Ayrton Senna, arguably the greatest F1 driver of them all, drove a total of 161 Grands Prix, amassing an impressive 41 wins throughout his career. Ayrton drove for McLaren between 1988 and 1993 winning the F1 World Championships in 1988, 1990 and 1991. Remembering the great Ayrton Senna, we've also taken the opportunity to take a look at the career of McLaren's founder Bruce McLaren, who was born in 1937 with a career encompassing 101 Grands Prix with 4 wins.
Born 23 years apart almost on opposite sides of the world, Bruce McLaren and Ayrton Senna made gigantic contributions to a Formula 1 team which left a dynamic mark in the sand thanks to their inspirational qualities. It may be tempting to name Ferrari as the most famous and versatile of racing companies, but McLaren’s enterprising and up-to-the-moment activities surely make it as tantalisingly varied as any other company of its type anywhere on earth.
Bruce was the mild-mannered, practical and calmly down-to-earth engineer from suburban Auckland, the son of a successful, but in no way extrovert, garage owner. Senna came from a prosperous family in Brazil’s second city, Sao Paulo, and the bond which cemented their mutual contribution to the world of international motor racing was a commitment to absolute excellence whatever they turned their hand to. Poignantly, they were both also killed while pushing to the limits in the sport they loved. Bruce died testing one of his Can-Am sports cars at Goodwood, Ayrton while leading the 1994 San Marino GP in a Williams. At 32 and 34 respectively they were both at the peak of their achievement when they died.
Bruce himself would have appreciated the high levels of technical excellence displayed by the company he founded. Although this quiet personality initially aspired only to a career behind the wheel, the manner in which he shaped his company’s fortunes from the marque’s grand prix debut in 1966 through to his own death in 1970 hinted at a much wider grasp than most of his contemporaries of how the sport would develop.
Bruce was a steady driver, practical engineer, popular team chief and companionable personality. He was the sort of person to go with the flow. In fact, on the face of it, he was about as far away from Ayrton’s personality as it was possible to be. Yet, paradoxically they both had the right qualities for the jobs fate had dealt them. Bruce, the good natured and mature personality seeking to build a consensus which would deliver his emergent company a competitive CV. Ayrton, by contrast, wanted to beat everybody in every set of circumstances he found himself tackling. And yet, if the two men could have reached out and stared into each others’ eyes across the decades, they would have liked and respected what they saw; two men utterly convinced that they could beat the best.
Senna, of course, had been an absolute revelation from the moment he stormed onto the F1™ grid at the wheel of a Toleman in 1984, and was already a proven GP winner with Lotus by the time he joined McLaren alongside Prost at the start of 1988. Vowing that he would wear Prost down by being faster, more intense and more consistent than his rival, he was as good as his word.
Ayrton took no prisoners. In this final season of the 1.5-litre turbo engine regulations, Senna relentlessly plundered Prost’s personal domain and came home with first prize. His rivalry with the Frenchman crackled like static electricity. But after seeing off Prost in ’88, the following year he found the Frenchman re-taking the advantage before Ayrton bounced back to win the 1990 and ’91 championship contests.
Yet perhaps his greatest drive of all came in the 1993 European GP at Donington Park where, at the wheel of the Cosworth-engined McLaren MP4/8, he outclassed a full field of rivals on a streaming wet track. But at the end of the year Ayrton had decided that he would be leaving the team in 1994 to join Williams. And there the tragic story of this dynamic Brazilian hero came to an end.
Senna’s off-duty visage could be a very different proposition indeed. There was certainly a genial and relaxed side to his personality. He loved his family, respecting his father and lionising his mother. He was always at ease with children, who he treated as young adults. His efforts behind the wheel of a Grand Prix car were matched by a few of his contemporaries, but he was probably as great a man who ever sat in the cockpit of an F1™ car. That he claims joint number one status in this list should be no surprise at all to those who watched from the trackside or cheered him on from afar.