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Ayrton Senna's 10 greatest Formula 1 races

Thirty years on from his death while leading the 1994 San Marino GP at Imola, the almost mythical atmosphere surrounding three-time world champion Ayrton Senna is as intense and inspiring as ever. Here are his 10 greatest Formula 1 performances

For many, Ayrton Senna is the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, and the passing of years since his death - at the peak of his powers aged 34 in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix - has only strengthened that conviction.

To mark the 25th anniversary in 2019, Autosport decided to pick out and rank the three-time world champion's 10 finest race performances.

Senna made 161 F1 starts and took 41 wins, so the pool of candidates was large. For this top 10 we considered the quality of the cars at his disposal, the circumstances of the races, the opposition, and the views of some of those involved.

We're sure many fans will have different selections, but here is our list of Senna's 10 greatest F1 drives.

10. 1988 British GP, Silverstone

Car: McLaren MP4/4
Started: 3rd
Result: 1st

The domination of 1988 by Senna, Alain Prost and the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 was well-established by the time they arrived at Silverstone for round eight. Prost was four-three ahead on wins, but the British Grand Prix would mark the start of a run of victories that set Senna on the path to his first world title.

For the first time that season a McLaren wasn't on pole position. Ferrari locked out the front row, but Senna added to his burgeoning reputation in the wet race.

He quickly swept into second and followed Gerhard Berger - the Ferrari making a race of it despite fuel concerns - for the first 13 laps. As conditions improved, Senna increased the pressure and forged past Berger at the Woodcote chicane as they lapped the second McLaren of Prost.

Senna's team-mate was never a factor, eventually retiring with handling problems, possibly as a result of chassis damage from his kerb-hopping in the previous week's French GP. But Autosport's F1 reporter Nigel Roebuck reckoned Prost had helped Senna in one way as the Brazilian dived for the lead.

"It was chancy for it also meant ducking by his team-mate and, in the spray, Prost hadn't seen him and turned in on his normal line," wrote Roebuck. "Fortunately, Alain flicked his wheel right, gave his team-mate room."

Thereafter, Senna pulled away. At one stage his lead was over a minute before he backed off to save fuel and a charging Nigel Mansell brought the gap down to 23.3 seconds at the finish.

"Senna guided the McLaren with sanded fingertips, never made a mistake, nor looked like it," added Roebuck. "If he takes the title, he took it here."

9. 1986 Spanish GP, Jerez

Car: Lotus 98T
Started: 1st
Result: 1st

'Spanish Thriller!' said Autosport's cover after Senna pipped Mansell to victory at Jerez by 0.014s.

Senna had comfortably taken pole on this new circuit to F1, helped by an uprated Renault engine in his Lotus, but the race was much more of a contest.

"Undoubtedly the competition at the top of F1 has a degree of edge I have not known before," wrote Roebuck. "Ayrton is up there, and a lot of people are aiming to shoot him down."

Nevertheless, Senna made a good start and led the early stages. Williams duo Nelson Piquet and Mansell and the McLarens of Prost and Keke Rosberg tracked the Lotus.

Shortly before half-distance Mansell, who had fallen to fifth early on, started his charge. On lap 33 of 72 he took Piquet for second and started pressuring Senna. On lap 40 the Williams snatched the lead as they lapped Martin Brundle's Tyrrell.

Mansell pulled away, but he then started struggling with his tyres. Senna caught the Williams and dived ahead with nine laps to go, and Mansell was delayed enough for Prost to nip past too.

Now Mansell pitted for fresh rubber. With nine laps to go he was third, 20.5s behind Senna. He started catching at a rate that suggested he would arrive on Senna's tail with time to spare, but he lost crucial time battling Prost on lap 69.

Senna's lead was 7.2s at the end of that tour, 5.4s next time around and 1.6s going on to the final lap. Under braking for the hairpin Mansell arrived on the Lotus's tail. He popped out on the drag to the line, but Senna held on in one of F1's closest finishes.

8. 1984 Monaco GP, Monte Carlo

Car: Toleman TG184
Started: 13th
Result: 2nd

Senna never won a grand prix from worse than fifth on the grid, but he was almost victorious from row seven on just his fifth F1 start.

In the dry, Senna had qualified the nimble-but-underpowered Toleman-Hart 13th. Race day was appallingly wet and gave Senna the opportunity to demonstrate his prowess in the rain.

PLUS: The underdog F1 squad that thrust Senna into the limelight

Senna rose to ninth on lap one, helped by the demise of both Renaults. Fellow rising star Stefan Bellof was also on the move, reaching 10th (from 20th) on lap two in his normally aspirated Tyrrell.

On lap three Senna passed Jacques Laffite for eighth and on lap seven the Toleman overcame Manfred Winkelhock's ATS. Senna gained another spot when Michele Alboreto spun his Ferrari. Now he was up with some of the big names.

On lap 12 he overtook Rosberg, fighting to hang on to the peaky Williams-Honda, and two laps later Senna got by the misfiring Ferrari of Rene Arnoux. When leader Mansell infamously lost his Lotus on the climb up the hill, Senna inherited third and was not far behind Niki Lauda's McLaren. Bellof was now sixth, and closing on Rosberg.

Exiting Rascasse at the end of lap 18, Senna launched an attack on Lauda. "Ayrton flicked to the left," reported Roebuck. "It was dead reckoning, this, overtaking in a dense mist of spray, putting your head down and going for it. Niki made no serious attempt to defend in the braking area for Ste Devote, and the Toleman driver's perfectly executed manoeuvre had him up to second."

At the end of lap 19 Senna was 34.4s behind Prost. Initially, the gap did not change very much, but then Senna started to close as the McLaren struggled with a brake vibration.

On lap 24 Lauda crashed out, promoting Bellof to fourth, and the Tyrrell driver overtook Arnoux for third on lap 27. At this point, Senna was 21.7s behind Prost and 17.2s ahead of Bellof. Both gaps now reduced. Four laps later, Prost's advantage was only 7.5s and Bellof was 13.7s behind Senna.

Then red flags flew and the race was stopped, Prost pulling over on the start-finish line shortly before Senna swept past. The Frenchman had decided not to fight the young chargers and, with almost an hour still left to run, the prospect was for a Senna v Bellof fight for victory.

But the premature finish denied fans the chance to see how that would play out and Senna was furious. Given the conditions it is perhaps not surprising that two young chargers with something to prove stood out.

A number of factors prevent this race from being higher on this list. One is Bellof's pace, another is the fact that Prost had brake issues and a championship to think about. And another is that Senna had hit the kerb at the chicane and damaged the suspension, which might not have allowed him to finish if the race had continued.

But few - if any - rookies have ever put down such an impressive marker in such difficult conditions.

7. 1993 Brazilian GP, Interlagos

Car: McLaren MP4/8
Started: 3rd
Result: 1st

Some of Senna's 1993 performances were among his most memorable. Aside from the obvious European GP victory, his second win in front of his home crowd also came before McLaren started making inroads into Williams's supremacy. "In a car not truly on the pace, he did everything we have come to expect, and more," noted Roebuck.

Having qualified 1.8s slower than poleman Prost, Senna dived down the inside of Damon Hill's Williams at the first corner to snatch second, but he could do nothing about Prost. At the start of lap 11 Hill underlined the Williams advantage by slipstreaming past Senna to retake second.

Worse was to come. Senna was handed a 10s stop-go penalty for overtaking under yellows, following the nasty lap-one crash involving his team-mate Michael Andretti and Berger's Ferrari. Senna came in to serve what he felt was a fatuous penalty on lap 24 of 71. At the end of the following tour he was fourth, 44.8s behind Prost.

But now the weather intervened, a downpour creating chaos, and Senna pitted for rain tyres. One of the cars that had been ahead - Michael Schumacher's Benetton - was delayed by a troubled pitstop, and then Prost retired. A miscommunication with his pit meant Prost stayed out when he should have stopped, aquaplaned and slid into Christian Fittipaldi's spun Minardi.

The safety car came out and, when racing resumed on lap 38, Senna was second behind Hill. He remained there until his switch to slicks on lap 40 - one earlier than Hill - helped him jump into the lead.

Hill showed his pace on a clear track, but Senna's characteristic progress through traffic kept him clear. "It was the backmarkers - or, rather, Senna's peerless ability through them - that put the issue beyond doubt," reckoned Roebuck.

"No one works the traffic like Senna. He has what amounts to genius for picking other drivers off at the right moment, and is marvellously adept at placing another car between himself and his pursuer immediately before a corner."

Hill - in his fourth GP - knew he was beaten and settled for second as Senna scored McLaren's 100th world championship race victory.

6. 1992 Monaco GP, Monte Carlo

Car: McLaren MP4/7A
Started: 3rd
Result: 1st

In one way, this was a lucky win - Senna would never have beaten Mansell without the runaway leader suffering a wheel problem that forced a pitstop. But it was also a great example of maximising what he had and taking advantage of any opportunity that came along.

First the maximising. Senna had qualified third, over a second behind Mansell, and knew a good start was his best chance of making progress. He managed to snatch second from Riccardo Patrese's Williams into Ste Devote.

"I went for it at the last moment, so as not to give Riccardo any indication," said Senna. "It was a good manoeuvre. If Patrese had been ahead of me out of the corner I doubt I would ever have got past him."

Then the grabbing of an opportunity. Senna wasn't able to hang on to Mansell but was close enough to take the lead when the Williams made a tardy pitstop on lap 71 of 78.

"I knew there was no way to catch Mansell," admitted Senna, who had also lost time avoiding a spun Alboreto. "So what I tried to do was go hard enough to be in position to benefit if anything happened to Mansell but still try to conserve my tyres."

Emerging in second, the pace of Mansell's FW14B on new rubber was sensational. On lap 74 he took 2.4s out of Senna's lead - with a time 1.8s faster than anyone else managed in the GP - and was on the McLaren's tail next time through.

"Even given the problems overtaking at this place, Senna looked vulnerable," reckoned Roebuck.

Mansell jinked and darted around the McLaren's gearbox looking for a gap. On the penultimate lap Senna almost came to a stop at the chicane, but there was no way through. Despite worn tyres Senna held on to take his fifth Monaco GP win by 0.2s.

Senna believed he'd had many more difficult races, but others were impressed.

"Nobody but Senna could have won," said his team-mate Berger. "Anybody else would have made a mistake."

5. 1988 Japanese GP, Suzuka

Car: McLaren MP4/4
Started: 1st
Result: 1st

Although Prost arrived leading the points table, the dropped-scores rule meant that Senna could become 1988 champion if he won the penultimate round at Suzuka. He pipped Prost to pole, but the race was rather less simple.

"So many McLaren-Honda battles have been won and lost in the first few seconds this year, and now came the most crucial one of all," reported Roebuck. "And Senna blew it."

Senna barely moved at the start and almost stalled - "I thought it was over for me" - but he managed to get the car going on the downhill straight. "I was so lucky," he added.

Senna briefly fell to 14th and was eighth at the end of the first lap, nine seconds behind Prost. Senna's charge took him to sixth on lap two, fifth on lap three and ahead of Alboreto's Ferrari on lap four.

The gap to Prost was 12.9s and, with both McLarens now in clear air, they set a similar pace for the next few laps. But, shortly after Senna overtook the other Ferrari of Berger for third, it started to drizzle.

Now Senna started carving into Prost's lead, which had been 12.6s after 11 of the 51 laps. And the leading McLaren-Honda soon had its hands full with Ivan Capelli's March. Capelli briefly led at the end of lap 16 when Prost, nursing a sporadic gear-selection problem, missed a shift. He soon powered back by, but Senna was closing on the leading duo all the time.

When the March hit electrical trouble on lap 20, Senna inherited second and crossed the line just 0.7s behind his team-mate. "Senna had driven a quite inspired series of laps on the slippery track, relying on instinct and response and improvisation," wrote Roebuck.

The rain now abated and Prost was able to maintain the lead for a few laps. But when the Frenchman was delayed at the chicane by Andrea de Cesaris on lap 27 and had more trouble changing gear, Senna got a run and took the lead on the sprint to the first corner.

Although they were evenly matched in clear air, Senna was characteristically quicker through traffic and edged away. Prost closed and, with 10 laps to go, had brought the gap down to 1.7s, but then rain returned. Senna pulled clear to win by 13.4s and secure his first world title.

"Everyone was on slicks, and when the track was at its most treacherous he was in a class by himself," said Roebuck. "No race driver on Earth flourishes in the wet like Ayrton. It was a world champion's drive, a title hard earned, hard won."

Senna had made the error at the start and had been helped by Prost's gear issues - there was just a tenth and a half between their respective fastest laps - but rated the performance as one of his best.

"The race was amazingly hard, because of the circumstances right from the start: through traffic, through the slippery conditions," said Senna.

"Until today, I said my best drive was at Estoril in 1985. But not any more: this was my best."

4. 1989 Monaco GP, Monte Carlo

Car: McLaren MP4/5
Started: 1st
Result: 1st

The bald facts of this event are that Senna beat team-mate Prost to pole by 1.1s and in the race by 52.5s, but they are not the main reasons this race is here. This GP demonstrated both Senna's ability to slice through traffic and to drive around car issues.

The Monaco GP was also the first after the infamous falling-out between Senna and Prost at Imola - arguably the true start of their feud - and a year after the Brazilian had thrown away victory by crashing while well in the lead.

In the 1989 race, poleman Senna led Prost from the start. Prost looked quicker at times, but lost time in traffic, particularly with Arnoux's Ligier. Prost later admitted he needed to be more aggressive.

"Ayrton has no equal in the art of making room for himself," reported Roebuck. "That killed the race, really."

Prost was also delayed by a traffic jam at Loews following a collision between Cesaris and Piquet, but Senna also had his problems.

The leader was suffering with gearbox issues, losing first and second gears. "I had to keep Alain from knowing I was in trouble, so he wouldn't push," explained Senna.

"What I had to do was go very close to the barriers in the slow corners, keeping the revs up, sliding a little bit."

It worked - Senna took a dominant victory, despite Prost being in a healthy McLaren and setting a fastest lap 0.5s quicker.

3. 1993 European GP, Donington Park

Car: McLaren MP4/8
Started: 4th
Result: 1st

This is almost certainly Senna's most famous performance. Ranged against the technically superior Williams FW15Cs of Prost and Hill, Senna produced a devastating first lap and victory by an incredible 1m23s.

PLUS: The rushed McLaren F1 car that elevated a reluctant Senna's legacy

Senna, blocked by Schumacher's Benetton, briefly fell to fifth at the start, but then began the charge that made the first lap of the 1993 European GP one of the most famous in history. Senna passed Schumacher on the exit of Redgate, swept around the outside of Karl Wendlinger's Sauber down the fearsome Craner Curves, then dived underneath Hill at McLean's.

Prost, who later claimed to be suffering from gearbox problems from the start, was several lengths ahead, but Senna was on him quickly. The McLaren outbraked the Williams into the Melbourne hairpin and took the lead.

"The opening minute had been breathtaking, but somehow you felt that the race was already over," wrote Roebuck in Autosport's report.

After four laps Senna was 7s clear of Prost but, as the track dried, that started to creep down. Senna came in for slicks after 18 of the 76 laps and had a lead of 5.1s after Prost came in the next time around.

Then it started to rain again and Prost, then Senna, came in, only for the track to soon dry and force both back in again. Senna's third stop was slow and so, at half-distance, it was Prost who led by nearly 6s. Nobody else was in contention.

The race now became farcical, at least for Prost, for the rain returned and both Williams drivers came in for wets. This time Senna stayed out and he extended his lead as the track started to dry once more. On lap 48 Prost came in from second to switch to slicks, but this time stalled and the FW15C got stuck in gear. This dropped Prost to fourth and he pitted again just five laps later, believing he had a puncture.

Senna had his one piece of good fortune on lap 57, when he came in with the intention of changing to wets but the team wasn't ready and waved him through. On returning to the track, Senna changed his mind and stayed out until the rain really returned with 10 laps to go and he made his fourth actual stop. Hill and Prost came in shortly afterwards, meaning that Prost had now stopped seven times.

Senna came home to take his 38th F1 victory. Everyone except Hill had been lapped.

"This was Senna at his most majestic," enthused Roebuck. "His drive I thought mesmeric, beginning to end, for it seemed to contain every card to which a racing driver's hand can aspire. It was a victory as consummate as they get."

So why isn't it number one? Firstly, Senna didn't rate it as his best. Secondly, he had traction control when many others did not, including Schumacher. Finally, Williams did not maximise what it had, in terms of set-up, strategy or pitstop efficiency.

"While the Williams drivers never got the dry conditions in which to assert their car's superiority, their cause was scarcely aided by a run of tyre stops which proved uncannily out of sync with what the weather gods had in mind," noted Roebuck.

If those reasons sound harsh, it is only in the context of how many contenders there are for this list. Whatever way you look at it, Senna's 1993 European GP remains one of the most outstanding F1 drives.

2. 1991 Brazilian GP, Interlagos

Car: McLaren MP4/6
Started: 1st
Result: 1st

'Hometown hero' was Autosport's report headline, and that was apt as Senna finally took the Brazilian GP he had coveted so dearly, and in remarkable fashion.

Bad luck and bad judgement had combined to deny him a success at home before, but things looked promising as Senna led from pole after one of his great qualifying performances. When Mansell's chasing Williams, his only real challenger, hit gearbox trouble, the win looked straightforward.

PLUS: The V12 experiment that yielded Senna’s final F1 title

Then Senna started losing gears. "The gearbox went completely crazy," he said. "That was seven laps from the end and I decided to leave it in sixth and drive around the circuit completely differently.

"In the high-speed corners it was not so bad, but in the medium and slow-speed sections it was a disaster. I really didn't think I'd make it."

Senna was also suffering from cramps and muscle spasms through the sheer effort of driving around the anti-clockwise circuit, and Patrese's Williams - itself with gearbox issues - started closing at a great rate.

With 17 of the 71 laps to go he had been 42.5s behind. Going on to the final tour it was 3.7s, but Senna held on to win by 3s as rain arrived.

"After the chequered flag I lost the engine completely," added Senna, who had to be helped from his car. "And then the pain was unbelievable. I had such a huge pain in my shoulders, in my side, and I didn't know whether to shout, to cry, or to smile."

That victory had taken more out of Senna than any other.

1. 1985 Portuguese GP, Estoril

Car: Lotus 97T
Started: 1st
Result: 1st

This race was a special one for Senna personally. Not only was it his first F1 world championship victory, it was scored in brilliant style in terrible conditions.

His 1993 European GP performance is more famous, but the win at Estoril was secured without traction control, with a difficult turbocharged engine, and there were more potential winners in the field. Only three teams won races in 1993, but five did so in 1985. And the 1985 Portuguese GP was only Senna's 16th F1 start.

PLUS: Ranking F1's greatest wet-weather drives

Senna led from pole on an appallingly wet track, completing the first lap 2.7s clear of team-mate Elio de Angelis. The two Lotuses pulled away, with Senna edging clear of de Angelis, before Prost's McLaren moved forward to challenge for second.

Just before half-distance, the rain got so bad that even Senna - now 37s ahead - started gesticulating that the race should be stopped. It wasn't and Prost, who was still trying to pass de Angelis, simply aquaplaned into retirement on the main start/finish straight.

"The big danger was that conditions changed all the time," said Senna, who admitted to surviving one grassy moment of his own. "It was difficult even to keep the car in a straight line sometimes and for sure the race should have been stopped.

"It was much worse than Monaco last year. Once I nearly spun in front of the pits, like Prost, and I was lucky to stay on the road."

PLUS: How Senna’s first F1 winner gave Lotus life after Chapman

Only nine of the 26 starters were classified, around half of the retirements due to spins or crashes, and Senna lapped everyone except Alboreto's Ferrari, which finished 1m03s behind the Lotus. Senna's fastest lap was 0.7s quicker than anyone else's.

"Senna's victory will be remembered as a classic," wrote Roebuck. "It was a mesmeric performance. Without Senna, a lot of the drivers would have impressed with their ability and courage: as it was, they seemed inept, tentative.

"Just occasionally comes a race when one driver makes the rest look ordinary, and this was one such. He was in a different class right from the green light."

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