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Formula 1 Canadian GP

Verstappen vs Senna - wins, poles, podiums and more stats compared

As Max Verstappen heads to the Canadian Grand prix seeking to level Ayrton Senna on 40 Formula 1 victories, Marcus Simmons compares the career statistics of the pair.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, celebrates on arrival in Parc Ferme

For a brief period in Formula 1 history, the Senna and Verstappen names lined up together on the grid. Little did anyone know, as Ayrton Senna drew his Williams-Renault onto pole position for the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix, that the great Brazilian had just a few weeks to live. And, similarly, little did anyone know, as Jos Verstappen slotted his Benetton-Ford into ninth position for the getaway, that three years later the young Dutchman would gain a son who would become the F1 superstar of his generation.

As the reigning German Formula 3 champion, Verstappen had been snapped up by Benetton boss Flavio Briatore as the team’s test driver and junior protege, with Michael Schumacher and JJ Lehto occupying the race seats. But a neck injury sustained in pre-season testing sidelined Lehto from the first two races – the Brazilian GP and Pacific GP at Japan’s Okayama circuit – giving Verstappen the chance of his F1 race debut.

Lehto returned to the cockpit for the ill-fated San Marino GP at Imola, and when he stalled on the grid his Benetton was struck by the Lotus of Pedro Lamy. The safety car was called out while the debris was cleared and injured onlookers attended to, and the loss of tyre temperatures while the field filed slowly around the circuit is commonly believed to have been a major contributing factor to the accident that claimed the life of race leader Senna.

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Almost three decades later, Verstappen’s son Max is on the brink of equalling Senna’s tally of 41 grand prix victories in this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix. Here we take a look at the similarities – or otherwise – between the two careers of this pair of F1 greats.

Grand prix wins

The interesting thing here is that both drivers’ winning rates follow similar patterns from their entry to F1. Senna took no victories during his rookie season with Toleman; ditto Verstappen with Toro Rosso. Then Senna triumphed twice in three consecutive seasons with Lotus; Verstappen scored a minimum of one but maximum of three wins over his first five campaigns with Red Bull.

Then things change when they get their hands on the class act of the field. Senna took a minimum of six wins in each of his first four seasons with McLaren, while Verstappen gained 10 for Red Bull in 2021, another 15 in 2022, and is already on five this season.

What we must bear in mind is that Senna’s era comprised 16-race world championship seasons to the current 22/23 of Verstappen’s time, while the Brazilian was also alongside another all-time great in the form of Alain Prost at the McLaren team during his first two campaigns there. While Sergio Perez can be as quick as anyone on his day, he’s hardly in the Frenchman’s class.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Grand prix starts

  • Ayrton Senna – 161
  • Max Verstappen – 170

Senna’s tally of fewer starts means that his winning average will remain higher than that of Verstappen even should the Red Bull star win in Montreal this weekend.

Senna’s 41 wins from 161 starts give him a winning average of 25.47%. If Verstappen is victorious in Canada, his 41 from 171 will put him on 23.98%. The earliest that Verstappen could eclipse Senna’s percentage of victories from starts would be at the Belgian GP at the end of next month, but only if he wins the Austrian, British and Hungarian GPs in between.

In short, Verstappen definitely has a chance of doing this between now and the end of 2023, but any snag that keeps him off the top of the podium will prolong the wait.

Podium finishes

  • Ayrton Senna – 80
  • Max Verstappen – 84

Verstappen’s record of podium finishes is hugely boosted by his form from 2018-20 – the Mercedes was the class act, and frequently Ferrari was ahead too, yet the Red Bull driver was regularly dragging himself into the top three. Over these three seasons, Verstappen scored 24 of his 44 non-winning podiums.

Senna was similarly superb when he didn’t have the best car. At Lotus from 1985-87 he was feeding off scraps from Williams, McLaren or Ferrari, and scored 16 of his 39 non-winning podiums in this time. At McLaren in 1992-93 he was fighting the all-conquering Williams.

Impressively, Senna also scored three podiums in his rookie season with Toleman, in the Monaco, British and Portuguese GPs. Verstappen didn’t manage that at Toro Rosso in 2015 and peaked with a couple of fourths, but remember that cars are more reliable in Verstappen’s era, giving less opportunity for a minnow team to score a top result.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, celebrates in the podium with Champagne

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, celebrates in the podium with Champagne

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Points scored

  • Ayrton Senna - 1859.5 (average 11.55 per race)
  • Max Verstappen - 2128.5 (average 12.52 per race)

Verstappen is comfortably ahead here, but once again we have to consider the reliability factor. Even in his rookie season with a midfield car at Toro Rosso, he was able to score points in 10 of the 19 races, with all but two of those in seventh to 10th positions.

Senna’s first few seasons came in the era of cars that were frequently followed by plumes of smoke from turbo or engine failures, and even when the return to naturally aspirated engines arrived it wasn’t a given that you’d get to the finish of a race. For example, in 1989, when he lost a bitter fight for the crown with McLaren team-mate Prost, Senna crossed the line to score points in just seven of the 16 races – six of those were wins and the other a second place!

Due to the constantly evolving points system, we’ve adjusted the scores for both drivers to the 25-18-15 system, without the fastest lap point and disregarding sprint races.

Pole positions

  • Ayrton Senna – 65
  • Max Verstappen – 24

This is a fascinating discrepancy that has so many underlying reasons.

Senna’s first 15 pole positions came during the 1985-86 seasons when his Renault-powered Lotus was exceptionally fast, but was not the weapon of choice for races; in that time, he scored just four wins.

Across 1988-89, when Senna was paired with Prost at McLaren, he scored 26 pole positions out of 32 grands prix. But Prost was famously a driver who focused more on race set-up than on out-and-out speed.

All but three of Verstappen’s pole positions have come since 2021, and this indicates that while the Red Bull is an all-round great car, it isn’t necessarily the quickest. For example, in 2022 those 15 race victories came from a ‘mere’ seven poles.

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault leads

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault leads

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Fastest laps

  • Ayrton Senna – 19
  • Max Verstappen – 24

Neither of our superstars’ fastest lap figures come anywhere close to matching their wins stats. But there are so many variables at play – for example, different drivers having softer tyres fitted at advantageous parts of the race – that this would be almost impossible if your prime focus is upon completing the entire race distance before anyone else.

Interestingly, just 10 of Senna’s 19 fastest laps came in races he won, and the figure for Verstappen isn’t too dissimilar – 11 out of 24.

First grand prix win

  • Ayrton Senna – Portuguese GP 1985
  • Max Verstappen – Spanish GP 2016

Massively rated young talent enters his second F1 season and scores his maiden GP victory on the Iberian peninsula. Check. Check.

Senna was a man in demand even before his eye-opening rookie season with Toleman, and moved to Lotus for 1985. His breakthrough win in a rain-soaked Portuguese GP at Estoril, the second race of the season, has rightly gone down in legend and is hailed my many as his greatest.

Verstappen had courted interest from Mercedes before joining the Red Bull stable in the knowledge that here he would be guaranteed an F1 race seat with Toro Rosso in 2015. When the underperforming Daniil Kvyat was ousted from the Milton Keynes team’s line-up after the first four races of 2016, Verstappen was shuffled across and took a stunning win first time out in the Spanish GP at Barcelona, following the famous collision between Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st Position, and the Red Bull team celebrate his first and record breaking F1 win

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st Position, and the Red Bull team celebrate his first and record breaking F1 win

Photo by: Andrew Hone / Motorsport Images

Titles won

  • Ayrton Senna – 3
  • Max Verstappen – 2

You might as well chalk this one up as 3-3 bearing in mind how this season is going.

Interestingly, all five of their combined titles have come with the influence of engine supplier Honda. Senna’s three, each won with McLaren, were powered by the 1.5-litre V6 turbo in 1988, the 3.5-litre V10 in 1990, and the 3.5-litre V12 in 1991.

Verstappen’s power in 2021 was the 1.6-litre V6 turbo Honda, redubbed ‘Red Bull’ for 2022.

And while we’re on the subject of engines, Verstappen’s first five GP wins all came with Renault turbo power, albeit under the badge ‘TAG Heuer’, and Senna’s first four came with Renault turbo lumps too.

Home wins

  • Ayrton Senna – 2
  • Max Verstappen – 2

Senna famously had something of a jinx on his home ground, although during the first few years of his F1 career the Brazilian GP was held at Rio’s Jacarepagua circuit rather than the hallowed ground of Interlagos in his home city of Sao Paulo. Everything finally came together in 1991, when he drove his McLaren-Honda to victory, surviving gearbox dramas that had seemingly jeopardised his success. He won at Interlagos again in 1993, the mixed weather conditions allowing him to strut his stuff in the now Ford-powered McLaren amid a season of Williams domination.

There’s no doubt that the revival of the Dutch GP at Zandvoort in 2021, 36 years after F1 had last visited the circuit, was precisely down to the success of Verstappen, whose father Jos was also a hero at the venue. Being the obliging sort of chap he is, Verstappen won both the 2021 and 2022 editions from pole. You could also add Verstappen’s Spa successes of 2021 and 2022, since his mum is Belgian and he was born on the doorstep of 1973-84 F1 venue Zolder.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Consecutive wins

  • Ayrton Senna – 4
  • Max Verstappen – 5

Senna’s record of four on the trot was achieved twice. On the first occasion, in 1988, he triumphed in the British, German, Hungarian and Belgian GPs en route to his maiden world title. On the second, in 1991, he sprinted out of the blocks with four in the season-starting Phoenix, Brazilian, San Marino and Monaco GPs on the way to his third and final title.

Verstappen surpassed that in 2022 with five in a row – the French, Hungarian, Belgian, Dutch and Italian GPs.

But neither has yet come close to the record for consecutive wins – Sebastian Vettel took nine in a row at the end of the 2013 season on the way to his fourth world title with Red Bull.

Seasons beaten by team-mate

  • Ayrton Senna – 1 (+1+1)
  • Max Verstappen – 2

Neither of our two heroes has an unblemished record here.

Senna scored fewer points than Prost at McLaren in 1989. The same happened in 1988, but the dropped-scores rule in place meant Prost had to discard a sizeable amount of points, giving Senna the title. At the time of his death in 1994, Senna had yet to score during a troubled start to the season with Williams, whereas team-mate Damon Hill had six points on the board from a second place in Brazil.

Verstappen was outscored in both 2016 and 2017 at Red Bull by Daniel Ricciardo. Of course, he only joined Red Bull in time for the Spanish GP in 2016, but even from that point on he scored fewer points than his Australian team-mate.

Ricciardo is rarely considered in the same echelons as Senna, Prost and Verstappen as an ultimate talent, but it’s easy to forget that during that period he was regarded as among the best in F1, so it was a tough ask for new boy Verstappen to go up against him. At a similar stage in his career, Senna was alongside Elio de Angelis at Lotus and eclipsed the Italian by just five points in the 1985 season.

Verstappen was bested by Ricciardo in 2017.

Verstappen was bested by Ricciardo in 2017.

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Seasons with a race win

  • Ayrton Senna – 9
  • Max Verstappen – 8

For both these drivers, these stats show what a colossus in F1 each of them has been. Senna’s only seasons without a win were his rookie campaign with Toleman in 1984 and his tragically truncated year with Williams in 1994; Verstappen’s only winless season is his maiden assault with Toro Rosso in 2015.

Both have spent periods of time where they have been in far from the quickest or most complete car – think of Senna’s Lotus-Honda year in 1987, or the McLaren-Ford campaign in 1993, when he somehow notched up five wins, or Verstappen’s seasons at Red Bull when Mercedes was dominating. But on each occasion they’ve got to the end of the season with at least one victory.

Formula 3 wins

  • Ayrton Senna – 15
  • Max Verstappen – 11

Both Senna and Verstappen were firmly on the F1 radar during their F3 seasons, and each skipped the intermediate level – in Senna’s case European Formula 2, in Verstappen’s GP2.

Senna won on his F3 debut in the non-championship end-of-season race at Thruxton in 1982, before scoring 12 wins in 20 races in the British F3 Championship in 1983. This, however, was a season that lacked strength in depth. Sometimes grids even dipped into single figures, and the Brazilian had to come through to take a last-gasp title after a series of shunts had allowed Martin Brundle in front. Senna then went to the Macau GP, famously arriving late and jetlagged after a Brabham F1 test, and won both heats (counted as two wins here) against the best opposition from worldwide F3.

While Senna had already won titles in Formula Ford 1600 and FF2000 before graduating to F3, Verstappen went more or less straight from karting to the F3 European Championship in 2014. He was immediately a sensation and won 10 of the 30 races in an intensely competitive season. Verstappen was beaten in the points by Esteban Ocon and Tom Blomqvist, while also among his opposition were Antonio Giovinazzi, Antonio Fuoco, Felix Rosenqvist, Jake Dennis and Lucas Auer. He also claimed victory against a weak field in the non-championship Masters of F3 at Zandvoort.

Ayrton Senna, Ralt RT3-Toyota

Ayrton Senna, Ralt RT3-Toyota

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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