On April 11, 1993, Ayrton Senna demonstrated the best opening lap ever in Formula One. It was at the Donington Park, which debuted in Formula One to host the European Grand Prix.
European Grand Prix, over the years have had different interpretations and avatars so to speak. What started as an honorary title to the existing races, the name became a full-fledged race from the year 1977. This experiment was short-lived and uncertain. European Grand Prix did take place few times in the mid-80’s before being cancelled after two seasons.
The idea was revived in the following decade when stakeholders of Formula One agreed to secure a constant European Grand Prix for twenty years.
Tom Wheatcroft, the man responsible for the upgradation and management of Donington Park took this as an opportunity to host a Grand Prix after repeated failures previously. An agreement was set in motion and Donington Park was to be designated as the European Grand Prix for 1993.
The race was scheduled for the Easter weekend. Ayrton Senna in his McLaren was not as sharp as the Williams duo during qualifying. Alain Prost and Damon Hill, driving for Williams took the front row, while Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna took the second row respectively.
The weather on the race day can be summarised by these words of Murray Walker, the famed F1 commentator –
“Look from the commentary box, I saw the worst weather that I have ever seen at any race anywhere in the world”. Mind you, he had seen a lot of F1 races until then.
Race started and by the end of lap one, and by the time tyres got warmed; Senna on a wet track was leading the race – and was four seconds ahead of the pack by the time lap three started. He was no stranger to this circuit, as he had driven and won it in 1983 as part of British F3 championships.
The race started with majority of drivers opting for wet weather tyres as the track was found to be slippery. For a moment, the rain bearing clouds looked away from the track, which prompted the dry slicks to come on to the cars by lap 15. By the end of lap 20, all the drivers had pitted in for dry tyres and fate has it, light shower graced the circuit three laps later. Alain Prost was quick to pit for wet weather tyres. Other drivers opted to race with dry tyres, prolonging the decision to change for the more gripped tyres.
By the time Senna came on to change for wet weather tyres, he had a huge lead. The track started to dry out and teams went for pits for the slicks. Senna had a slight problem which promoted Prost to the lead until next set of showers graced the track.
The Williams duo pitted while Senna stayed out on dry tyres. McLaren was spot on with this move as the track started to dry few laps later and the two Williams made their way into the pits for dry tyres. Amidst all this confusion, Senna had built such a humongous lead that he had lapped every car but the second placed Damon Hill by lap 60.
Senna won the race with a lead of 83 seconds over Damon Hill. He made four pit stops while Prost had to make seven. Not surprisingly, the fastest lap of the race was Senna’s which came in bizarre circumstances on lap 57, which included a drive to the pits but aborted the pit stop. This was also Senna’s final fastest lap of his F1 career.
The RACE OF Donington PARK 1993 is forever etched in memory of Senna.
In 2010, in a Top Gear episode, experts talked about featured Senna and his legacy. The team at Top Gear presented the statistics of Michael Schumacher, Juan-Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna. They asked the current crop of drivers to share their number one driver. Alonso, Barrichello, Massa, Trulli, Webber, Coulthard, Hakkinen, Hamilton and Michael Schumacher himself, all put Ayrton Senna as the number one driver in F1. I am sure there are more drivers who would agree to this.
Former F1 driver Martin Brundle summed it up nicely. “If you ever wanted to know Ayrton Senna in 40 seconds, just watch the opening lap of this race”.
And that to me, that first lap is the highlight of the sole F1 race ever held at Donington Park. Watch it here – http://bit.ly/1O2NvKj