Ayrton Senna's F1 cars through the years

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On the 26th anniversary of his death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, we look back at the cars Ayrton Senna drove throughout his illustrious Formula One career.

Senna is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers in racing history and he raced in some of the most iconic cars ever seen in F1. We start, of course, at the very beginning...


Toleman TG183B

A young Senna got his break with the little Toleman team, but the first model he raced was the car which had contested the previous season.

Senna would record a pair of sixth-place finishes in South Africa and Belgium, but the TG183B's final race would be one for the history books -- the 1984 San Marino Grand Prix was the only F1 event Senna ever failed to qualify for.

The upgraded TG184 was introduced for following event in France, the fifth of the season. Its most famous performance would come with Senna at the wheel one race later.

Toleman TG184

The rookie Senna announced himself to the racing world at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. The team's new car was a step forward and Senna would be given an immediate chance to show his talent. Starting 13th with the rain pouring at the Monaco Grand Prix, Senna carved through the field.

The Brazilian caught and passed race leader rival Alain Prost just before the red flag was waved on lap 32. Senna initially celebrated a win, but the rules stated that positions must revert back to the lap prior to a race being called off. Senna had to settle for second position rather than first, but he had underlined his superstar potential.

Senna would visit the podium twice more, finishing third in Great Britain and Portugal, earning the attention of Lotus.


Lotus 97T

Senna's meteoric rise continued with the beautiful Lotus 97T, decked out in the iconic black and gold of John Player Special, in his sophomore year. Lotus was not the team it had been in the late 1970s and was still hurting from the death of team boss Colin Chapman in 1982, but Senna's first season saw something of a resurgence.

The Renault-powered 97T would be competitive. Senna, who had replaced Williams-bound Nigel Mansell, would win his second race with the team, mastering heavy rain to win by over a minute at the Portuguese Grand Prix. Another victory followed at Belgium's Spa-Francorchams circuit later in the year.

Seven pole positions across the year helped forge Senna's reputation as a fearsome qualifier, which would remain one of his most revered traits throughout his career.


Lotus 98T

With his status as a future superstar now unquestionable, Senna threw his weight around ahead of the 1986 season. With '85 teammate Angelo de Angelis leaving for Brabham, Senna vetoed the signing of British driver Derek Warwick. Little-known Scot Johnny Dumfries took over the role of No.2 driver instead.

In the season often considered the peak of the turbo era, there was pressure on Lotus and Renault to build Senna a championship contender. Renault's EF15B engine would be one of the most powerful to ever run in a Formula One car.

Despite Senna recording eight pole positions across the season, Lotus was unable to convert that raw power into a title challenge. The Brazilian would have to settle for victories in Spain and Detroit. He finished on the podium on six other occasions but car reliability issues ultimately left him to settle for another fourth-place finish in the championship.

This would be the last Lotus to carry the John Player Special livery and its last with Renault, which withdrew from F1 at the end of the season.


Lotus 99T

Another famous colour scheme replaced Lotus' John Player Special look, with the blue and yellow livery of Camel being introduced for 1987. Honda, who would become a key part of Senna's career, joined as engine supplier.

The bulky 99T was fitted with active suspension which helped Senna to bumpy street circuit victories in Monaco and Detroit (Lotus' last win in F1), although the system contributed to a car which was ultimately tricky to set up on a lot of that year's courses. Senna would claim just one pole position throughout this season, but despite the 99T's flaws he was competitive enough on Sundays to finish a career-best third in the championship.

Greater things awaited Senna, however, and his three-year stint at Lotus had caught the attention of Ron Dennis and McLaren.


McLaren MP4/4

Senna's rise continued with a move to McLaren for the 1988 season and he was gifted the best car of his career. Some consider the Honda-powered MP4/4, designed by Steve Nichols, the greatest F1 car ever built and it remains one of the most dominant of all time.

MP4/4: Why McLaren's '88 car achieved legendary status

In this car Senna had one of his most legendary performances, at the Monaco Grand Prix. Senna out-qualified Prost by 1.427 seconds and would later liken the lap to an outer body experience.

"I was kind of driving it by instinct," Senna later said. "I was in a different dimension. I was like, in a tunnel well beyond my conscious understanding."

"That was the maximum for me; no room for anything more. I never really reached that feeling again."

In his determination to humiliate Prost, Senna ignored calls during the race to slow down and crashed while leading comfortably on the Sunday.

Footage of that moment featured prominently in the 2010 documentary about Senna's career.

The DNF did not matter in the grand scheme of the season, where the MP4/4 won all but one of the 16 races. Seven of them belonged to Senna and were enough for his first championship.

In a quirk in the rules, Prost actually out-scored Senna across the season 105 points to 94. However, only a driver's 11 best results were counted towards the championship - in those stakes, Senna scored 90 to Prost's 87.


McLaren MP4/5

McLaren's dominant '88 season had allowed it to put a lot of effort into developing the MP4/5. Turbcharged engines were banned and naturally-aaspirated engines made compulsory, meaning this was fitted with a 3.5 V10 Honda engine.

It was less dominant than its predecessor, winning 10 of the 16 races.

The MP4/5 is the subject of one of the most famous moments in F1 history, a major flashpoint in the legendary Senna-Prost rivalry.

While the teammates vied for position at the penultimate round, the Japanese Grand Prix, they made contact and came to a stop at the final chicane on lap 46. Prost retired from the race on the spot but Senna's car was pushed back to the race track, pitted for repairs and won the race. However Senna was disqualified from the race result for his push-start, which handed the title to Prost.

Senna was outraged and vowed to never forget the perceived injustice of the decision.

In something of a reversal of the previous year, Senna enjoyed the better season on paper, winning six races to Prost's four. The relationship had reached breaking point and Prost moved to Ferrari for 1990.


McLaren MP4/5B

With Prost gone, Senna set his sights on a second world championship, with the affable Gerhard Berger taking Prost's seat. Prost had taken designer Nichols with him to Ferrari and McLaren entered the year with a modified version of the MP4/5, named the MP4/5B.

Once again it enjoyed a pace advantage in qualifying, which suited Senna perfectly, but it was well-matched by that year's Ferrari. Senna again won six races and arrived back at the penultimate round in Japan with a chance to win the title, still seething from what had happened a year earlier.

Another infamous moment followed in the race. Senna had a slow start from pole position and Prost took the lead on the run down to Turn 1. Their cars wouldn't make it any further than that, as Senna ploughed into Prost as the Frenchman moved across to take the right-hander. Both drivers retired from the race, meaning Senna was champion.


McLaren MP4/6

Powered by a Honda V12, the McLaren was the benchmark for the rest of the F1 field again in 1991. It remains the last F1 car to win a world championship with a fully manual transmission or a V12 engine.

Prost failed to win a race all year and was sacked before the final race following a dispute with Ferrari, helping pave the wave for Senna to become a triple world champion. The Brazilian won the opening four races and three more in the second half of the campaign as he finished comfortably clear of Nigel Mansell.

Senna's most memorable win of the campaign was his first and only victory on home tarmac, the Brazilian Grand Prix. He lost third and fifth gear in the closing stages and was so exhausted from the effort of keeping it in the race he had to be dragged out of his car after finishing.

The MP4/6 would be Senna's final championship-winning car, as McLaren's period of domination came to an end -- it would not win a title again until 1998. He would race a modified version of the car in the opening two races of the following season.


McLaren MP4/7A

This car was originally slated for introduction at the fourth race of the year, but a new rising power prompted a change of tact. The Renault-powered, Adrian Newey-designed Williams FW14 was a marvel. After seeing Williams win the opening two rounds, McLaren boss Ron Dennis brought forward the launch of the MP4/7A by a month.

With the new car Senna claimed three victories -- in Monaco, Hungary and Italy -- in what was his least competitive season since leaving Lotus. The first of those wins saw him hold off a charging Mansell around the streets of Monte Carlo in what has gone down as a classic F1 battle.

Mansell and Williams claimed the title that year and the era of dominance officially came to a close as McLaren's Honda partnership finished. McLaren and Honda would re-form its partnership in 2015 for an ill-fated three-year partnership.


McLaren MP4/8

With Honda gone, McLaren's 1993 car was powered by Ford. Although Prost and Williams ultimately won the season comfortably Senna achieved some remarkable results early in the year, winning three of the opening six races and leading the championship until the seventh.

However, the car gradually dropped off the pace, while the Williams got stronger. Senna went eight straight races without visiting the podium in the MP4/8, which was the longest such spell of his entire career.

One of his three wins is arguably his most renowned, the 1993 European Grand Prix at British circuit Donington Park. In soaking conditions Senna passed Michael Schumacher, Karl Wendlinger, Damon Hill and Prost on the opening lap.

He would cap his McLaren tenure with wins at the final two rounds, Japan and Australia, his last before switching to the Williams team which was now the dominant force in F1.


Williams FW16

Senna's switch to Williams promised so much but ultimately ended in tragedy.

The Newey-designed car was an evolution of the 1993 Williams Prost had claimed a comfortable title with, but without a key ingredient. The active suspension system Williams had pioneered in the previous two years had been banned and preseason soon revealed shortcomings with the FW16.

Newey would later say: "The 1994 car was not a good car at all at the start of the year. It was very difficult to drive. We developed the aerodynamics using active suspension and we developed them [to work] in a very small [set-up] window.

"Having had active suspension for two years, when we then lost it we had more trouble re-adapting to passive suspension than other people who hadn't been on it for very long."

Senna retired from the first two races, won by Benetton's Michael Schumacher. Senna's frustration at the start of the year was heightened by a suspicion Benetton was running illegal traction control software on its car, an allegation never proven.

Changes were made to the FW16 for the third race, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, but the world never got to see if they could have rebooted Senna's title campaign. After claiming pole and leading away at the start, Senna crashed and was killed at the Tamburello corner at the beginning of the sixth lap.

Senna's teammate, Damon Hill, was narrowly beaten to the title by Schumacher at the final race of the season.