FIVE Things You May Have forgotten About Ayrton Senna’s Lotus F1 Years
Did you know that this week, 32 years ago, three-time Formula 1 World Champion Ayrton Senna took part in his final Grand Prix for Team Lotus at Adelaide? In doing so, the Brazilian legend drew to a close three seasons in Norfolk with six wins, more than a dozen podiums, and 3rd place in the drivers’ standings already under his belt.
It’s a date that’s unlikely to be ringed repeatedly in red on your calendars, admittedly, but as a wafer-thin incentive to wade through our photography archive and bring you five lesser known facts about the great Brazilian’s three years at Team Lotus, it’ll do nicely. It was either that or a cavernous leap from Lotus’ recent win at the Luxury Briefing Awards in London….
1. He wasn’t the last driver to score a point in a John Player-liveried Lotus.
The name ‘Johnny Dumfries’ is oft-maligned in F1’s history books, given that he competed in just a single season in 1986, scored only three points to teammate Senna’s 55, and was there principally because the great Brazilian had kiboshed Lotus’ original plans to insert loftier British prospect Derek Warwick into the #11 98T instead. He was also, contractually, the team’s number two driver. Ouch!
However, you may also have forgotten that John Crichton-Stuart, 7th Marquess of Bute – good grief… – was also part of Jaguar’s 1988 Le Mans-winning line-up, alongside Jan Lammers and event legend Andy Wallace. And that he won 10 of the 17 rounds of the 1984 British Formula 3 championship en-route to the crown, ironically, usurping outgoing champion Senna in the process.
The former Earl of Dumfries can also add a 6th place finish at the 1986 Australian Grand Prix to his motor racing ‘legacy’ too. Not headline-worthy in and of itself, but that single point finish not only marked the only time Dumfries outscored Senna during their season together (the team leader retired on lap 43 with engine failure) but was also the last point scored in Formula 1 by an official John Player-livered Lotus before the tobacco company bowed out of F1.
2. During his three years at Lotus, Senna scored 22 podiums (including wins) to his teammates’ collective three.
And at no point was the Brazilian on the podium with them.
Unsurprisingly, Dumfries and Senna’s ’87 teammate Satoru Nakajima do not feature in this item, the pair boasting 5th and 4th places respectively as their best finishes in ’86 and ’87.
Elio de Angelis, however, was another matter. Coming into his final full F1 season in 1985, the late Italian was already a former Grand Prix winner and gearing up for his sixth season with Team Lotus. Things got off to an impressive start, de Angelis taking his second win, two 3rds and a 4th place in the opening four races to grab the championship lead. Senna’s breakthrough win at Portugal meanwhile, though an unquestionable F1 hallmark moment, was the Brazilian’s only points-paying finish until round 10 in Austria quite incredibly, thanks to a cacophony of mechanical failures. Still, thereafter, a win, two 2nd places and two 3rd places eventually saw Senna overhaul his teammate in the championship standings. de Angelis, unfortunately, never again stepped onto an F1 podium before his death in a testing accident the following year.
All this means that, despite making his F1 debut four years earlier, Senna did not share a podium with his teammate until the 1988 San Marino Grand Prix, where the eventual ’88 champion finished 1st to McLaren teammate Alain Prost’ 2nd.
3. Monza 1988 was not the first time a late/post-race issue for Senna led to a Ferrari 1-2 for Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto.
We’re deep into nerd territory with this one!
In their two seasons together as Ferrari teammates, Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto only finished on the podium together three times. Two of those were in 1-2 formation with Berger in front, and on both occasions, Senna was indirectly involved.
The duo’s Ferrari 1-2 at Monza in 1988 after Senna was hoofed from the lead by a debuting Jean-Louis Schlesser, we all know about. Weirdly though, the only other time Berger and Alboreto scored a 1-2 together was one year earlier at the 1987 Australian Grand Prix. Berger had managed to hold off Senna for the win while Alboreto trailed just over a minute behind at the flag to grab 3rd. However, the Brazilian was later disqualified for having outsized brake ducts on his Lotus 99T, elevating Alboreto to 2nd for a Ferrari 1-2. A precedent of late/post-race issues for Senna to the benefit of Berger and Alboreto had been set.
Oh, and on the other occasion the Austro-Italian duo shared a podium – 2nd and 3rd at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix – would you like to guess whose famous, late-race retirement from the lead helped facilitate that?
4. One of his final outings in a John Player Special racesuit was on a rally stage.
One-offs like his IndyCar test with Penske in December 1992 and his Nürburgring ‘Race of Champions’ in a Mercedes 190E in May 1984 have long since become F1 folklore. What’s often forgotten is the future three-time champion’s afternoon spent with Cars and Car Conversions (or CCC, to its regular readers) in November 1986.
On that day in Wales, Senna donned that famous yellow helmet and quite literally learnt how to rally as part of a cover article for the now-defunct British magazine. The rogue’s gallery of bats**t rally machinery that day included a Group N Sierra Cosworth, a Group A Vauxhall Nova, a home-brewed Ford V6 GA-powered 4WD Escort, the office’s own Group A Volkswagen Golf 16-valve, and a Group B Metro 6R4 (holy cow!) in 250bhp Clubman spec. Impressive enough in itself, this feature could have been even more star-studded had the reps at Ford, Peugeot and Lancia not pulled their respective Group B chargers from the feature earlier that morning, each under the impression that the young F1 prodigy would be a no-show. That had to be a tricky Monday morning conference call.
We’re not kidding about learning to rally either. By Senna’s own admission to the editor – the late Russell Bulgin – “I don’t know anything about rally and didn’t want to ask anyone about how to drive. I wanted to figure it out on my own.” That he did, nearly stacking the nose of the Escort into a nearby tree in the process. Still, Ayrton Senna, rally driver. It really was a thing during his Lotus years.
This was a time of course before Lotus/Renault started being a little more cautious about its F1 drivers hitting the special stages. Sorry Robert.
5. Senna’s only full season without a fastest lap came at Lotus.
In F1’s history books, Ayrton Senna is well ensconced in the top 10 when it comes to race wins (41, 5th overall), pole positions (65, 3rd), podiums (80, 7th) and ‘the grand slam’ (four, joint-5th). Bizarrely though, when it comes to fastest laps, the great Brazilian is bewilderingly below par – bear with me – with ‘just’ 19 to his name, putting him joint-15th overall.
That figure puts him 27 behind Kimi Raikkonen, who’s somehow found himself 2nd on the all time list behind only Michael Schumacher. Senna’s 19 is also 22 and 11 less than arch nemeses Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell respectively, four less than fellow ’80s powerhouse Nelson Piquet, and two less than former McLaren teammate, Gerhard Berger. It’s just one more than David Coulthard, for goodness sake!
Career longevity no doubt plays its part here: DC’s McLaren tenure for example was almost as long as Senna’s Grand Prix career, full-stop. What’s truly amazing though is that there’s a full season (we’re obviously not counting 1994) where Senna didn’t post a fastest lap at all. And no, it wasn’t 1984 with Toleman, that year’s infamous Monaco Grand Prix having sealed Senna’s first.
It was actually 1986, a year in which the Brazilian started from pole at eight of that year’s 16 Grand Prix thanks in-part to the one-lap pace of Renault’s vitriolic, 1200(ish)hp turbocharged 1.5-litre ‘EF15B’ V6. Keeping pace with the (nearly) all-conquering Williams-Hondas though proved altogether more difficult, and 1986 remains the only full season of his F1 career that Ayrton Senna was never the defacto fastest driver during a race. Something that must sting Lotus just a little.
*Images courtesy of Motorsport Images, Ferrari and Motorsport Memorabilia