April 1st is known worldwide as “April’s Fools”. In motor sports, the publishing of fake news in media outlets and the release of jokes by publicists has become common place in the last few years.
The Ayrton Senna official website is taking the opportunity to tell a few stories that may sound false, but actually did happen in the Brazilian driver’s career and others that could be true in a career as impressive as Ayrton’s but that never really happened.
1- Senna won a race in a car that was practically without brakes
True. First, it’s worth mentioning that it would be impossible to control a race car whose brakes had given out completely. But in Snetterton, England, during the 1982 Formula Ford championship, Senna did something that even the most experienced mechanics would deem improbable.
After starting in the first place, as usual, the Brazilian found out he had brake problems when trying to slow down to avoid debris from a crash that took place in the first lap. Senna ended up losing a few places and had to adapt to a new driving style.
In the end, Senna managed to regain the lead and reached the checkered flag using only the rear brakes. He had to stop his car at the track’s first corner, close to the pit-lane entrance. After the race, the driver told what had happened, and the mechanics confirmed his front brake discs were cold, meaning the Brazilian really hadn’t used them.
2- The “Victory Theme” was composed as a soundtrack to Ayrton Senna’s wins
False. Even though the song became synonymous with Senna’s wins, it was supposed to be first played for the winner of the 1983 Brazilian Grand Prix – no matter what country he was from. The theme ended up being played for a Brazilian driver: Nelson Piquet. Senna still raced in Formula 3, that year.
The next year, it was also played for the winner of the race in Brazil – Prost, this time. Only in 1986 the song became a soundtrack to all Brazilian wins, and Ayrton Senna was the responsible for most of its plays on Sunday mornings.
Song: Eduardo Souto Neto / Roupa Nova
3- Senna is regarded as the best ever by F1 drivers themselves
True. In December 2009, British magazine Autosport conducted a poll with every living driver who had raced at least once in Formula One, asking who they thought was the best driver ever. In all, 217 votes were cast and the winner was Ayrton Senna. Michael Schumacher came in second and Juan Manuel Fangio in third.
Last year, during the Belgian Grand Prix, the official F1 publication asked the same thing to the 22 drivers on the starting grid. Senna was chosen as their greatest by eleven of them, including four of the five current world champions: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull, four-time F1 champion in 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010), Jenson Button (McLaren, champion in 2009), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes, two-time champion, in 2008 and 2014) and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari, two-time champion, in 2005 and 2006)
4- Senna started in last place and won an F1 race
False. Ayrton’s worst starting position in one of his 41 victories was a fifth place at the 1990 Phoenix Grand Prix. No one in Formula One history has ever won a race when starting in last place. At the 1988 Suzuka GP, Senna dropped to 14th place in the first lap and still managed to win the race and become that year’s champion.
The driver who came closest to accomplishing that feat (winning after starting last) was John Watson, who started the 1983 Long Beach Grand Prix in 22nd place and won a 26-car race.
5- Ayrton crossed the finish line to win an F1 race with only one of six gears
True. The feat took place at the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix. In the 65th lap, Ayrton realized he had lost his third gear. The Brazilian driver tried to shift to fourth, but it didn’t work. The gearbox was breaking down. Senna completed the last four laps using only the sixth gear.
The crowd became anxious, seeing the distance between Senna and the competition get smaller and smaller. The fans weren’t aware of the reason behind the car’s worsening performance. Today, we can watch Senna’s onboard camera footage during the last few laps and see that he never shifts gears up or down. The lever was positioned at the cockpit’s right side.
The epic win at Interlagos was Senna’s first in a Brazilian F1 Grand Prix. Check out the race’s details.
6 – Senna actually signed a contract to become a Ferrari driver
False, even though both Ferrari and the Brazilian driver dreamt about it. Senna always wanted to race for Ferrari, and even made public his wishes of ending his career at the Maranello Scuderia, as journalists at the time, such as Reginaldo Leme, recall.
The contract was never signed, but the rumor going around the F1 paddock was that Senna could become a Ferrari driver as soon as his deal with Williams was over.
7-Senna won a race in F1 after lapping the second-place driver
False. but Senna came close to it in a few occasions, like his first F1 win (Portugal, ’85), when he finished an impressive 1 minute and 2 seconds ahead of his closest rival (Michele Alboreto) and a lap ahead of the driver who came in third (Patrick Tambay).
Some say that achieving this goal was one of his motivations to keep going strong at the 1988 Monaco GP, when he lost the lead after crashing at the tunnel entrance when he was almost a minute ahead of his teammate, Alain Prost. Even after losing the victory, Senna said his mistake in Monaco was crucial in making him a better driver and winning his first F1 world title at that year’s Suzuka Grand Prix.
8 – Senna made a race’s quickest lap going through the pit-lane
True! As unbelievable as it sounds, it was one of the highlights of Senna’s brilliant race at Donington Park, in 1993. Besides his masterful first lap, in which he passed five drivers to take the lead, the Brazilian went through the pit-lane in the 57th lap but didn’t make a pit-stop.
Since it was a race plagued by tire changes – from wet to dry and back – the maneuver was interpreted as a communication mistake between Senna and McLaren, maybe due to a radio failure or something similar.
Since, at the time, there was no speed limit at the pit-lane, the Brazilian scored the race’s best lap using the tactic. “I knew it was faster that way, and I did it as an experiment. When they told me it was the race’s quickest lap, I said: ‘Okay, if Prost passes me I will pass him from inside the pit-lane’, and that was it”, said Senna, when the controversy cooled down.
As soon as the race ended, though, Senna said the he went straight through the pit-lane due to a failure in the radio system. “Our radio system this year is presenting serious issues, and I don’t understand almost anything they [the team] say. They’ve upgraded the encryption system and I think that ended up affecting the sound quality. It’s a shame. A good communication with the team is crucial in a race like this”, explained Ayrton.
9- Since his first race, Senna was already a master in the rain
False. Ayrton Senna didn’t have a good result in his first go-kart race on a wet track. But the bad performance just made him more determined to win in the rain. As soon as he felt water drops falling from the sky over São Paulo, Senna headed straight to the go-kart track, to get used to the car’s grip on a wet track.
Thanks to his dedication – and, obviously, lots of talent – Senna went to be known as the best driver to ever race in the rain.
10 – Senna saved a driver’s life in the middle of the track, in F1
True. Senna stopped his McLaren in the middle of the track to be the first to help Érik Comas, during the practice sessions for the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix. Comas crashed full-on against the wall, and Ayrton didn’t think twice: he stopped his car and run towards the Ligier. The car was leaking fuel and could blow up at any moment while the Frenchman was passed out. Senna switched the engine off, avoiding the worst. The story was remembered this year in a special film produced by Allianz. Check it out.