South African Grand Prix – 1984


In his second Formula One race, Ayrton Senna showed the world that he was not just another driver. He came in 6th place and scored his first point in the main category of motoracing in one the most exhausting races of his career.

Coming from the feed categories in which most races didn’t last more than 30 minutes, and having completed only eight laps in his F1 debut, it was Senna’s first two-hour race ever. The Brazilian also had to deal with the scorching South Africa heat that time of the year, which had become even more intense on the day of the race.

After the qualifying sessions, his 13th place on the starting grid was already an improvement over his debut in Brazil, where he started in 17th. Senna was categorically better than his Toleman teammate, Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto. To put things in perspective, the Brazilian was 1s3 faster than Cecotto – Ayrton’s time was 1m06s981, while Johnny’s 1m08s298 landed him in 19th place. But Senna wanted more.

So, instead of going on a safari with the other drivers, he stayed back to closely monitor the work of the Toleman mechanics. He familiarized himself with all adjustments that were made to the car and tested all possible suspension and airfoil settings. On Saturday morning (the day of the South African Grand Prix), a crash rocked the F1 world: Osela team’s Percarlo Ghinzani had a serious accident during warm-up.

Fortunately, the driver wasn’t injured, but the sight of the twisted and burnt wreckage was startling. Senna left for the starting grid with two concerns: tires and engine. They would have to be spared if he wanted to get his Toleman to the end of the race.

Right at the start, the Brazilian damaged his front wing and lost two positions, to Andrea de Cesaris (Ligier) and René Arnoux (France) – dropping down to 15th place. On the 6th lap, he was overtaken by Alain Prost, who started from the pit-lane and was trying to recover. At that point, he was in 16th place. At the front of the pack, Piquet started badly, lost the lead to Keke Rosberg, but managed to get it back by the end of the first lap. Things weren’t looking good to Ayrton at the start of the race – so much so he started being pressured by Cecotto. He was struggling to tame an unbalanced car that lacked power. His strategy was to keep his Toleman alive in Kyalami.

By doung that, things started getting interesting to Senna. By the 18th lap, Teo Fabi (Brabham) retired from the race, and the Brazilian jumped to 15th. With ATS’s Manfred Winkelhock facing problems in the 28th lap and Piquet’s retirement in the 30th, Senna climbed to 13th place.

After that, the drivers in front of Senna started making pit-stops, landing the Brazilian in the top 10. His tactic was simple: not pitting for tires. With the retirements of Keke Rosberg (Williams) and Nigel Mansell (Lotus), Ayrton showed up in the top 6 for the first time, during lap 52.

He only kept the 6th place for two laps, though – on lap 54, Patrick Tambay (Renault) stole the Brazilian’s position. Tambay’s overtaking made it clear: Ayrton was unable to stay on the track with his worn—out Pirelli tires. So, Toleman called the Brazilian for the pits on lap 57 out of 75. When he came back, Senna was in 10th place.

On the 61st lap, Jacques Laffite (Williams) and Stefan Bellof (Tyrell) retired leaving Senna in 8th place. On lap 67, it was Tambay’s turn to retire. The Toleman driver now had the 7th place. Senna was far away from De Cesaris, the driver in front of him. Meanwhile, the lead changed hands: Niki Lauda (McLaren) won the Kyalami race, followed by Alain Prost (McLaren) and Derek Warwick (Renault) – it was the Britton’s first time on the podium.

Physically exhausted, Senna did all he could stay on the track, well-aware that, by arriving in 7th place, he wasn’t going to score any points. But, as the saying goes, the race only end at the checkered flag, and he still could win his first point in South Africa.

The Brazilian’s resilience was rewarded in the 71st lap, four before the end, when Michele Alboreto (Ferrari) retired, and Senna’s 6th place was all but guaranteed. His dedication produced surprising results. Scoring as early as in the driver’s second race in F1 showed that he had something special. And when he was congratulated by Alex Hawkridge, Toleman’s principal, Ayrton Senna said, “I’m ready for the podium. Get the car ready for that.” Due the Senna’s extreme physical exertion, he was taken to the raceway medical center for tests. Take a look below at Reginaldo Leme’s complete coverage of the race, aired by TV Globo, with Senna’s answers.- Portuguese only)

“When the race came to an end, Senna passed out from exhaustion and shoulder pain. He came straight here, to the raceway’s hospital. At the recovery room, Senna was put on a neck brace and his shoulder was still really sore, after driving a car with a hard steering wheel for two hours. But he almost forgot all about that when he learned he had just scored his first point ever in F1, said Reginaldo Leme.

“They told me I had finished in 7th, and I was disappointed after all my effort. before the race’s halfway point, the car was already impossible [to drive].  The steering wheel felt heavy during the warm-up lap, with the gas tank completely full. I even told my engineer the steering wheel was so heavy it was impossible to drive. I had never felt such a weight in my life. And that remained for the duration of the race.  The engine was failing, so I had to power down so it wouldn’t break. [My teammate] Cecotto was keeping up with me until he had to retire, he probably pushed the car too hard. I was feeling confident I wouldn’t have to stop, but it was impossible. The car was shaking and vibrating, there was no way I could keep going. I wanted the race to be over by the halfway point because I couldn’t take it anymore”, said Ayrton, who was happy with the first of his 614 points in F1.

Resumo da Corrida

  • 1 N. Piquet
  • 2 K. Rosberg
  • 3 N. Mansell
  • 4 P. Tambay
  • 5 A. Prost
  • 6 T. Fabi
  • 7 E. de Angelis
  • 8 N. Lauda
  • 9 D. Warwick
  • 10 M. Alboreto
  • 11 J. Laffite
  • 12 M. Winkelhock
  • 13 Ayrton Senna
  • 14 A. de Cesaris
  • 15 R. Arnoux
  • 16 E. Cheever
  • 17 F. Hesnault
  • 18 R. Patrese
  • 19 J. Cecotto
  • 20 M. Baldi
  • 21 J. Palmer
  • 22 P. Alliot
  • 23 M. Surer
  • 24 S. Bellof
  • 25 M. Brundle
  • 26 T. Boutsen
Voltas 75
Tempo Nublado
Volta mais rápida P. Tambay -1'08"877
Podium 1º N. Lauda 2º A. Prost 3º D. Warwick
Carros 26
Abandonos 13