The day Senna presented himself for Monaco
At the beginning of the season, Senna had achieved good results in two out of races. The Brazilian had finished in sixth place at the South African and the Belgian GPs – a significant feat for a small team like Toleman, which had started the season using the previous year’s car, since it didn’t have the resources to race the new one in the first few contests.
In Monaco, their goal was to go for something similar, especially since they would be starting in 13thplace. It was going to be Senna’s first time driving through the narrow streets of the Principality, which usually make things hard for a rookie behind the wheel of something as fast as an F1 racecar.
That June 3, 1984, that went down in F1 history was also marked by the heavy rain that fell across the region of Monaco. After a considerable delay, the drivers started their cars and Senna finished the first lap in ninth place. And so began not only the story of the King of Monaco, but also of the Master of the Rain…
The Toleman driver took advantage of his momentum, combined with his rivals mistakes brought upon by the slippery wet track of Monte Carlo, to get close to the front of the pack. On lap 10, Senna was already in seventh place. After Michele Alboreto had issues with his Ferrari, the Brazilian entered the points-scoring zone (only the first six scored, at the time) e soon after overtook Keke Rosberg in a classy maneuver, climbing to fifth place.
On the 14th lap, Senna passed Rene Arnoux, and the TV cameras started focusing exclusively on the Brazilian – an F1 rookie who was also making his Monaco GP debut. Two laps after that, Nigel Mansell lost control of his Lotus and also the race’s lead, when he crashed into the guard-rail. If it was hard going fast in Monaco under normal conditions, the rain made it much worse.
In third place, the only cars in front of Senna belonged to that year’s dominant team : the McLarens driven by Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. The maneuver to overtake the Austrian was one of the most beautiful in the history of the GP.
At the start o flap 19, before the Saint Devote corner, Ayrton brilliantly passed him by going wide – on a wet track! Nobody could believe the ease with which a Toleman had beaten a McLaren, the car that had won four out of the five races up until that point in 1984.
Senna’s dominance in the rain was flooring everyone in Monaco, and the 35-second gap between him and Prost was quickly disappearing. On lap 31, when Senna was just 7 seconds away from the Frenchman, Jacky Ickx, the race director, suspended the race, claiming it was too dangerous to go on.
According to journalist Reginaldo Leme, Ickx revealed, years later, that he was pressured by FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre, to declare Alain Prost the winner before he was overtaken by Ayrton.
Despite the feeling that He could have won, Senna celebrated his first podium in F1, by finishing in second place, and his first master-class in Monaco. Ironically, it was also the beginning of his rivalry with Prost. Even though he couldn’t beat him on the track, due to the race’s unexpected interruption, the Frenchman would go on to mss those points: he was the runner-up in 1994, just half a point behind Niki Lauda (and he would be champion if the race had lasted until the end, even if he eventually lost to Senna).