Winning with only the 6th gear in the final laps: Senna’s greatest hour at Interlagos09/11/2018
The 2018 Brazilian F1 GP takes place this Sunday at the Interlagos Raceway. In his career, three-time F1 world champion, Ayrton Senna, won twice in Brazilian territory. The driver made it to the main motor sports category in 1984, but his first triumph in Brazil only came in 1991, at the track in São Paulo.
On the eve of the race, in 1991, Ayrton dominated the qualifying session by overcoming the powerful Williams driven by Riccardo Patrese and Nigel Mansell, who would start in second and third place, respectively. Taking advantage of his pole position, Senna led for most of the race, distancing himself from his opponents. He was also helped by Mansell’s gearbox problems, which forced him to retire on the 59th lap.
With only 10 laps remaining, Senna was 36 seconds ahead of Patrese, in second place. Over the following laps, Ayrton started having a hard time changing gears, and realized his McLaren’s gearbox was breaking down. The Brazilian did the seven final laps with only the sixth gear, and the gap between him and the Italian started shrinking at a rate of four seconds per lap, on average.
His advantage was getting smaller and smaller, until, with three laps remaining, it started to rain. All Brazilians were apprehensive. Patrese was pushing hard to catch up with Ayrton, while the Brazilian waved his arms, asking for the race to be ended because of the rain, which was getting worse.
With tremendous physical effort, Senna fought to the end and scored his first win at the Brazilian GP, making the crowd at Interlagos go wild.
“I noticed Patrese getting closer and actually thought I wasn’t going to win. However, I thought I had an obligation to win in Brazil, and I was able to control the car despite the rain at the end of the race. I also had muscle spasms and cramps in my shoulders and neck, because the seatbelt was too tight, but also because of all the emotion”, he said after the race.
“I only came back to reality when I saw the checkered flag. Then, it felt really good to be alive, to be at Interlagos, in my land, seeing my people so happy. It wasn’t the greatest win in my life, but it was the hardest-fought one”, said Senna.
Completely exhausted after breaking the curse of never having won in Brazil, Senna climbed on the podium at Interlagos with the Brazilian flag, to the delight of the crowd. He was barely able to lift the trophy due to the muscle spasms. But that didn’t stop the driver from taking part in the ceremony and celebrating with his fans. It was a party in Brazil!
Senna TV has talked to journalists who were at the 1991 Brazilian GP and we’ve recalled several special moments from this race and other times Senna raced in Brazil, including the three-time champion’s second win in Brazil, in 1993, also at Interlagos. Check it out.