prix
By 1988, Senna had exchanged black and gold for the Marlboro red and white, driving for McLaren-Honda alongside Alain Prost. He snagged pole position by nearly a second and a half, but Senna wouldn’t win the 1988 Monte Carlo Grand Prix. He’d end up in a wall on the 67th lap with a fatally damaged front suspension. However, this race proves that any race, not simply a win, provides a wealth of experience from which a driver can study and learn.
We all wonder what it would be like to step into a great’s driving shoes. This clip from the Senna documentary, overlaying a post-race interview with in-car footage, gives us that coveted peek at what went on under Senna’s helmet: “That day, I realized I was no longer driving it conscious. I was in a different dimension ….The circuit was a tunnel for me, [and] I was just going, going, going…”
1989 Japanese Grand Prix
The 1989 Japanese Grand Prix would see Senna disqualified after a collision with Prost—in the season their rivalry reached its apex—and Senna’s using an escape road to get back on track.
He relinquished the world title to his McLaren teammate Alain Prost in a flurry of frustration and, Senna thought, the smell of fishy business. As of this pole lap, however, the Brazilian had nothing but open track and a screaming, naturally-aspirated Honda V-10. His time of 1:38.041 hung with cars ten years further along; Michael Schumacher earned pole at Suzuka in 1999 with a 1:37.470 to the tune of another V-10—this time, a Ferrari.
Honda would recreate Senna’s blistering lap on the 20th anniversary of his passing using dozens of speakers and hundreds of lights. It’s wonderful, and a bit eerie.
1992 Monaco Grand Prix
This clip of the final five laps of the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix captures all that makes for riveting racing: a hotly-contested rivalry on track, a near photo-finish, and passionate, informed commentators through the whole thing. With five laps to go, the odds seemed to favor Mansell. Murray Walker and James Hunt call out two back-to-back track records for the Brit. Senna was on “clapped-out” rubber and Mansell soon closed to swarm around the sliding McLaren. Mansell, who would clinch that year’s drivers championship, wanted his first-ever victory at Monaco. Senna was clawing for his first victory since the Australian GP in 1991 in his Honda V-12-powered MP4/7A. You can hear the commentators’ tone change as, lap after lap, Senna stays off Mansell, despite his tired rubber—to win the Monaco GP. It’s thrilling stuff. (Also, a rare opportunity to see Gatorade and Marlboros advertised at similar scale at the same event.)
1993 European Grand Prix
We couldn’t leave out a rain video, obviously. Senna starts from fourth on a rain-soaked grid, behind Michael Schumacher in his Benetton-Ford and Damon Hill and Alain Prost, both in Williams-Renaults. Senna slips to fifth position into the first turn, falling behind Karl Windlinger’s Sauber, with water spraying in clouds from his and everyone else’s tires. Two cars skate off the track and Senna’s already in second, after barely a minute. Then he’s past Prost and in the lead. The win at Donington Park would be his 38th of 41 victories—and the only F1 race ever hosted at that facility.
What’s your favorite memory of Ayrton Senna? Share it with us in the Hagerty Forums below.