Few remember, but one of the most beautiful moments in Ayrton Senna’s career took place at the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix – during the qualifying rounds to be precise.
The Williams driver secured the pole position with the session’s best lap and, as it is almost always the case at Interlagos, the day was marked by a rainstorm that made Monaco ’84 or Estoril ’85 look like a light drizzle, turning the track’s pavement into a river.
No other car would take to the track. And the rain was relentless. What would any crowd in the world do? Probably leave, of course. But nobody moved. Everyone was there to see Ayrton Senna, and he knew that. That’s why, in a decision that the people who were there would never forget, he insisted on facing the downpour with his Williams, even though he already had the pole position.
Expectations were running so high that the silence of thousands of people – who stood still for minutes on end – was only broken by the hum of the William’s engine, still timid, coming from the exit of the pit lane.
It was my first time at Sector G, built on the opposite straight. I had watched a few races on Sector A, where I had done my part supporting Senna in 1990. We had a great view of almost 80% of the circuit, not to mention they were (and still are) the cheapest seats available, which went a long way for a 16 year-old student.
The only problem was that we had no idea what was going on at the pit lane. After all, in 1994, there was no internet, much less smartphones (even a regular cellphone was a rarity) and portable TV sets were too expansive.
That’s why when the blue-and-white Williams appeared at the “Senna’s S” exit, the crowd went wild, like someone had scored a goal.
There was Ayrton Senna, a three-time F1 world champion, with the next day’s pole position already secure, saying thanks to his supporters. And, in order to do that, he faced a track in terrible conditions. That lap wouldn’t even be useful as a practice run, since it wasn’t going to rain on Sunday (the day of the race) and the rain was so heavy that any testing would be meaningless.
It was probably the slowest lap the king of pole positions ever posted on a qualifying session. But it was certainly one of the most memorable in Ayrton Senna’s life – both to himself and to his millions of supporters.
*Written by Rodrigo França – journalist, the official Ayrton Senna website editor-in-chief and author of “Ayrton Senna e a Mídia Esportiva”