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F1 Icons: Ayrton Senna

It would be a controversial list of Formula 1's greatest drivers if Ayrton Senna is not included.

The enigmatic and often headline-grabbing Brazilian won three world championships in a career cut tragically short, but he was one of those few competitors who truly transcend their sport.

A fierce competitor - sometimes too fierce in the eyes of his rivals - Senna was known for his total self-belief, superhuman car control and unique driving style.

In an era when lapped cars were not required to let the leaders through, the sight of the famous yellow helmet bearing down on them usually frightened slower drivers into diving out of the way.

After spending most of his career with the McLaren team, where he won all three of his world titles, Senna moved to Williams in 1994, but was killed when he crashed out of the lead of the San Marino Grand Prix due to a mechanical failure.

Formula 1
Born21st March 1960
Died1st May 1994
BirthplaceSao Paulo, Brazil
F1 debut1984 Brazilian Grand Prix
Last F1 race1994 San Marino Grand Prix
F1 titles3
F1 teams4

Ayrton Senna's early career

Born into a wealthy family, Senna learned to drive a jeep around his father's farm at age seven, but did not begin karting competitively until he was 13. 

He began his car racing career in England in 1981, winning the British Formula 3 championship - one rung below F1 at the time - in 1983.

His impressive performances meant he was much in demand from F1 teams for the 1984 season, but, after testing with Williams, McLaren, Brabham and Toleman, Senna got his first taste of F1 politics. 

Pressure from sponsors and other influential figures closed the door to drives with the bigger teams, leaving relative minnows Toleman as his only option.

The 1984 Monaco Grand Prix has become legendary for Senna's mastering of the wet conditions, climbing from 13th on the grid to second and closing rapidly on leader Alain Prost when the race was brought to a premature end on lap 31.

After earning further podium finishes in Britain and Portugal, Senna moved to Lotus for 1985, earning his first victory in another wet race, in Portugal, where he also claimed the first of his then-record 65 pole positions.

Poor reliability blighted 1985, but the following season he claimed eight pole positions and eight podium finishes including two more wins, before adding a further two victories in 1987.

Ayrton Senna's championship years

For 1988 Senna joined established star Prost at McLaren, beginning what would become one of F1's most storied rivalries.

The 1988 McLaren proved in a class of its own, winning 15 of the 16 Grands Prix and missing out only in Italy, where Senna tripped over a backmarker when leading in the closing laps.

The Brazilian won eight races and claimed his first world title at the penultimate race, in Japan.

McLaren remained dominant for 1989, and the Prost-Senna rivalry intensified, coming to a head in Japan.

Senna attempted to pass Prost on lap 15 but the Frenchman shut the door. Senna was able to continue, but was subsequently disqualified after getting a push-start from marshalls and Prost took the title.

Prost left for Ferrari the following year, but the needle continued with another championship showdown at Suzuka. This time, Senna simply did not brake into the first corner, ploughing into Prost's Ferrari and sealing a second championship for the Brazilian.

Senna became the youngest back-to-back and three-time world champion after a fairly comfortable title defence in 1991.

Ayrton Senna's later years

In 1992 McLaren could not match the mighty Williams car, but Senna managed three wins including a memorable fifth triumph in Monaco.

Frustrated at being unable to secure a switch to Williams for 1993 after being vetoed by their new signing Prost, Senna continued in F1 with McLaren, earning five victories and finishing a distant second in the championship to his old nemesis.

The following season promised much as Senna finally moved to Williams, but he spun out at the season-opener in Brazil while chasing leader Michael Schumacher and was eliminated at the first corner at the following Pacific Grand Prix.

Senna took his third pole position in three races at Imola, but suffered fatal injuries in a crash on lap six, shortly after a safety-car restart during what would become known as F1's darkest weekend.

It saw numerous accidents and two driver deaths, Roland Ratzenberger having been killed in qualifying the day before Senna.

Ayrton Senna's F1 record

  • 1984, Toleman, 9th
  • 1985, Lotus, 4th, 2 wins
  • 1986, Lotus, 4th, 2 wins
  • 1987, Lotus, 3rd, 2 wins
  • 1988, McLaren, 1st, 8 wins
  • 1989, McLaren, 2nd, 6 wins
  • 1990, McLaren, 1st, 6 wins
  • 1991, McLaren, 1st, 7 wins
  • 1992, McLaren, 4th, 3 wins
  • 1993, McLaren, 2nd, 5 wins
  • 1994, Williams, NC

Ayrton Senna Net Worth

Senna was worth an estimated $200 million at the time of his death.

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