Some of the wins in Ayrton Senna’s career were marked by the surprising strategies employed by the Brazilian driver. One of them took place exactly 26 years ago, at the 1991 Hungarian GP, when he won the race using two hard tires on the left side of the car and two soft ones on the right side – a tactic that was unusual at the time and isn’t even allowed anymore.
Take a look at five other instances in which Senna had to overcome curious obstacles to win.
1- Duct tape on the radiator hole
Ayrton Senna became the British Formula 3 champion at Thruxton after winning the race from start to finish. Everyone at the raceway expected an even fight with Martin Brundle, Senna’s biggest rival at the time, but the Brazilian used a tactic that helped him take off in the lead. The team used a piece of duct tape to close the vent of the oil radiator, making the oil reach its ideal temperature faster. Since the water was also getting hotter, Senna had to loosen his seatbelt and take the duct tape off manually after a few laps. It was a risky maneuver, but it paid off with the title at the end of the race.
2- Fastest lap by going through the pit-lane
At the 1993 European GP, the Brazilian put on a spectacle by doing the best first lap of all time, in which he overtook four rivals – among them, Damon Hill, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher – on a wet track. But another interesting and unprecedented event also took place at that GP: the McLaren driver posted the fastest lap in the race by going through the pit lane. Galvão Bueno, the TV Globo (Brazilian TV) commentator at the time, remembers it very well, and the told that story to Senna TV.
3- Skipping the tire change
Back in the ‘80s, the Detroit street circuit was one of the most challenging in the F1 calendar. Besides having lots of difficult corners, the track’s asphalt was dirty, wavy and full of potholes. That meant it was hard to imagine a driver being able to fight for the win without changing tires. But Senna always found a way to defy logic, and that was exactly what he did in order to win with his yellow Lotus.
The Brazilian was the only driver in the points scoring zone who didn’t make a pit stop, and he beat Nelson Piquet – the Williams driver who came in second – to the finish line by 33 seconds. Just for comparison’s sake: in the previous year, Senna had to make two pit-stops at the USA GP to walk away with a victory.
4- Racing without brakes… And winning!
Ayrton Senna’s historic win with brake problems took place in 1982, in the Formula Ford 2000 championship, at Snetterton (England). The story took on mythical proportions, but it was recorded in the driver’s own handwriting, in a letter he wrote after the race to tell his manager, Armando Botelho, what had happened.
Senna started in first place and was forced to avoid some debris to complete the first lap. A crash had taken place at the start, and as Ayrton hit the brakes to go around the scattered fragments, he realized his front brakes were gone and went off track. Senna fell to third place after leaving the track again, but he was able to recover after adjusting his driving style. He started going fast again and took back the lead after passing two cars.
In the end, Senna got the checkered flag with just the rear bakes working and had to stop the car as soon as he crossed the finish line. Ayrton was ecstatic when he arrived at the boxes, but his mechanics didn’t seem to believe in what had just happened. Only when they brought his car in they realized the front brake disks were cold, meaning they hadn’t been used.
Take a look at the letter written by Senna (only in portuguese)
5- His epic win with only the sixth gear
At the 1991 Brazilian GP, Senna took the pole by being just three tenths of a second quicker than Williams’ Riccardo Patrese, who would turn out to be his biggest rival during the race. On Sunday, Senna won from start to finish, but not without first going through the drama of having just the sixth gear in the final laps.
His gearbox broke down little by little. When Senna was six laps away from the end, he was seven seconds ahead of his Italian rival. Two laps later, the gap had shrunk to just four seconds. However, Senna pulled off a miracle in the last few laps, all the while having to pretend his car was okay, so his rival wouldn’t notice how hard it was to drive the McLaren.
As he crossed the finish line, 2s991 ahead of Patrese, Senna had finally won in his home country for the first time in his career. The victory in Brazil had been slipping through his fingers since 1986, when he came in second, at Jacarepaguá (Rio de Janeiro), driving a Lotus.