Senna was about to race his fourth Monaco GP after great performances in the three previous years: his magnificent debut in 1984, with a second-place finish driving a humble Toleman; his first pole position one year later; and, finally, in 1986, another podium-finish, with Lotus, after ending the race in third place. All he needed was a win – which, according to many specialists, should have been his in 1984.
Besides the head-turning yellow of its new sponsor, Lotus had another new feature for the year: the active-suspension system, which reacted to changes in the pavement, a deciding factor in street circuits. The technology was still taking its first steps in F1, and it would reach its pinnacle in 1992, with a Williams that was “out of this world”, as Senna described the British cars, that year.
In the qualifying sessions for the 1987 Monaco GP, the Brazilian posted the second best time, and would be starting behind Williams’ Nigel Mansell, who was considered the favorite to win, that year, since he had the best car – it was not by accident that his team ended up winning the season’s Constructors’ Championship.
Check out a full lap in the practice sessions by Senna with his Lotus 99T in the Principality
The rivalry between Senna and Mansell was one of the main attractions of F1, at the time. Some say that the Britton was not happy when Lotus signed with the Brazilian driver to fill his place in 1985. In the following year, both drivers faced each other in fierce battles, like in the race at Jerez de la Frontera, when Senna beat Mansell for just 0s014. In Belgium, also in 1986, the rivalry came to a head, when they ended up crashing as they fought for a position at Spa-Francorchamps.
What would happen as they fought for the win at the 1987 Monaco GP? The Britton kept the lead and gained some distance over the first few laps: he was 11 seconds ahead of the Brazilian when his Honda engine had problems and he was forced to retire on lap 29.
Good for Senna, Who took the lead and masterfully held on to it for another 49 laps. In the end, the Brazilian crossed the finish-line 33 seconds ahead of Nelson Piquet, who took second-place.
As the checkered flag was waved, Senna was also making history in Brazilian motor sports: he was the country’s first driver to ever win at Monaco, a feat he would repeat five times more. That was Senna’s fifth win in F1, all of them as a Lotus driver.
On the podium, Senna was so happy that he broke protocol and spilled champagne all over Prince Ranier of Monaco.