Ayrton’s career is so full of triumphs that, on some days, one can name two wins on different years. May 31 is a good example of that: it was a special date in 1987, since it was the first time he won in Monaco, and also in 1992, when he won one of the most exciting races in the history of the Principality, featuring an amazing chase in the final laps. And there’s more to the coincidence: Senna’s main rival would turn out to be the same in both races, Nigel Mansell.
The race in 1987 wasn’t a first just for Ayrton Senna, but to all Brazilians in F1. In the Grand Prix’s 37-year history no driver from the country had ever accomplished the feat of winning in Monte Carlo.
Senna started in second place with his yellow Lotus and held on to the position for 29 laps, until Nigel Mansell, who had started in first, retired. From then on, the race became a walk in the park for Ayrton.
Senna was so happy on the podium that not even Prince Ranier of Monaco escaped being soaked in champagne. After celebrating the win with his team, Senna was invited by the Prince himself to the traditional royal family dinner, which takes place after each race in Monte Carlo.
In 1992, Senna was also far from a favorite. Even though the Brazilian had won in Monaco for three straight years (1989, 1990 and 1991), his McLaren was much inferior to Nigel Mansell’s and Riccardo Patrese’s Williams.
Frank Williams’ team was so dominant that Mansell had won all five races in the season up to that point. If he won in Monaco, he would be six for six.
I the qualifying rounds, Williams took the first row by storm and Mansell was 1s1 faster than the Brazilian. Senna’s strategy was to overtake Patrese at the start of the race, and right after the first corner, he became second. Then, he had trouble keeping up with the “Lion”. Mansell was 29s ahead by lap 69, with less than 10 laps to go. On lap 71, however, Senna took the lead. One of the Williams’s wheels had a loose nut, and the Britton had to make a pit-stop.
Mansell came back with a much faster car, and remained “parked” on Senna’s rearview mirror. The chase lasted eight laps, and the Brazilian won by meager 215 thousandths of a second. It was Senna’s 5th win in the Principality, matching the record set by Graham Hill, who was known as “Mister Monaco”.