November 5th is International Science Day, and it has become quite clear that motorsports are an important testing ground for new automotive technologies. The ‘80s and ‘90s, when Ayrton Senna won his titles, were particularly important in that aspect.
One of the main innovations, at the time, was the active suspension system. As a Lotus driver, in 1987, Senna was the first to test a car with a suspension that adapted itself to the undulations of the track’s asphalt.
Despite pioneering the technology, the Lotus 99T had aerodynamic and chassis issues, which made it difficult for Ayrton Senna and his teammate, Satoru Nakajima, to get good results. The Brazilian managed to win twice in 1987 (Monaco and Detroit), and even scored a pole position (San Marino).
The active suspension system ended up making all the difference in 1992, when Williams developed an almost unbeatable car. In 1994, when Ayrton signed with Williams, the active suspension was banned, along with other electronic assist systems.
Another innovation that made its way from the track to street cars was the semi-automatic transmission. This time, Ayrton didn’t have the privilege to be the first to test the technology. Even though Ferrari implemented the system in 1989, McLaren – Ayrton’s team at the time – only started regularly using the paddle shift system in the 1992 season. Many street cars carry that innovation, these days; it’s not something exclusive to luxury and sports cars anymore.
During the 1989 and 1991 seasons, Ayrton knew that would hold him back, especially in Monaco, where drivers can shift gears more than 50 times per lap.