Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1993: Ayrton Senna’s Greatest Lap?
Donington has a rich history of top level motor-sport but the last time Grand Prix machinery raced at this track had been before the war. Nevertheless it is entirely appropriate that Senna’s name followed the last winner of a Grand Prix here – Tazio Nuvolari.
In similar fashion that the great Nuvolari defeated the might of Germany with his Alfa at the 1935 German Grand Prix – Senna was also using lesser machinery to take on and defeat the dominant Williams team.
How dominant? Qualifying is usually a good indicator of a car and drivers inherent speed and Alain Prost recorded thirteen poles positions in his final season – his previous seasons best was five in 1982.. I digress.
Today, twenty-one years ago Donington hosted the European Grand Prix and what transpired has passed into the annals of legend. Ayrton Senna started fourth on the gird entered the first corner fifth and was leading before the completion of the first lap after some inspired driving.
He would go on to win in crushing fashion – humbling everybody else on the track and in the post race press conference, Prost’s laments about his problems throughout the race inspired Senna to respond; “Maybe you want to swap cars?”
Personally I have always had issues with this race being presented as the greatest opening lap in Formula One history. In many ways it’s significance has been exaggerated by the legacy of Senna’s fatal accident the following season.
I do not dispute the sublime skills that shaped the majestic first lap and it’s place in the pantheon of legendary races is assured because this was a man over-coming his machines limitations to beat the rest of the field into submission.
But… even Senna himself declared that it wasn’t anything compared to his first victory in 1985. His menu at Donington included: active suspension, traction control and advanced electronics. He hated the neutralising effect of the electronics that had over-whelmed F1.
“I want to be challenged by my own limits and by someone who is made of the same skin and bone and where the difference is between brain and experience and adaptation to the course. I do not want to be challenged by someone else’s computer. If I give 100% to my driving, which is my hobby as well as my profession, I can compete with anyone, but not computers.”
If Senna had retired from a mechanical issue or lost control – would his first lap be any less worthy of elevation to the pedestal? To claim an opening lap as the greatest in history does it have to be combined with a victory too?
Many people remember Rubens Barrichello retiring late in the race whilst running in 3rd position. A brilliant performance in only his third event but what most people do not realise is that Barrichello started twelfth on the grid and was fourth by the completion of the first lap. Surely that ranks as the greatest ever opening lap?
In my opinion – the greatest ever opening lap was the 2006 Hungarian GP as seen from Fernando Alonso’s Renault. He had qualified 15th and as he came out of the first corner he was jockeying for 11th position. He passed Mark Webber and then Nick Heidfeld before driving around the outside of Coulthard.
By turn 10 he dummied Kubica and moved into seventh before squirming past Massa’s Ferrari into the final corner. He crossed the line in sixth place.
For an example of delivering under pressure this was immense. He was fighting for the World Championship against Michael Schumacher with only six races to go. It’s a pity the Renault team didn’t secure the wheel nut properly nineteen laps from the end.