Lotus celebrates 35th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's first F1 victory

Legendary Brazilian racer took his maiden F1 win in a Lotus 97T in pouring rain at Estoril on April 21 1985

22 April 2020 - 10:27 By Motoring Reporter
Ayrton Senna racing in the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril.
Ayrton Senna racing in the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril.
Image: Classic Team Lotus

It was 35 years ago yesterday, in monsoon conditions, that a determined young Brazilian raced to his first Formula 1 victory and cemented his name in motorsport folklore.

It was Sunday, April 21 and the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix. Behind the wheel of a Lotus 97T was Ayrton Senna, just turned 25 years old. With the car at the absolute limit of its grip, he delivered a masterclass in wet-weather driving for the hardy Estoril crowd and powered to the chequered flag. Such was his dominance that he lapped the entire field up to second place, finishing more than a minute ahead of his nearest competitor.

In just his second race for Lotus, Senna took the first of 41 career F1 victories – six for Lotus – and a legend was born. The performance stunned his rivals and lay down a marker that would see him go on to become a global sporting icon and a national hero in his native Brazil. Despite his tragic death in 1994, he remains a racing legend.

Lotus yesterday marked the occasion with an exclusive new podcast, a series of rarely seen classic archive images of Senna and his 97T race car from a private collection, and a new blog revealing insights into Senna the man and his time racing for Lotus.

The podcast features an all-new and exclusive interview with Chris Dinnage, Senna’s chief mechanic in 1985 and today the Team Manager at Classic Team Lotus.

The Estoril 1985 podium: from left Michele Alboreto, Ayrton Senna, and Patrick Tambay.
The Estoril 1985 podium: from left Michele Alboreto, Ayrton Senna, and Patrick Tambay.
Image: Classic Team Lotus

Describing the raw emotion of the weekend and the Lotus that catapulted Senna to stardom, Dinnage says: “Ayrton hadn’t tested the car in the wet – that was the first time he’d driven in those conditions. Estoril was when he really hit the scene, because people sat up and thought ‘hang on, he’s lapped almost everybody’ and we knew we had something pretty special.”

Dinnage adds it was this which made the difference between Senna and other drivers, explaining: “Ayrton had the same raw pace as everyone else, but he was only using 50% of his capacity as a human to drive the car at full speed, leaving him the other 50% to be really aware of everything that was going on around him. His concentration levels were unparalleled – I’ve never met anyone else like him.”

Senna remained calm and composed in his Lotus and, after two hours of brutal racing, crossed the line first at the Estoril Grand Prix. Just nine cars were classified as finishing.

He later commented: “It was a hard, tactical race, corner by corner, lap by lap, because conditions were changing all the time. The car was sliding everywhere – it was very hard to keep the car under control. Once I had all four wheels on the grass, totally out of control, but the car came back on the circuit. People later said that my win in the wet at Donington in ’93 was my greatest performance – no way! I had traction control!”

You can listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and ShoutEngine. The US LOT Blog is hosted on the Lotus media site www.media.lotuscars.com


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