Brought to you by TJ13 chronicler Bart De Pauw
– “Monaco, 1988, Senna”: Rocky tempts fate and Vettel listens but gets away with it
Reigning triple world champion Sebastian Vettel took another dominant victory at the circuit Gilles Villeneuve which was the scene for the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix. He powered to his 39th career pole position during a damp and difficult qualifying session on Saturday, and on race Sunday he lead from lights-out to chequered flag.
And so in the 70th and final lap a greedy Vettel decided to go for the only thing still missing to score a so-called Grand Slam in F1 that occurs when a driver (1) wins a race (2) from pole position (3) having led every lap of the race (4) and having achieved the race’s fastest lap.
Vettel purpled the timing screens with a fastest first sector time of the race, but as soon as Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner understood what was going on he instructed Vettel’s race engineer Guillaume ‘Rocky’ Roquelin to pull Sebastian back into line. Rocky, who had been charged with this unpopular task before and who had fresh memories about what happened in the preceding Monaco Grand Prix where a frustrated Vettel refused to back out of his fastest lap in the closing stages of the race just to cure his boredom, then went for a surprising strategy to slow Vettel down.
Rather than once again insisting that a fastest lap is pointless as it doesn’t earn you any extra points and isn’t worth the risk, he came over the radio and just said the following three words: “Monaco, 1988, Senna“. This time around Vettel, probably not fully aware about the conditions in which the legendary Ayrton Senna threw away a certain victory at Monaco 25 years ago, duly backed off for a safer cruise to the finish, replying to his engineer that he was only kidding.
But would the superstitious Vettel – he religiously steps into his cars from the left-hand side and always slides a lucky coin behind the laces of his racing boot – have reacted to Rocky’s reference as he did if he would have know what really happened to Senna in Monaco 1988?
The 1988 Monaco Grand Prix weekend for Ayrton Senna was a true rollercoaster of emotions and experiences.
In qualifying an extraterrestrial Senna was a second and a half quicker than his McLaren teammate and archrival Alain Prost, and later on the Brazilian would recall this qualifying session for an out-of-body experience during which his subconscious mind had gained control and transcended what was physically possible up to the point where he started to feel himself vulnerable:
“Suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was kind of driving by instinct, only I was in a different dimension. I was way over the limit, but still I was able to find even more. It frightened me because I realized I was well beyond my conscious understanding.”
At the start of the race Senna led the pack into Saint Devote while second-starting Prost missed a gear and found himself bundled into 3th position by Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari. Senna took off in the distance and by the time that Prost finally managed his way past Berger in lap 54 (out of 78) Senna had built himself a comfortable 49 seconds lead.
Despite the huge gap Prost dropped his lap times with two seconds in laps 56 and 57, only for Senna to reply with a festival of even faster qualifying laps – including a new fastest lap on lap 59 – that were intended to send a clear message to Prost. The Frenchman was well known for his ability to understand clear messages and he soon resumed lapping at a rhythm similar to when he was still behind Berger, but during these few fighting laps he had managed to get under Senna’s skin who found it a lot more difficult to back off as he saw this as the perfect opportunity to crush his opponent.
It was at this point in time (lap 63) that McLaren team boss Ron Dennis came on the radio to Senna and ordered him to slow down. Senna obeyed the order, but in the next four laps he made a series of elementary and most uncharacteristic mistakes such as nearly missing a gear at Casino and skimming the barrier as a result.
The Brazilian’s loss of concentration as a result of the team order to slow down was obvious, and it ultimately led to what is probably Senna’s most notorious non-deliberate driving error when in lap 67 he spun into the barrier at Portier and handed the win to Prost. After his crash Senna immediately walked back to his nearby apartment where he stayed incommunicado for some time afterwards to digest his bitter disappointment.
So what really happened to Senna in Monaco 1988 is that he missed a certain race victory because a team order to slow down made him loose his concentration, and definitely not because he was lapping too quickly or taking too many risks. Rocky’s message to Vettel was thus not only most impertinent for what he was trying to achieve, it was also tempting fate quite a bit as with his message Roquelin was doing the exact same thing that costed Senna so dearly 25 years ago.
I hope that Sebastian is a loyal TJ13 reader as that should make for an interesting reaction the next time that Rocky tries to play this trick on him…