Many of Ayrton Senna’s victories are remembered because of the Brazilian driver’s speed, technique and grit. But besides being an incredible talent, Senna was also a great strategist on the track. The three-time F1 world champion always displayed a lot of intelligence when it came to assessing his car’s data and using it to his advantage.
On June 21, 1987, Ayrton Senna won the Detroit GP with the iconic yellow Lotus. Check out a curious fact about that race and a special list of the times Senna won by combining brute force and strategy.
Winning without a pit-stop
After his first win in Detroit in the previous year, Senna once again had a reason to celebrate on the streets of the American circuit, now driving the yellow Lotus. The Brazilian started in second place and trailed Nigel Mansell (Williams) for 33 laps. When the Britton made a pit-stop to change tires, Senna took the lead and stayed there.
In a risky bet, he took good care of his tires and made use of the Lotus’ active suspension in order to not wear out his equipment. All the other driver who scored points – which, at the time, meant the first six – made at least one stop at the boxes.
Winning with just the sixth gear at Interlagos
Senna’s first win at the Brazilian GP was a painful one, and it came by in heroic fashion in 1991. In the final stretch of the race, the Brazilian was in the lead, way ahead of the rest of the pack, when his McLaren started having gearbox issues. With the 36-second gap between him and Ricardo Patrese getting smaller and smaller, Ayrton spent the last few laps fighting for the win with just the sixth gear.
In the final two laps, it started to rain at Interlagos, slowing down Patrese’s comeback and benefiting Senna, who was able to wrestle his McLaren down the finish lane and win after leading from start to finish.
Absolutely exhausted after finally braking the “curse” of never having won in Brazil, Senna climbed on the podium with a Brazilian flag, to delight of the crowd. he was barely able to lift up the trophy due to his muscular spasms. But the driver still made sure to be on the podium to celebrate with all Brazilians.
Winning after posting the fastest lap by cutting through the pitlane
One of Senna’s most iconic victories took place at Donington Park, at the 1993 European GP. After completing what many consider the best first lap in history of F1, in which he overtook four cars on a wet track , the Brazilian also posted the race’s fastest lap by employing a curious strategy.
With the win all but sewed up, and way ahead of his rivals, Ayrton had the race’s quickest lap by going through the pitlane. A champion in Formula Ford and Formula 3, who was used to racing and winning at Donington Park, Senna knew the circuit like the back of his hand, and was sure that by going through the boxes his lap would be shorter and faster, since there was no speed limit on the pitlane, at the time.
The story only came to light a few days later. Not even McLaren knew about Ayrton’s strategy, since the mechanics weren’t ready for a possible pit-stop by the Brazilian driver.
Winning with soft tires on one side and hard ones on the other
in 1991, Ayrton Senna won the first four races of the season, a killer start for the year in which he became a three-time F1 world champion. But Nigel Mansell recovered in the middle of the season, and the Hungarian GP would be another duel between the year’s two championship contenders.
On Sunday, Senna started in the pole position and overcame the engine problems that had cost him the previous two races (in the UK and Germany). The McLaren driver also employed a smart strategy in order to find his way back to the top spot of the podium: he figured that, since most of the track’s corners were to the right, he should use hard tires on the left side of his cars and soft ones on the right side.
“I knew it was going to be more difficult at first. But if I was able to hold on until the second half of the race, my tires could make up for the Williams’ technical advantage”, said Senna after winning the race.