After winning several titles in Go-Kart racing – such as the Brazilian, Paulista and South-American championships – Ayrton Senna decided to ty his hand at the European motor sports scene in 1981, starting with the Formula Ford 1600, in England.
Ayrton Senna signed with Van Diemen, Ralph Firman’s team. The team owner had already worked with Emerson Fittipaldi, in 1969. The two-time F1 world champion was responsible, alongside Chico Serra, for taking Senna to visit the team’s headquarters, located in Snetterton.
Ayrton Senna’s debut took place in March 1 of that year. Still driving an outdated car (the same one used the year before, since the new one wasn’t ready yet), Senna got a respectable 5th place finish – the best rookie in the roster.
But his long awaited first victory was right around the corner: it came just two weeks after his debut, on March 15, in a race at Brands Hatch. In a race conducted in two heats, the Brazilian beat Argentine Enrique Mansilla and Mexican Alfonso Toledano in both contests, finishing with nine seconds to spare in the final race.
The track was wet, and Senna displayed a lot of skill to keep the car from spinning – a talent that would make him world-famous after the 1984 Monaco GP.
“Da Silva’s driving (as Senna was known back then) was, undoubtedly, the day’s biggest highlight”, wrote Jeremy Shaw in Autosport magazine – the main British motor sports publication.
The laurel wreath from Senna’s first win in Formula Ford became a relic – a rare trophy, still kept by Ralph Firman at Van Diemen’s headquarters.