Besides being known as the “King of the Rain”, Ayrton Senna was also renowned for his superiority in street-circuit races. In total, 16 of Ayrton´s 65 poles positions (24,6%) and 13 of Ayrton’s 41 victories were achieved in urban tracks – 31.7% of them, almost one-third of his triumphs.
In the list, we can find circuits like Monaco, where Senna won six times (a record that still stands), and others that have left the F1 calendar, like Detroit, Phoenix and Adelaide. Remember all those victories.
The Grand Prix was marked by something unusual. While Senna made his fans happy on the track, the Brazilian soccer team was eliminated from the Mexico World Cup in the quarterfinals, after a defeat to France – the country where many of the mechanics and engineers employed by Renault (the company that provided his team’s engines) came from.
During the race, Senna rescued his nation’s pride by celebrating his victory with a gesture that would become his trademark. The driver stopped during the cool down lap, took a small Brazilian flag and proudly held it up, making a full lap with the flag in hand. From then on, his unofficial last name, the one people used after each of his wins, started making more and more sense: Ayrton Senna “from Brazil”.
Racing for Lotus, whose cars featured the flamboyant yellow livery, Senna scored his first victory at the Principality of Monaco, starting a streak that would go down in Formula One history, with six wins on the streets of Monte Carlo, the most ever achieved by a driver, a record that stands to this day.
It was Ayrton Senna’s fifth win in Formula One, the first ever by a Brazilian in Monaco and also the first ever by a car with an active suspension system in the category.
After a big win, in Monaco, and having already prevailed in Detroit, Senna shone bright once again on the streets of the Motor City, achieving his second win at a street-circuit in the 1987 season.
The Brazilian started in second place and chased Nigel Mansell (Williams) for 33 laps. When the Britton stopped to change tires, Senna took the lead and remained there. On a risky bet, he took care of his tires and never changed them, unlike other drivers.
On Saturday, the Brazilian had scored his sixth pole position in six races, that year – an incredible performance that bothered his McLaren teammate (Alain Prost), then a two-time world champion (1985 and 1986), and naturally held as a frontrunner at the beginning of the year, specially racing against a driver that was still to win his first title.
Senna didn’t give his opponents the slightest chance, and won from start to finish, 38 seconds ahead of Prost and more than a lap ahead of Thierry Boutsen, who came in third with his Benetton.
After the previous year’s mistake, Senna made it clear, on Saturday, that he wouldn’t let victory slip again, by making the pole position, something even more important at the Principality. And he was 1s1 faster than Prost – a lot, considering his teammate not only drove the same car but also was a two-time world champion.
During the race, Senna overtook the backmarkers with much more ease than Prost, and finished the race 52s5 seconds ahead of the Frenchman.
On Saturday, the qualifying round was cancelled due to the rain, and only Friday’s times were considered, leaving Ayrton with only the fifth-best time. On Sunday, Senna managed to climb to second place in the first few laps, but it took a lot of effort to steal the lead from Jean Alesi.
Both drivers switched positions a few times, showing off daring and skilled maneuvers in search of the lead. In the end, Senna prevailed and finished first. Alesi and Boutsen rounded out the podium.
At the 1990 Monaco Grand Prix, Senna started at the pole position, led every lap, had the race’s fastest lap end won – the “Grand Chelem”, as the British call it, or the “hat trick”, in the US.
It’s such a rare feat in F1 that Senna only repeated it three more times (Portugal 1985, Spain 1989 and Italy 1990). The win in Monaco was vital in paving the way for his second world title.
Unlike in the previous year’s race, Senna didn’t have to climb from fifth place all the way to a victory. In 1991, he took the pole position by being one second quicker than Prost (Ferrari), and led the race for the full 81 laps, until he received the checkered flag.
It was the beginning of an amazing season for the Brazilian. He won the year’s first four races, gaining an advantage that he was able to manage at the end of the year, fending off Mansell’s and Patreses’s Williams.
Starting at the pole position, the Brazilian led every lap and finished 18 seconds ahead of Nigel Mansell, racing for Williams, whose car, at the time, was already considered one of the most effective around, with well-developed electronics (and that would become unbeatable the following season, in 1992).
That victory was marked by an unusual event: during the cool down lap, Senna’s Honda engine had oil pressure issues. However, due to mix-up with the signs, Senna didn’t know the race was over, which made him very apprehensive. The Ferrari sign also called for one more lap. Ayrton stepped on it, but he didn’t have to – his win was already secure.
The 1991 Australian Grand Prix is remembered as the shortest race in Formula One history: only 24 minutes, in contrast with the 110, or even 120, of a regular street-circuit race.
On Sunday, rained so hard that the drivers barely managed to stay on the track, and the race was suspended for safety reasons. Only half the points were awarded, but Ayrton had already secured his third world title in the previous race (the Japanese Grand Prix).
Victory was within Mansell’s reach, until, eight laps from the end, one of the Britton’s wheels lost its nut, forcing the Williams driver to make a non-scheduled pit-stop. Senna took advantage of the situation and became the leader.
With fresh tires, Mansell got out in second and flew towards Senna. With a clearly slower car, Senna gave a defensive-driving master class during the last few laps in Monaco, doing all he could to avoid being overtaken. It was one of Ayrton’s most difficult wins at the Principality.
Starting in third place and, once again, facing a superior Williams – this time driven by Alain Prost – Senna took advantage of Prost’s being punished for jumping the gun and Michael Schumacher’s retirement.
Calmly, Senna knew how to keep his pace and score his sixth win in the Principality – the fifth in a row, a new record at F1’s most traditional circuit.
Senna’s last win in Formula One took place in a street-circuit, just as he was saying goodbye to the team with which he had won the most: McLaren.
With radio problems during the qualifying session, he couldn’t hear Ron Denis, his team principal, saying he was running out of fuel. He didn’t slow down and made the session’s fastest lap, practically without any fuel, according to McLaren’s calculations. During the race, the only time left the lead was when he stopped to change tires on the 23rd lap, regaining it on the 29th and finally winning his 41st win in 158 races up until then.