Kicking Off McLaren Week: Celebrating Ayrton Senna’s Legacy

Ayrton Senna biography
Ayrton Senna’s legacy | McLaren

“I am not designed to come second or third. I am designed to win,” said Ayrton Senna, regarded as one of F1’s greatest drivers.

Born Ayrton Senna da Silva in Sao Paulo on March 21, 1960, Senna went on to win three world championships, 41 race wins, and 65 pole positions. His passion for racing ignited way before he could even reach the pedals, with a miniature go-kart his father gave him at the age of four. His talent was undeniable from an early age.

Ayrton Senna legacy
Senna’s first go-kart race at age 13. | McLaren

Senna raced a kart for the first time at the age of 13 and won immediately. Eight years later, he transitioned to single-seater racing in Britain, where he quickly demonstrated his exceptional skill by winning five championships over three years. He made his F1 debut with Toleman in 1984. His performance at the Monaco Grand Prix that year—where he finished an impressive second to Alain Prost’s McLaren in torrential rain—was a vivid demonstration of his extraordinary talent. This race at Monaco, a circuit he would triumph at six times, was just the beginning of Senna’s profound impact on the sport.

His driving style was aggressive yet precise, marked by a fierce determination to be the fastest on any given day. Known for his profound concentration and ability to push his car to the limits, Senna’s approach to racing was both revered and feared. Even Senna admitted that he occasionally went too far, as was the case at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying round. “Suddenly I realized that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension,” described Senna. Often hailed as the greatest qualifying lap ever, he outperformed his McLaren teammate Alain Prost by nearly 1.5 seconds.

Senna F1
Senna raced with one goal in mind – to be the fastest and win. | McLaren

Ayrton Senna’s most iconic moments with McLaren are an integral part of Formula One history.

Senna joined McLaren in 1988 and continued with the team until the end of the 1993 season. During these formative years, he lived by his famous words, “Winning is most important. Everything is consequence of that.” Senna and McLaren together dominated the sport, marking an era that is often cited as a golden age in racing.

Ayrton Senna Races
Senna pictured at the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix, securing the 50th pole position of his career. | McLaren

Related: Ayrton Senna in Monaco

McLaren’s greatest driver: Ayrton Senna’s defining moments

  • 1988 Japanese Grand Prix: Senna won his first world championship with McLaren.
  • 1990 Spanish Grand Prix: During a free practice session, Ayrton witnessed Martin Donnelly’s devastating 170-mph crash, which deeply affected him. However, in response, Ayrton did what he knew best during qualifying. Already holding pole position, he was determined to conquer the track that had nearly claimed Donnelly’s life. Ayrton re-entered the fray to surpass his own time, setting a blistering new track record of 1m 18.387s, which was a full 1.2 seconds faster than his teammate Gerhard Berger.
  • 1990 Monaco Grand Prix: Ayrton’s qualifying lap for the 1990 Monaco Grand Prix is considered “F1’s most iconic onboard.” He masterfully navigated the twists and turns of Monaco in the McLaren MP4/5B.
  • 1992 Belgian Grand Prix: Erik Comas had a severe crash at Blanchimont corner during practice, becoming unconscious with his engine running and foot on the accelerator. Following closely, Senna stopped his car and rushed to help, risking his safety. He turned off Comas’ engine to prevent an explosion and stabilized his head until paramedics arrived. Comas later stated that Senna’s quick actions saved his life.
  • 1993 Australian Grand Prix: In his final race with McLaren, Ayrton showcased his exceptional talent once again. He secured pole position on the challenging Adelaide circuit and dominated the race, finishing more than nine seconds ahead of his great rival, Alain Prost. As they shared the podium for what would be the last time, neither could have foreseen that this would mark Ayrton’s last Grand Prix victory.
Greatest McLaren driver
Senna’s final lap with McLaren at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix. | McLaren

Ayrton Senna Lap of the Gods: The most legendary performance at the European Grand Prix at Donington Park.

Ayrton Senna’s performance at Donington Park in 1993 was nothing short of spectacular, considered the greatest opening lap in history. Starting from fourth, he initially dropped to fifth but quickly demonstrated his exceptional skill in wet conditions. By the end of the first lap, Senna had impressively overtaken Michael Schumacher, Karl Wendlinger, Damon Hill, and Alain Prost to take the lead. Ultimately, Damon Hill was the only driver to finish on the same lap as Senna, trailing a remarkable 83 seconds behind. “He was walking on water,” said Karl Wendlinger when describing Senna’s, and many would say F1’s most renowned performance. On that rain-soaked April day, Senna delivered a masterclass in precision and control under adverse conditions, solidifying his status as “one of the sport’s best wet-weather racers.” Today, 30 years after Senna’s passing, his nephew Bruno takes the same track to commemorate the legacy of his uncle in a very special way.

Ayrton Senna lap of the gods
Ayrton Senna’s ” Lap of the Gods” is regarded as the most iconic opening lap in history. | McLaren

The loss of a timeless legend: What happened at San Marino Grand Prix?

Senna was known for his intense, precise, and highly aggressive driving style which was often described as violent, leading many to critique him as a “madman.” It’s clear that Senna raced to win, because according to him, “Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose,” and losing was not a word that existed in Senna’s vocabulary. Senna lived by his own words: “When you are fitted in a racing car and you race to win, second or third place is not enough.”

F1 icons
“I have no idols. I admire work, dedication and competence.” – Ayrton Senna | McLaren

Senna spoke about his future in early 1994: “I want to live fully, very intensely. I would never want to live partially, suffering from illness or injury. If I ever happen to have an accident that eventually costs my life, I hope it happens in one instant.” And so it did. Just one day following the tragic death of rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger in a qualifying crash, Ayrton Senna’s life was tragically cut short. In the early stages of the race, Senna’s car went off the track and crashed into the wall at the exit of the Tamburello corner at high speed.

After his tragic death, Senna’s legacy continued to live through Instituto Ayrton Senna (IAS), established by his family in 1994.

The Ayrton Senna Institute focuses on providing education and development opportunities for children in Brazil. It reflects Senna’s love for his home country and his wish to give back to his community. The foundation has helped millions of Brazilian children receive education, thereby transforming society in a way that Senna had always envisioned.

The Ayrton Senna institute
Senna’s legacy continues to live way beyond his wins, it is reflected in the ongoing work of his foundation. | McLaren

After his death, it was discovered that Senna had donated an estimated $400 million to the underprivileged in Brazil during his lifetime, something kept from the public eye while he lived. Ayrton Senna’s legacy is not confined to his records or his titles. It is reflected in the ongoing work of his foundation, the awe-inspiring memories he left behind for racing fans, and the profound quotes that continue to inspire. Senna was not only a hero on the racetrack but also a visionary off it, whose impacts continue to be felt long after his untimely passing.

Ayrton Senna tribute: McLaren Senna

In tribute to Ayrton Senna’s remarkable racing career and enduring legacy, McLaren Automotive unveiled the McLaren Senna in 2017, a supercar that embodies the spirit and dedication of one of Formula One’s greatest legends. Only 500 units of this limited production hand-built model were made and they were all sold out upon their unveiling. The vehicle boasts a robust 789 horsepower from its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine, making it one of the most powerful ICE engines built by McLaren at the time. With its ultra-lightweight construction, the Senna offers unparalleled performance and agility, reflecting Ayrton’s relentless pursuit of excellence on the racetrack. It accelerates from 0-62 MPH in just 2.8 seconds and features a top speed of 208 MPH.

Ayrton Senna cars
The McLaren Senna pays tribute to Senna’s remarkable racing career and enduring legacy. | Credit: Photography © indiGO Auto Group

Relive Senna’s legacy first-hand with Netflix’s original series, Senna.

Netflix is set to release Senna later this year, a  six episode series featuring the famous F1 driver’s greatest career moments, personal sorrows, relationships, and showcasing his personality. Fans will have the opportunity to see Senna’s life unfold in real-time, portraying the early beginnings of his racing career up until the end of his life. Today, 30 years after his death, Senna’s legacy and spirit continues to live in every McLaren car. Celebrate the life of Ayrton Senna with a new McLaren.

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