Senna’s tightest victory in F1 turns 35 years old13/04/2021
One of Senna’s greatest victories was awaiting him on the Jerez de la Frontera Circuit. Against Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet from Williams and Alain Prost and Keke Rosberg from McLaren, the Brazilian driver drove fast and secured a time which surpassed his rivals’ by almost one second. 1m21s605 (average speed, 186 km/h).
It was his ninth pole position, but none were as impressive as this one. The feat was all the more impressive when we take into account that it was only the second race of Senna’s second season in a team with chances of winning, as was the case of Lotus-Renault in 1985 and 1986. .
During the race, the battle for the lead involved Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell, who took turns in first position. Senna was in the lead for 49 laps. The Englishman, for the other 23. Soon after the green light it became clear that the key to winning would be in managing the balance between the wearing of the tires and the fuel consumption over the course of 72 laps on the demanding Jerez de la Frontera circuit, in the Andalusia region, in Southern Spain.
While Senna led for the first 39 laps, Mansell jumped ahead on the 40th. But the Goodyear tires of the Briton’s Williams started wearing out, and his team opted for another pit-stop on the 63rd lap. That was when Senna took back the lead. But he knew the Briton would fly out of the gate to close the gap of almost 20 seconds in the remaining laps. After all, Mansell would have new tires, while the Brazilian would have to deal with his worn-out compounds.
With a showdown worthy of a movie script set up for the final minutes, the world watched one of the most dramatic finishes in Formula 1 history: Ayrton Senna, driving his car with extreme caution against pressure from his rival, who was more than two seconds faster per lap, thanks to his new tires.
On the last lap, the distance between them gets smaller at each turn, ramping up the tension until the final moments. On the turn that leads to the start-finish straight, both cars dove in together, crossing the finish line side-by-side, with Senna beating Mansell by the minuscule difference of 14 thousandths of a second. “Not for the faint of heart!”, famously exclaimed TV Globo announcer, Galvão Bueno, at the end of the race.
Both drivers put on such a spectacle that every other competitor, with the exception of Alain Prost (who finished third, with his McLaren), finished the race at least one lap behind them.
An unforgettable way to secure his third victory, by the slimmest margin in Senna’s.entire career – and also one of the most exciting finishes ever. The victory made the Brazilian the championship leader, with 15 points, against Piquet’s 9, Mansell’s 6 and Prost’s 4. “It was my third win in Formula One, and maybe the first one I’ve had to really fight for”, said Senna about his conquest in Jerez de la Frontera.