WELCOME to my sixth driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 Grand Prix de Monaco:
I can’t decide whose stock went down more significantly in the last week; Facebook or Pastor Maldonado. He had a horrible weekend and all of it was self-inflicted. The hero of Barcelona was docked ten grid places for some foolish driving in Saturday morning, when he drove into Sergio Perez. Seeing red mist, he went onto crash on his next lap at Casino Square and only decisive work from his mechanics got the Venezuelan out for qualifying. Ninth place became 19th, then last after a gearbox penalty. His race didn’t even last a lap after whacking Pedro de la Rosa into Ste. Devote. The damage meant he didn’t turn into Loews hairpin and that was that. A dramatic fall from grace. 4/10
Once again, Fernando Alonso showed his skill to maximise his race result. Strong from the outset in practice on Thursday, a slightly cautious approach from Ferrari in qualifying cost them a shot at the pole. Alonso was lucky to not suffer any damage off the startline after some wheel-banging with Romain Grosjean. He survived, managed his super soft tyres brilliantly to close up on Lewis Hamilton, then jump him by staying out a lap longer. Faultless as ever and now, the sole championship leader. 9/10
Kimi Raikkonen’s return to the Principality was fairly lacklustre. He was on the backfoot from the outset, when a steering adjustment ruled him out of FP1. Playing catchup, eighth on the grid wasn’t bad considering he flirted with elimination in the first part of qualifying. Lost out to Sebastian Vettel on the first lap, then held on under pressure from Michael Schumacher as his super soft tyres wilted. Lotus decision to keep him out for as long as possible cost him a higher finish but ninth was probably the right result. No doubt that Kimi still has that sheer pace but Barcelona aside, hasn’t been able to string together a trouble-free weekend so far in 2012. 6/10
A weekend that started out so promisingly but delivered very little. Romain Grosjean’s consistency and confidence on Thursday made him favourite for pole position in qualifying. Lotus had problems with tyre temperatures all weekend and this left the Frenchman in fourth on the grid. His race lasted six seconds, involving three elements of contact with three different drivers and broken rear suspension meant he didn’t even make turn one. Disappointing outcome and some foolishness with this DNF but the speed is definitely there. 7/10
Whenever Monaco arrives on the calendar, Sergio Perez must dread it. An incident packed weekend but for the wrong reasons. Totally blameless in the incident with Pastor Maldonado on Saturday morning and had a near altercation with Nico Hulkenberg too. Perhaps feeling a bit stressed, he crashed heavily at the Swimming Pool in the first few minutes of Q1. Later, a steering problem was blamed for his early demise. Struggled to pass Marussia cars, then collected a drive-through for baulking Kimi Raikkonen in the pitlane entry. Narrowly missed out on points and fastest lap shows it was another case of what might have been for Perez. 6/10
Quiet beginning to the weekend but Nico Rosberg came on form on Saturday and continued his consistent scoring approach as a result. Fastest in FP3, Nico maximised the car’s potential in qualifying and ended up on the front row. Kept Mark Webber on his toes all afternoon in the race but Webber didn’t crack under pressure, so he had to settle for second place. Rosberg has now scored the most points out of anyone since Malaysia and on this evidence, has to be seen as a potential championship contender. 10/10
Bruno Senna kept his Williams pointing in the right direction to score a point, something his team-mate Pastor Maldonado had major problems doing all weekend. Senna was rather oblivious all weekend although he looked all at sea on Thursday in the wet. 13th on the grid was better in comparison to recent events and made his way through the turn one carnage to run ninth in the first stint. Got his point through persistance and Toro Rosso’s failed gamble on intermediates for Jean-Eric Vergne. Williams will expect more though as the season progresses from Senna and they will be disappointed that he was beaten by both slower Force India cars. 6/10
The years rolled back on Saturday when Michael Schumacher produced a special lap to land a surprising pole position. Back in sixth following his Spanish grid penalty, contact with Romain Grosjean before turn one ended the Lotus driver’s race and delayed Schumacher to run behind Kimi Raikkonen for the first stint. Got past Raikkonen by staying out longer but had no chance on improving from seventh until a fuel pickup issue limited his top speed and ultimately cut out the engine. Difficult to pin any blame on Michael this time, just another luckless weekend. 7/10
McLaren look to be losing some of their early season speed and Lewis Hamilton knows it more than anyone. Wrestled his car to third on the grid, as the team struggled to match the Mercedes and Ferrari teams all weekend. Bad start was the trigger to what happened behind between Romain Grosjean and Michael Schumacher although Hamilton kept third. The team kept him out too long on the super soft and he lost track position to Fernando Alonso and later, Sebastian Vettel. Only highlight of a boring race for Lewis was being hit by objects from his pitwall. It was a frustrating day but still scored solid points to stay firmly in the championship hunt. 7/10
Fourth place at the finish was a save for Sebastian Vettel and he can count himself slightly fortunate. Practice pace was poor and even needed super soft tyres to escape Q1. Ran out of the option by Q3 so settled for ninth. Romain Grosjean’s wayward Lotus nearly took him out at the start but Sebastian narrowly missed him to run sixth and wait for the others to pit before exposing his pace on the prime tyre. Spent 12 laps heading the field and there was a time when the race looked to be heading into his grasp. Unfortunately, the tyre lost grip and forced a slightly earlier pitstop than planned. The longer strategy got him ahead of both Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa though so a good job to collect 12 points on a weekend where he was second best throughout to Mark Webber. 7/10
Two points from three races and a very unconvincing performance from Button, who isn’t out of the championship hunt but needs to stop the alarming slide in fortunes. Didn’t seem happy again from Thursday, although he set the fastest time in FP2. Pace flattered to deceive and he exited qualifying before the pole position shootout again, lining up 12th. Unlucky to be hit by the flying Kamui Kobayashi in the Ste. Devote fracas and this dropped him behind Heikki Kovalainen. It is tough to pass around Monaco but the speed differential between the McLaren and the Caterham meant that Button’s performance was dismal. How he spend all afternoon behind the Finn is a mystery. Spun out at the Swimming Pool attempting an ambitious pass on Kovalainen. Needs a big score to regain confidence in Canada. 4/10
Kamui Kobayashi badly underperformed when the car was capable of so much more. Like Jenson Button, disappointing to see the Japanese driver be knocked out in Q2 and his race didn’t last long. If Kobayashi had taken his initial plan of shortcutting the first corner, he would ducked in behind Sebastian Vettel in seventh. Instead, he decided to take the longer route and the result was, flipped airborne by Romain Grosjean’s spun Lotus. Damage to front suspension ended his event after five laps and not much symphony from me on this one. 5/10
I think we have to admit that Jean-Eric Vergne is a better Sunday driver than Saturday driver. Again only escaped Q1 thanks to the misfortune of another driver and his own accident at the start of Q2 meant he couldn’t do any better than 17th. Smart move to change tyres on lap 17 allowed him to leapfrog the midfield that were trapped behind the tyre hungry Kimi Raikkonen. Seventh place was his until the team gambled the lot by pitting for intermediates with six laps to go in a rain shower. It didn’t work and left the rookie in an unlapped 12th. He wasn’t happy but should be encouraged with his consistent race speed. Urgently needs to work on qualifying form now. 7/10
Mark Webber’s twin brother must have been present in Spain because the real Webber turned up in Monaco. In a car that didn’t deserve to win, he showed his might around the streets to record his second Monte Carlo victory in F1. Struggled on Thursday but strung a mega lap together in qualifying which earnt him pole position, once Michael Schumacher was moved back down the grid. Perfect start and made no mistakes throughout on raceday to lead home Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. His consistent approach makes him another championship contender. 10/10
Perhaps not quite as eye-catching as at Williams but Nico Hulkenberg is looking better since the Grand Prix scene returned to Europe. Missed out on the top ten shootout by just over a tenth of a second and had no problems running in close company with the likes of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen on Sunday. Jumped by team-mate Paul di Resta in the pits but took full advantage of Raikkonen being unfairly blocked by Sergio Perez to chase di Resta home. Eighth was an excellent result, considering the car is still not at the team’s best liking yet. 7/10
Felipe Massa’s job is safe for now at least after a committed and charging Monaco weekend. Threatened the frontrunners throughout free practice and was fastest in Q2. A couple of mistakes on his qualifying lap left him seventh on the grid, when third was definitely possible. Strong start saw him chasing Fernando Alonso hard and only the late rain shower dropped him off the back of the top five. Still less than seven seconds behind race winner Mark Webber, sixth place is a massive boost for Massa, both in confidence and psychological terms. 8/10
PAUL DI RESTA
Qualifying 14th was a disappointing result for Paul di Resta but his fourth points finish already of the season shows that he is almost the complete racing driver now. Kept it out the barriers with consummate ease and although I’d say he was lucky to beat his faster team-mate Nico Hulkenberg on raceday, you can see why teams such as Mercedes GP are interested in his future services. 6/10
Daniel Ricciardo is turning into another average driver. So far, he hasn’t delivered in a car that looks difficult to drive but probably would achieve better results if either Sebastian Buemi or Jaime Alguersuari had been driving it this season. Beating Vergne in qualifying is a regular achievement now but race pace is not good and was running behind Heikki Kovalainen when he retired with a steering problem. Must do better to prove his worth to the team in the coming races. 5/10
The street fighter that is Heikki Kovalainen threatened to steal a point at the weekend, proving his quality is being masked by the chassis at his disposal. Thursday was a nightmare as an engine failure and a spin meant he had to climb out of his Caterham in both sessions earlier than anticipated. Bounced back on Saturday to only wind up a tenth slower than Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. Then ran brilliantly on Sunday to keep Jenson Button and Daniel Ricciardo behind him in faster cars and with little trouble too. A messy battle with Sergio Perez cost him a front wing in the closing stages and meant 13th looks like a mundane finish. Has plenty to be pleased though with his race performance. 9/10
Looked fast on Thursday and had potential to shock Toro Rosso in qualifying and make Q2. The Russian underperformed on Saturday and ended nearly a second slower than Heikki Kovalainen. Delayed by Kamui Kobayashi’s flying antics in the first corner chaos and an intermittent electrical problem meant he was a regular pit caller until withdrawing on lap 15. 5/10
Had the measure of Charles Pic throughout the weekend, although on a better day, could have punished Vitaly Petrov for his tame qualifying effort on Saturday. Had little option to shortcut Ste. Devote at the start to avoid the multiple accident and made his car had to pass against the likes of Sergio Perez and Jean-Eric Vergne. When they got past, had a lonely run to 14th. 6/10
PEDRO DE LA ROSA
Claimed his qualifying lap on Saturday to be his best ever around Monaco and by beating Charles Pic, would have pleased the HRT bosses. Unfortunate to be clouted heavily by Pastor Maldonado while attempting to avoid the St. Devote carnage and the resulting rear wing damage meant it was retirement in the pits without completing a lap. 6/10
Done well for most of the season but Monaco seem to overwhelm Charles Pic. Struggled in qualifying and ended up on the back row and half a second behind Pedro de la Rosa’s slower HRT. Promoted up thanks to grid penalties for Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez and evaded the first corner mess well. Made little impact in the race and retired for third successive race with an electrical problem on lap 64. 4/10
Kept it out of the wall this season in Monaco and credit to Karthikeyan to finish the race, only two laps down and in 15th place. It is hard to judge the HRT team’s merits in Formula One but if their drivers finish the race, that’s all that can really be asked. 6/10
Total scores after 6 events: Fernando Alonso 51, Lewis Hamilton 48, Sebastian Vettel 46, Romain Grosjean 46, Kimi Raikkonen 45, Mark Webber 45, Nico Rosberg 45, Pastor Maldonado 42, Sergio Perez 42, Jenson Button 41, Paul di Resta 41, Michael Schumacher 39, Nico Hulkenberg 39, Heikki Kovalainen 39, Kamui Kobayashi 38, Bruno Senna 37, Vitaly Petrov 37, Daniel Ricciardo 36, Jean-Eric Vergne 36, Timo Glock 35, Charles Pic 34, Felipe Massa 31, Pedro de la Rosa 30, Narain Karthikeyan 28
FORMULA ONE’s jewel in the crown is the Monaco Grand Prix and it has staged an event in every single year of the Formula One World Championship. I won’t be covering the whole history, just within the last 20 years but I have to start with one exception.
The closing laps of the 1982 event have gone down in living memory. Longtime race leader Alain Prost crashed his Renault on a slippery circuit with only a few laps remaining. This handed the lead to Riccardo Patrese, who promptly spun his Brabham at Loews and allowed Didier Pironi into the lead. The Frenchman only led for a few hundred metres until his Ferrari spluttered to a halt, out of petrol. Andrea de Cesaris briefly inherited the no.1 position before he did what he did best, crashed! Derek Daly became a challenger before coasting to a halt after terminal damage was caused to his Williams. James Hunt famously said in the BBC commentary box; “Well we’ve got this ridiculous situation where we are waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one.” Finally, Patrese regained his composure to win his first ever Grand Prix.
Hunt, who never won Monaco gave us another classic moment in 1989 when Murray Walker told the viewers about moody Frenchman Rene Arnoux and the lack of pace he had in the closing days of his career with Ligier. Hunt’s live response on the BBC was; “All I can say to that is b#####it!”
In 1992, Nigel Mansell was aiming to become the first driver to win the first six races of the season since Alberto Ascari in the 1950s. It looked on course in Monaco until a late pitstop to replace a slow puncture. The Brit, another never to win in the Principality came out behind the master of Monaco, Ayrton Senna. What followed was one of the most doggest pursuits in the archives as Mansell tried everything to get past Senna’s slower McLaren Honda. The Brazilian’s remarkable defensive driving earnt him a fifth Monaco victory and in 1993, he made it six. Little did we know that he wouldn’t be back in 1994 to make it seven.
The 1994 event was always going to live in the shadow, especially as it was just two weeks after the painful and tragic weekend at Imola, which accounted for Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. In Thursday free practice, Karl Wendlinger lost control of his Sauber Mercedes and crashed on the approach to the chicane. Wendlinger suffered serious head injuries and fell into a deep coma. Although he made a full recovery, his F1 career was effectively over. A first lap collision between Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen helped Michael Schumacher cruise to his first Monaco GP success, 40 seconds clear of Martin Brundle in a McLaren Peugeot.
Hill was another Brit to be out of luck in Monte Carlo and was denied a clear victory in a crazy 1996 race which saw just four of the 21 starters make the finish. Schumacher had moved to Ferrari and started on pole position, before making an uncharacteristic mistake and crashing out at the Portier on the first lap. It was the same place where Senna had famously gone off in 1988 and became so distressed, he went home for hours after the race. Hill built up a 30 second lead before a rare Williams Renault V10 engine failure exiting the tunnel on lap 40 forced him into a gut-wrenching retirement. Jean Alesi was the next leader but a wheel bearing problem forced him onto the growing list of retirements. After all that, a masterful decision on tyre choice saw Olivier Panis come through from 14th on the grid to record his first and only victory and the last for the Ligier Formula One team. For the record, only David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert and Heinz-Harald Frentzen also made the finish.
Schumacher showed his skill around Monaco in 1997 on another wet day. He charged into the lead from second on the grid and built up a colossal 22 second lead within five laps, winning in the end by nearly a minute. The Williams team made a bizarre decision to start Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve on slick tyres and both would crash out. Rubens Barrichello held his nerve to finish an extraordinary second for the brand new Stewart team in just their fifth race, bringing Sir Jackie Stewart, a three-time Monaco winner himself to tears.
One Brit who had success in Monaco was David Coulthard. The Scot won this famous race twice. In 2000, he inherited victory after Schumacher’s Ferrari suffered a suspension failure, having led by 50 seconds at one point. In 2002 DC battled an engine problem and stiff challenges from the Williams and Ferrari teams to record a popular victory for McLaren. It was the only time the Ferrari F2002 was beaten in the 2002 dominant campaign.
Juan Pablo Montoya recorded a super win for Williams in 2003, their first success in Monaco in 20 years and a year later, it was Jarno Trulli’s turn to taste victory. Trulli’s only Grand Prix victory came on a weekend where the Renault team had the fastest car throughout. Schumacher lost his chance of winning the first six races in a season, following a controversial clash with a lapped Montoya in the tunnel behind the Safety Car.
No man has dominated Monaco since Schumacher’s first retirement, with Fernando Alonso coming the closest, recording back-to-back successes in 2006 & 2007 for Renault and McLaren respectively. The 2006 event’s main headline was Schumacher’s parking attempt at Rascasse in qualifying which was a deliberate attempt to stop Alonso, Mark Webber, Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella beating his fastest time. The stewards sent him to the back of the grid and he was vilified in the entire paddock. Some say it was his antics in Monaco that played a part in him announcing his retirement later in the season.
The honours in the last four seasons have been split between Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. To win Monaco, you need speed, skill, a bit of luck and total commitment as one mistake and it is an expensive accident against the magnetic attraction of the barriers. Considering the unpredictable start to 2012 so far, a sixth different winner is highly possible, especially on this circuit where form can fluctuate.
MY TOP TEN MONACO MEMORIES
1. The epic battle between Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell for the victory in 1992.
2. Olivier Panis achieving victory against the odds in the crazy 1996 event.
3. Michael Schumacher’s masterclass in the wet in 1997.
4. Red Bull’s amazing celebrations after Mark Webber led Sebastian Vettel home to a 1-2 in 2010.
5. That unforgettable finish in 1982; the race that no-one seemed to want to win!
6. Alexander Wurz taking on Michael Schumacher in a fantastic battle in 1998, the highlight of Wurz’s F1 career.
7. Jenson Button parking in the wrong place and having to rundown the start-finish straight to the crowd’s acclaim, following his dominant performance for Brawn GP in 2009.
8. James Hunt calling Rene Arnoux “b######t” in 1989 live on the BBC. Well you might as well be honest about someone at the end of the day!
9. David Coulthard achieving Red Bull’s first podium in 2006, then going onto the podium dressed in a Superman cape!
10. The first signs Ayrton Senna would become a superstar, in the shortened 1984 race for the underfunded Toleman team.
THIS weekend sees the hosting of the ultimate jewel in the crown of Formula One, the Monaco Grand Prix. The late team boss Enzo Ferrari once said that ‘winning Monaco is worth half a championship.’ It isn’t quite like that but after the unpredictable start to 2012, with five different winners in the first five races, Monaco could turn out to be a pivotal event when it comes to momentum for the rest of the championship.
Many of the greats have won around here. The late Ayrton Senna won six times between 1987-1993 and was almost unbeatable at his peak. 2001 might have been his last success in the principality but Michael Schumacher didn’t win Monaco by accident on five separate occasions. Graham Hill is another five time winner and the ‘Professor,’ Alain Prost triumphed four times. Out of the current crop, Fernando Alonso, Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won around the principality.
However with the radical advances in modern day technology, especially in the car industry – have the streets of Monaco outgrown Formula One and is it time to stop racing there for good?
Last season’s race weekend had some lucky and frightening shunts that brought the safety around Monaco argument up into the mould again. Nico Rosberg was incredibly fortunate to escape a nasty connection with the barriers on Saturday morning last year when he crashed his Mercedes on the approach to the Nouvelle chicane. In qualifying, Sergio Perez wasn’t so lucky and missed the race following an even worse shunt at the same corner. Perez was concussed, bruised and admitted later on that it took him at least three races to get over the accident psychologically. In the race, a multiple accident triggered by Adrian Sutil clattering the wall at Tabac saw Vitaly Petrov hospitalised with bruising on his ankles and caused the race to be suspended. It was the busiest weekend for the F1 medical team since the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.
The officials have listened and made some safety changes for the 2012 event. The barriers where Perez crashed last season have been moved back in the hope of restricting a sudden impact should a car lose control at the fastest part of the track. Like in 2011, the use of DRS has been banned from use in the tunnel and more of the corners will have the impact-absorbing barriers that no doubt saved Perez from even more serious injury. The tunnel area has come in for criticism as a hotspot for potential serious shunts. Karl Wendlinger crashed in 1994 and fell into a deep coma from his injuries. Jenson Button was concussed and missed the 2003 event following a similar shunt in practice and Alexander Wurz escaped without injury after a huge smash in the 1998 race. However the only fatality at the Monaco Grand Prix has been Ferrari’s Lorenzo Bandini, way back in 1967.
Michael Schumacher told BBC Sport last week that the risk of racing in Monaco is justifable as it is just once a year; “For so many years we have successfully campaigned for more track safety and then we race in Monaco but in my view this is justifiable once a year – especially as the circuit is so much fun to drive. Every time you go there, you just look forward to finally getting out and driving the track.”
I asked the opinion of some F1 fans through the Planet F1 forum about this subject;
Laura23: “Schumacher says it’s worth the risk because it’s once a year. I’m sure all the other drivers, Petrov excluded perhaps, share the same views. If they don’t go to Monaco because of the risk then I’m afraid F1 won’t be F1 anymore, it’ll be a nanny stated sport. The real reason they should stop going to Monaco, if they ever do, is because it doesn’t exactly provide good racing unless it rains.”
JohnnyGuitar: “Monaco is probably safer now than it’s ever been. The top speeds the cars hit around the circuit has been pretty similar for two or three decades probably but trackside barriers have improved and the safety of the cars themselves has increased immeasurably. If it was safe to race there throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s – I see no reason why there should be any talk of stopping the event on the grounds of safety now.”
Lt. Drebin: “Not safe but safer than before. Still, the possibility of a disastrous crash is enormously high in comparison with any other race track.”
j man: “Personally I love Monaco, precisely because it is a laughably unsuitable setting for an F1 race. It presents a totally unique challenge for the drivers, provides a totally unique setting for the fans and the race’s rich history means that it should never be removed from the calendar.”
slide: “No , it seems dangerous to race there but thats the draw.”
The Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious event on the calendar and still king of the street circuits, despite the glamour of night racing in Singapore. If you’d say Monaco is dangerous, what about faster tracks with average speed like Spa, Suzuka and Monza? Fingers crossed that the weekend goes through peacefully without any serious accidents but the risk has always been there. It isn’t a deathtrap and as far as I’m concerned, if the race in Monte Carlo disappeared ever – there wouldn’t be much point of holding a Formula One World Championship.
THE penultimate blog from remembering Imola focuses on the career and the life of Ayrton Senna, eighteen years after he tragically perished at the wheel of the Williams FW16 in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Forget Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. In my opinion, Senna was the greatest ever human being to drive in Formula One.
Senna was very successful in the junior formulae in Brazil and in England. He begun karting at the tender age of four. For him, racing was in his blood and so to was his will and desire to win. To him, second place wasn’t acceptable; he felt it was first of the losers. He underlined that ruthless streak early on in his career, in the tense and exciting duel with Britain’s Martin Brundle for the 1983 British Formula 3 Championship. Senna dominated the first half of the season, Brundle the second half and it left Ayrton to pull off some crazy overtaking attempts that often ended in accidents. Eventually he overcame Brundle in the season finale at Thruxton and Formula One beckoned.
Despite testing for McLaren and Williams in the winter of 1983, Senna opted to sign for the Toleman team, later to become Benetton. Immediately Senna made an impression, despite his inferior equipment. He came so close to winning his maiden race in 1984. In Monaco Senna made full advantage of the awful weather conditions, to charge through from 12th on the grid. He pulled off some stupendous overtaking moves, with the confidence that suggested he would be a champion in future waiting. Only a red flag that brought the race to an early conclusion denied him. Senna insisted that he would have won if the race had it run just one more lap. The determination to succeed was firmly there. Podiums at Brands Hatch and Estoril followed but Senna knew that Toleman was not a long-term stay. He went to Lotus for the next three seasons, convinced that this might be the team that could deliver him the world championship.
In only his second race for the famous British marquee, Senna won in Portugal – in very similar conditions to those of Monaco 1984. Second placed Michele Alboreto was the only driver not to be lapped, in a clinical and masterful performance in the wet. Not only did Senna become a great wet weather runner, he developed a close association with the Japanese manufacturer Honda in his time at Lotus and also the amazing skill he had to produce a flying lap. Eight pole positions in 1985 and this skill remained with Senna all the way till his untimely death. Although Schumacher has beaten this statistic, it took him twelve years to do it after Ayrton’s death. 65 pole positions in 161 races, over 33 per cent is one of the most impressive ratios I’ve ever seen. In his three years with Lotus, Senna achieved third place in the 1987 championship and six wins in total, including a maiden triumph on the streets of Monte Carlo. However the British team was on a steady rate of decline and Ayrton elected to jump ship, taking Honda with him to McLaren.
Frustrated by seeing the more superior Williams of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell often get the better of him despite his undoubted talent, Senna was convinced the switch to McLaren would finally give him the success it craved. There he was partnered with the Frenchman Alain Prost, the golden boy of McLaren at the time. Fireworks would explode between the pair, though not initially. The 1988 McLaren Honda was the most dominant car in Grand Prix history, winning 15 of the season’s 16 races. If Jean-Louis Schelesser hadn’t taken Senna out in the closing stages at Monza, it could well have been a clean sweep. Senna won eight races to Prost’s seven – though the ‘Professor’s’ consistency meant he went on to score more championship points. However on a countback system, which the sport used at the time, Senna knew that victory in the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix would be enough for his first championship.
The start was a disaster as Senna squandered pole position and dropped to 14th by turn one, giving Prost a colossal advantage. Very quickly Senna showed the superiority of his McLaren and charged through the pack. By lap 16, he was fourth and eleven laps later, was challenging for the lead. When Prost was trapped in backmarkers, Senna seized his opportunity and squeezed past his team-mate on the start-finish straight. It was a clinical piece of overtaking and a drive that thoroughly deserved to win the championship. Prost was very gracious in defeat, admitting that Senna had been the better driver during 1988. Apart from a moment in Portugal, when Ayrton had nearly put Alain into the pitwall, their battle had been a joy to watch in 1988. Sadly the next two years bought politics and accusations to the heartfelt of the sport.
Race two of 1989 was the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Prost and Senna entered a gentlemanly agreement, that the man who approached the braking point for the Tosa hairpin first, would go onto win the race. Senna took pole position and led on the first lap. However when his good friend Gerhard Berger crashed at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames, the race required a restart. Second time round, Prost made the better start and led approaching Tosa. Senna, presuming that the agreement was only meant on one attempt, stole the lead into the hairpin and drove into the distance. It was perhaps a gentle misunderstanding but Prost, who finished over a minute adrift refused to talk to Senna again.
1989 was not a lucky year for the Brazilian, losing certain victories in USA, Canada and Italy due to mechanical problems, whilst he was taken out in Portugal by the already disqualified Mansell. Once again Suzuka would be the deciding factor in the championship battle, this time with Prost the favourite. Senna had to win to stand any chance of taking the fight to Adelaide. He lost the lead with a poor start and harassed Prost all afternoon, with little chance of getting ahead. On lap 47, he closed up and made his move into the final chicane. Prost, knowing that Senna had to win turned into the corner and the accident was inevitable. The two McLaren cars interlocked wheels and slid to a halt. Prost unbuckled his belts and walked away but Senna kept his engine running and restarted. However he needed outside assistance from the marshals to get going again. Despite needing to pit for a new nosecone, catching and overtaking the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini, Senna won and was promptly disqualified for the outside assistance offence. Prost was champion. Ayrton was furious, threatening to walkaway from the sport he loved, believing that a conspiracy had been set-up against him by Prost and the unpopular FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre. More allegations and accusations followed and Senna’s super license was revoked.
The following March he was back, having apologised and won the season opener in Phoenix. Once more the fight for supremacy was between Senna’s McLaren Honda and Prost, who had swapped seats with Berger and moved to McLaren’s closest rivals Ferrari. For the third successive year, Japan was the deciding point for the championship saga. This time it was Prost who needed to win to keep his title dream alive. Senna took his customary pole position but bitterly complained all weekend that pole position was on the dirtier side of the grid. He campaigned for it to be changed and Prost actually agreed. The officials granted Senna’s request, but Balestre refused to back down. Consequently Senna vowed that if Prost turned into turn one first, he would regret it.
Twenty-four hours later and Senna accelerated away but Prost got the better start and took the lead. Senna looked for a gap on the inside of the first corner that disappeared quickly. Contact was inevitable and the McLaren and Ferrari disappeared into a cloud of dust. The outcome of the 1990 FIA Formula One World Championship had been decided in a matter of seconds in such sad and distasteful circumstances. It was a second title for Senna but bittersweet. Only at the same event a year later, with Balestre gone and replaced by Max Mosley did Senna admit that he deliberately ran Prost off the road in 1990. His will and desire to win couldn’t be faulted but in attempting to knock another car out on purpose was a hideous crime, which on a normal UK road would land you with at least a driving ban and possibly a jail sentence.
In 1991, Senna won his third and last drivers title for the umpteenth time at Suzuka, the deciding point of most title battles. Prost fell away and was fired by Ferrari before the season’s end, so it left for a renewed rivalry to remerge between Senna and Nigel Mansell. Senna won the first four races in 1991 but as the Williams Renault became the stronger package during the campaign, Senna grew frustrated realising that McLaren were being out developed by a rival for the first time in his stint with the Woking team. Eventually reliability and a terrible pitstop in Portugal shot down Mansell’s 1991 title dream but not for the worth of trying. He went wheel-to-wheel with Senna, sparks flying at some 200mph down the backstraight of Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, one of the sport’s most iconic images.
As the Williams team mastered the active suspension system, McLaren drifted further behind and Senna had to work especially hard for any of his later victories in his career. 1992 was a major disappointment, as Ayrton finished 4th in the final standings with just three wins, compared to the nine of the dominant Mansell. One of his greatest victories came in Monaco 1992 when he managed to hold off a hard-charging Mansell, who clambered all over the back of his McLaren in the last five laps. Honda pulled out of F1 at the end of the season and Senna questioned whether he should remain in the sport, especially when Prost ‘vetoed’ him not to drive alongside him at Williams in 1993.
Senna decided to stay with McLaren on a race-by-race basis in 1993 and was excellent throughout the season. There were memorable victories in Brazil for the second time at home, Japan, Australia and for a record sixth time in Monaco. However he saved the best for a damp Easter weekend in 1993. The venue was Donington Park for the European Grand Prix. Senna qualified 4th and was squeezed out by the uncompromising Michael Schumacher on the rundown to Redgate. Undeterred he sprinted past the young German on the exit and then swept past the fast-starting Karl Wendlinger in his Sauber around the outside of the Craner Curves. Next target were the dominant Williams and just three corners later, he went inside Damon Hill to move into second. He tore into Prost’s early advantage and outbraked his chief rival into the Melbourne Loop. He had gone from fifth to first by the end of the first lap, definitely the greatest lap in Grand Prix history. Senna won the race from Hill by nearly a full lap.
For 1994 Senna got his dream move to the Williams Renault squad. With Prost having retired and Mansell competing in IndyCars, this was Senna’s chance to add to his forty-one victories. Sadly the partnership that promised so much never came to fruition. Senna didn’t like the handling of the FW16 and had a miserable first two races. He spun off and stalled his engine in Brazil, chasing down Schumacher’s Benetton. Then he was tipped off the road by Mika Hakkinen into the first corner of the Pacific Grand Prix. Arriving at Imola, Senna had no points, Schumacher twenty.
Autosport magazine claimed he was a man under pressure. He didn’t show it though, focused on his goal to bring Williams back to the top after an unconvincing start. He blitzed the entire field in San Marino, setting the quickest time in every single session. However accidents to his countryman Rubens Barrichello and the death of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying deeply affected Senna.
Deep down he didn’t have the passion to race. Some say he was not on the best of terms with his family, due to his burdening relationship with Adriane Galisteu. Others suggest he believed that Schumacher and Benetton were cheating their way to success, by using the now banned electronic aids. Either way he put those issues aside and went out to race. A startline accident put the race behind the Safety Car and it was going too slow for Ayrton’s liking. On the restart Senna charged away, determined to pull away from Schumacher. On lap seven, he entered the flat-out Tamburello bend when his Williams refused to turn into the corner. The rest they say is history…
Ayrton Senna may have not endeared himself to everyone. However his skill behind the wheel of a racing car cannot be questioned, nor could his charitable work he put in for many local Brazilian and worldwide charities. His speed, desire and commitment to win were immense, even if some of his tactics had to be questioned. A devote Christian, Senna believed that God would save him on the racetrack. His death brought shock to the whole world – and the funeral that followed brought Brazil to a complete standstill. Chillingly he had predicted that the new regulations for the 1994 season would bring serious accidents, possibly even bring the horrible fatality that he feared could happen. On 1 May 1994, the world lost a famous icon, and although Williams found replacement drivers easy to come by, Formula One will never see the likes of him again. In 2010 a movie was made about his career, simply titled ‘Senna.’
Ayrton Senna is a legend who leaves an endearing legacy to many and is a sporting legend forever.
AYRTON SENNA (March 21 1960 – May 1 1994)
IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport. All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.
The next entry was a breakthrough driver and gave Japan its first sight of the sport, which has continued to grow ever since. A pioneer for Japanese motorsport; Satoru Nakajima.
NAME: Satoru Nakajima
TEAMS: Lotus (1987-1989), Tyrrell (1990-1991)
GP STARTS: 74
BEST FINISH: 4th (1987 British GP)
BORN from a farming family, Satoru Nakajima had a passion for motorsport from an early age. His success in Formula One was largely modest but he set the path for a flux of Japanese drivers like Ukyo Katayama, Takuma Sato and his son Kazuki to have all appeared in the sport.
Nakajima dominanted the Japanese Formula Two series but was a very late entrant into F1 at the age of 34. He debuted for the famous Lotus team in 1987, part of a new package which included Honda engines and Camel tobacco sponsorship. Nakajima drove alongside Ayrton Senna in his first season and was determined to be known for his own qualities rather than just a pay driver. Of course, he couldn’t compete with Senna but he showed flashes of natural speed. Scoring a point in only his second event at the 1987 San Marino Grand Prix was a good start and Satoru was part of a Honda grand slam at Silverstone, finishing fourth behind Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Senna. A further point in the inaugural Japanese event at Suzuka sent his home supporters mad and he finished a creditable 12th in the championship, having scored seven points in total.
As Senna moved onto McLaren and the bitter rivalry with Alain Prost began, Nakajima stayed with Lotus for 1988 and was partnered by the defending champion Piquet. The season started prominsingly with a point in Brazil but Nakajima’s shock failure to qualify for Monaco was the beginning of the end for the Lotus Honda partnership, compounded when Piquet crashed in the race on the first lap. Satoru was never a fan of street circuits and he repeated his Monaco abscence on raceday by failing to make the cut on the temporary and dreadful Detroit circuit for the United States round. A spate of retirements and mistakes followed in the remainder of the season and it was a case of second season syndrome. Nakajima scored just one point all season and that was in the first race.
As Honda focused on their dominance with McLaren, Lotus decline had begun. The team had to take the heavyweight Judd engine for 1989 and the failure of Nakajima and Piquet to qualify for the 1989 Belgian Grand Prix was the first time that the British make had no car on the grid in 30 years. He failed to qualify in Monaco again and Canada but it came good at the season finale in Australia. Watched by a massive Japanese audience, Satoru benefited from the filthy conditions in Adelaide to finish fourth from 23rd on the grid. In a race where staying on the circuit was a notable achievement, he set the fastest lap on lap 64 too.
Two lacklustre years at Tyrrell followed for Nakajima. He paired up with Jean Alesi for 1990 and scored three sixth place finishes in the USA, Italy and once more on his Japanese homeland at Suzuka. There was a brief link-up with Honda again in 1991 as Stefano Modena joined Satoru. Fifth in Phoenix was his only highlight of 1991 although a mechanical problem robbed him of fourth in another wet race at Imola. He announced his retirement from Formula One at Hockenheim and bowed out with the minimum of fuss.
His F1 career ended but involvement with motorsport didn’t end there. Satoru worked closely with Honda and helped develop their engines for use in the CART and IRL series over in America. He managed the brief career in F1 of Tora Takagi in 1998/1999 and he owns the Nakajima Racing entry in Japanese Formula Nippon. He helped Tom Coronel and Ralph Firman to titles in this competition. His son Kazuki raced for two seasons with Williams in 2008 and 2009 and today, Satoru still owns his own team in Formula Nippon with both of his two sons competing in the series.
Success in Formula One was limited for Satoru Nakajima but his impact put Japan firmly on the Grand Prix map for good.
NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: Moments of glory at the Nurburgring and Monza in a largely unspectacular career and a Spaniard on the grid before the Alonso days, Marc Gene.
IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport. All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.
The second driver featured in The Driver Files is another Italian driver whose promise never got fulfilled, Stefano Modena.
NAME: Stefano Modena
TEAMS: Brabham (1987, 1989-1990), EuroBrun (1988), Tyrrell (1991), Jordan (1992)
GP STARTS: 70
BEST FINISH: 2nd (1991 Canadian Grand Prix)
MANY Italian drivers have tried their luck in Formula One over the past 20 years. There are some who have not had the chance to prove themselves in decent equipment, such as Gianni Morbidelli and Alessandro Zanardi. Then, there are those who had the car at their disposal and blew their big chance; Ivan Capelli and Giancarlo Fisichella spring to mind. One driver whose promise never got fulfilled was Stefano Modena. Two words finished off his career, Jordan-Yamaha!
The 1992 Jordan Yamaha partnership is akin to McLaren’s turbulent partnership with Peugeot in 1994. They never got on and along with Mauricio Gugelmin, Modena could only wonder as his talent was wasted and in the end, so was his F1 career.
Before this horrendous season, Stefano had been forced to work hard and shown what he was capable of on occasion. He won the F3000 championship for Onyx at his first attempt in this category in 1987. It led to a one-off event for Brabham at the 1987 Australian Grand Prix, as Riccardo Patrese had left early to replace the injured Nigel Mansell in the all-conquering Williams Honda package. He qualified a respectable 15th, ahead of both Tyrrell and Lola cars, but wasn’t quite ready for the physical challenge of Adelaide’s streets and had to retire after 31 laps.
When Bernie Ecclestone announced that Brabham were withdrawing from the sport, Modena was forced into a move to the uncompetitive EuroBrun team for his full debut season in 1988. It was a real baptism of fire. No points and the embarassment of being excluded from two successive race meetings. He missed a weight check in Monaco and was thrown out of the event in Mexico for his car having an illegal rear wing. Stefano managed to record five race finishes with the limited resources; the best being 11th in Hungary.
Under new owners, he moved back to Brabham for 1989 but the Judd engine turned into an unreliable nightmare, so Modena was going to be fully prepared for later disasters. There was another exclusion for coming in underweight after qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix. However, when the Brabham package worked in Monaco, Stefano showed what he could do. Although team-mate Martin Brundle was robbed of a deserved podium by battery problems, his Italian team-mate stepped up when the team were feeling low and grabbed his maiden podium. Alongside Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost on the Monaco rostrum, Modena had made his name, but still craved a better package. Fifth in the 1990 season opener on the streets of Phoenix was his sole reward the following campaign, as Brabham’s BT59 package took the team backwards. As their financial problems started to unravel, Modena’s stirring performances began to make him hot property in the paddock. In fact, he was mentioned in the rumour mill as a potential replacement for the retiring Mansell at Ferrari. Eventually, the lure of Maranello persuaded Jean Alesi away from Tyrrell and it was to Stefano’s benefit, as he moved to Tyrrell for 1991.
Alongside Satoru Nakajima, Ken Tyrrell’s wise negotating skills saw his car armed with the best engine around at the time, the works Honda V10. With major sponsorship from German electrical company Braun, 1991 looked to be the season where Stefano Modena could become a leading star in Grand Prix racing. In fairness, the relationship started rosy. He finished fourth in the USA, ran third at Imola before mechanical problems intervened and then, a magnifcient front row starting position in Monaco. On raceday, he held off Patrese until an engine failure in the tunnel saw his race cruelly end and take Patrese out too. Even Senna mentioned after qualifying how impressed he was with Modena’s efforts. If Monaco was desperately unlucky, Canada was more fortunate. With frontrunners such as Senna, Prost and Alesi dropping out through reliability gremlins, Stefano inherited second place when Mansell’s Williams stopped on the final lap. It was his landmark result but didn’t lead to better things. Only one more point, in Japan followed. Honda withdrew support for Tyrrell, Nakajima retired and Modena moved onto Jordan for 1992.
The writing was on the wall when he failed to qualify for the first race in South Africa. A pitlane start in Mexico followed and he didn’t even last a lap in Brazil. If the engine wasn’t failing spectacularly, the gearbox was breaking instead. Modena failed to qualify for three more events and his morale was zapped. The package was pathetic and frankly should have been put in the scrapyard as soon as it raced. The frustrated Italian didn’t record a finish until 15th at the Belgian Grand Prix in August! A small improvement in the last two races saw Stefano score a point in the Australian Grand Prix, but he was damaged goods and left the sport unsurprisingly for pastures new. He carried on racing in German and Italian touring cars with mixed results for a number of years after the F1 adventure. The tragic death of his good friend and fellow Italian Michele Alboreto in a sportscar accident in 2001 prompted Modena to retire from competitive action. Since then, he has acted as an advisor and done occasional tyre testing work for Japanese tyre manufacturer, Bridgestone.
Stefano Modena never quite delivered on what he had, but he was a victim of one of the worst cars to have ever left a Grand Prix factory! Sometimes, that’s the way it goes in the harsh world of Formula One.
NEXT IN THE DRIVER FILES: The Dutch boss that is Jos Verstappen!