35 Years Ago Today, Ayrton Senna Took His First F1 Win
And so the celebrations of Ayrton Senna continue. Last month, we took a look at the late great Brazilian’s first start in Formula 1, aptly at his home Grand Prix at Jacarepaguá. Today, Lotus honours the first of six Grand Prix wins the future three-time World Champion took during his time with Hethel, and the first of an eventual 41 Grand Prix wins in total. Judiciously so, for the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix remains one of the most complete wins, full-stop, in Formula 1 history, and in monsoon-like conditions to-boot.
The facts and figures speak for themselves. In only his second race aboard the JPS-liveried Lotus 97T, and his 17th in F1 in total, Senna qualified almost half a second ahead of McLaren’s Alain Prost, the latter the season’s eventual World Champion.
Senna’s maiden F1 pole position would be the first of two monumental firsts that April weekend at Circuito Estoril. 64 more poles would follow, 15 of which were with Lotus. It was a record that would go unbeaten for 12 years, and today, only two men – Michael Schumacher (68) and Lewis Hamilton (88) – have ever claimed more.
Yet even Senna’s greatest rival, aboard what few would argue was the class of the field – the carbon-fibre monocoqued, Porsche-engined McLaren MP4/2, winner of the previous nine Grand Prix – stood little chance of beating “the masterful” Brazilian that day in Estoril. By the end of the first lap, and with Prost slipping back to 3rd at the start, Senna led Lotus teammate Elio de Angelis by an already cavernous 3s, and as the conditions worsened, simply drove away from the Italian.
Come the end of the race, Ayrton Senna, one month removed from his 25th birthday, was a Grand Prix winner for the first time, his non-seat belted celebrations on his wind down lap and his arms aloft image with Lotus team manager Peter Warr, simultaneously celebrating the team’s first win since 1982, remain etched in F1 folklore. As too does the win itself: eventual 2nd placed Michele Alboreto was 1m 02.978s and almost a full lap adrift. 3rd placed Patrick Tambay was one lap down, as was de Angelis in 4th. Everyone from 5th placed Nigel Mansell was two. Today, that winning chassis – 97T/2 – still resides with Classic Team Lotus.
For those of us too young to watch history unfolding first-hand in April 1985 – this particular writer was barely two years old at the time – it would be all too easy to write bland bromides of Senna’s accomplishment, and the significance it would later hold (“a drive for the Gods” courtesy of one Nigel Roebuck is difficult to beat anyway). Moreover, the significance of that day is paid greater homage by the man himself here:
“It was a hard, tactical race, corner by corner, lap by lap, because conditions were changing all the time. The car was sliding everywhere – it was very hard to keep the car under control. Once I had all four wheels on the grass, totally out of control, but the car came back on the circuit. People later said that my win in the wet at Donington in ’93 was my greatest performance – no way! I had traction control!”
Sempre Senna, indeed.
*Images courtesy of Lotus and Motorsport Images