LAT Archive: Ayrton Senna's six-time Monaco GP winning brilliance

Widely regarded as the master of Monaco, we look at why Ayrton Senna was so imperious around the street circuit 25 years after his final victory there

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Last weekend, former Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone splashed €4.2million to add Ayrton Senna's 1993 Monaco Grand Prix winning McLaren MP4/8A to his collection.

Its appearance in Bonhams' Monaco sale may have failed to break the record paid at auction for an F1 car (an ex-Michael Schumacher 2001 Monaco GP winning Ferrari sold for $7m in November), but coming up for sale 25 years after Senna's final Monaco victory was no less significant.

The three-time world champion claimed top honours in six of the Monaco GPs he contested, including five back-to-back victories from 1989 to 1993. As a result, he remains the most successful driver around its streets a quarter-of-a-century later.

Thanks to the LAT Archive, AutoClassics reflects on his prowess in the principality.

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1984. Rascasse

June 3. Toleman-Hart TG184

With a stellar career in the junior formulas and having scored two sixth places already in the Toleman ahead of the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, Senna’s credentials were in little doubt. But taking a narrow second place to McLaren's Alain Prost in a truncated, rain-soaked edition elevated his profile further. Granted Stefan Bellof may have been lapping faster in his Tyrrell, and Senna could have forced himself to retire with errors that sent him clattering over the kerbs, but no-one seems to remember those. Instead, it was his affinity with low-grip conditions that could have yielded his and Toleman’s first win had the red flagged race result not have been counted back to the previous lap – which Prost had led.

1985. Ste Devote

May 19. Lotus 97T

For the following season Senna had moved to Lotus. With that year’s 97T more competitive, the Brazilian once again proved his pace and took his maiden win two rounds before Monaco, at Estoril. Qualifying around the principality yielded pole position, 0.086 seconds faster than the Williams of Nigel Mansell. Unfortunately, troubles for his Renault engine forced Senna to retire on only lap 13, classified a lowly 16th as Prost went onto inherit victory ahead of his first world title.

1986. Loews Hairpin

May 11. Lotus 98T

Prost blitzed qualifying, beating Mansell to pole by over four tenths. A combination of traffic and oil on track wasted Senna’s early laps. Having used up his qualifying tyres too, he ended the session in third – his team-mate Johnny Dumfries failing to qualify down in 22nd. Prost was away clear into Ste Devote on lap one. Mansell, Senna and Michele Alboreto, remarkably, made it through unscathed also, with Senna climbing up to second. As the fuel loads lightened Prost only got quicker and quicker. The ultimate pace of the McLarens was hard to match with Prost's team-mate Keke Rosberg passing also, dropping Senna to third at the chequered flag.

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1987. Nouvelle Chicane

May 31. Lotus 99T

It was with the 1987 grand prix that Senna chalked his first Monaco win. Mansell delivered a stellar lap in qualifying, securing pole nearly seven tenths clear of Senna who would start second. Mansell converted his starting position into an early lead until lap 30 when his Williams–Honda suffered a terminal loss of turbo boost. With that Senna inherited a lead he would not relinquish. Prost briefly moved up into second before engine issues forced him into retirement. That meant Alboreto climbed the order, but was a distant 33 seconds behind Senna's Lotus. It was also the first win for a car using active suspension.

1988. Start/finish straight

May 15. McLaren MP4/4

Arguably, the 1988 Monaco GP remains the most infamous. Senna was a scarcely believable 1.4 seconds clear of team-mate Prost in a McLaren front-row lockout during qualifying. Senna maintained first place, with gear selection issues dropping Prost behind Ferrari's Gerhard Berger. When Prost eventually re-passed, he was 50 seconds in the wake of Senna, but soon starting banging in fastest laps. Senna responded by dropping his laptimes also, at which point team boss Ron Dennis instructed Senna to conserve, what should have been, an easy victory. But on lap 67 Senna reputedly lost concentration and hit the barrier at Portier and retired. It wasn't until later that evening that Senna would emerge from his Monaco residence.

1989. The Tunnel

May 7. McLaren MP4/5

The following year told a similar story, Senna putting his MP4/5 on pole close to 1.2 seconds ahead of Prost. Both McLarens were a class above the field, easing away from closest challengers Williams with Senna heading Prost. But Senna's 53 second victory wasn't as smooth as the results show. His car lost both first and second gear late in the race. In an attempt to avoid a repeat of 1988, Senna masked the problems from his team so that Prost wouldn't pile on the pressure with a string of fastest laps. it proved effective as the Brazilian notched his second lot of Monaco spoils.

1990. Massenet

May 27. McLaren MP4/5B

Senna had a perfect weekend in 1990, clocking pole, leading every lap to win and setting the race's fastest lap in the process. His back-to-back Monaco victories began with a half-second cushion over Prost, who moved to Ferrari following the well-publicised friction in the McLaren team. A long delay at the start played a part in Prost colliding with new McLaren driver Berger at Mirabeau. The subsequent blockage caused the race to be halted. Senna led away at the restart, his chances improving when Prost retired with battery issues prior to half-distance. He lost time in the latter stages of the race, but managed his car's troubles to head Jean Alesi by one second at the flag with Berger the same distance again behind.

1991. Ste Devote

May 12. McLaren MP4/6

In what was becoming the usual turn of events, Senna again landed his McLaren on pole. This time his closest challenger was the Pirelli-shod Tyrell of Stefano Modena who took advantage of the exceptional qualifying tyre. That said, he was still half a second in Senna’s wake. The McLaren driver was unchallenged from the off and took control of the race. An engine blowup for Modena and the resulting oil that caused Williams’ Riccardo Patrese to crash left Senna’s advantage insurmountable. The final gap stood at 18 seconds over Mansell. Senna’s Monaco hat-trick also set a record of him becoming the first driver to win the opening four races of an F1 season.

1992. Swimming Pool

May 31. McLaren MP4/7A

Between 1984 and 1991 only once did McLaren not win the constructors’ championship – with Nelson Piquet breaking the deadlock for Williams in 1987. After losing its Honda powertrain followed by a brief spell with Judd, Williams began a formidable partnership with Renault and famously produced the FW14B for 1992. No longer in the most capable car, Senna qualified in third behind both Williams and 1.1 seconds off Mansell’s benchmark. During the session he span into a tyre barrier at Mirabeau, damaging the rear of his car. What’s more, in stark contrast to the previous season, Mansell had won the first five races of the season heading into Monaco. Usurping Patrese off the line, Senna remained in second for much of the race until a loose wheel nut forced leader Mansell to pit. He returned to the circuit behind Senna, but with fresher tyres. At times he was up to two seconds quicker per lap. But Senna made his McLaren as wide as possible to keep the faster car at bay. Surviving to win meant Senna equalled Graham Hill’s record of five wins at Monaco.

1993. Start/finish straight

May 23. McLaren MP4/8

His untimely demise in the San Marino Grand Prix at only the third round of the 1994 season meant 1993 would be Senna’s last race at Monaco. McLaren and Honda had parted ways, with a Ford V8 filling the gap. Unlike its relationship with Honda, McLaren was no longer the works team and so its engines were thought to be underpowered compared to those Ford supplied to Benetton. Prost had returned from a sabbatical year to fill Mansell’s slot at Williams and Michael Schumacher was showing early signs of greatness. Again Senna missed out on qualifying honours, winding up third and 0.9s off Prost, with Schumacher’s Benetton three tenths faster also. But the fortunes swung in the race. Prost was adjudged to have jumped the start and so subsequently handed a stop-go penalty for his troubles. Then stalling his car plus a terminal hydraulic problem for Schumacher gifted Senna his fifth consecutive Monaco win. Six in total meant he surpassed Hill’s tally and he also set the record for the most wins at a single grand prix.

1991. The podium

May 12. McLaren MP4/5B

Images courtesy of LAT Archive

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