Ayrton's first test
Although he’d been winning karting championships left, right and centre in the infancy of his motorsport career, Ayrton Senna didn’t end up in Formula 1 on the basis of his talent alone – much of it was down to his persistence.
The year was 1982. Senna was flying to Zandvoort to race in the European Formula Ford 2000 championship, one of two Formula Ford championships he won that year.
On the way there, the boss of one of Formula 1’s more successful teams just happened to be sitting next to him on the plane. He was on his way to the race too. It’s said that Senna pestered him for over a year before he conceded and gave him a test.
Needless to say, Senna didn’t disappoint. Soon after, following the attention he garnered, he would test a McLaren for the first time.
During that first run for the team, he set a lap time faster than one of its regular race drivers, John Watson. Further tests for other teams would follow on merit of him going faster than Watson practically as soon as he jumped in the car.
Although he easily exhibited his stunning driving talent as soon as he jumped into a Formula 1 car, Senna came very close to not realising his dream of reaching the top. In the early 1980s, his parents wanted him to go and take up a position within the family business in Brazil. He nearly wielded to the pressure, because he didn’t want to disappoint.
Fate would intervene, however. He was offered a drive with a Formula Ford 2000 team for £10,000 before making his return to Brazil permanent. On condition he paid him back once he could, his father coughed up the money. He won both the British and European FF2000 titles in 1982.
Next up was British Formula Three, which he competed in the following year. He dominated the first half of the season, but the man who provided the stiffest competition, Martin Brundle, closed the gap drastically. The resulting showdown at Thruxton saw Senna come out on top. He also won the first-ever Macau Formula Three race that year.
Shortly after that victory, he began testing Formula 1 machinery, but in spite of his obvious talent, none of the big three teams were willing to take the risk of hiring a rookie to race a full season for them. McLaren was one of those teams. At the time, little did either party know of the sheer racing magic they would create together just a few years later.
In the end, Senna ended up signing a two-year deal with the Toleman team for the 1984 season.
We recently came across this fascinating video from those days just prior to his Formula 1 career taking off. It’s very insightful to see Senna’s attitude and mindset, as well as his determination, about where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do with his life. See it here: