You've successfully subscribed to The Apex by Custodian
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to The Apex by Custodian
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.

Monaco Magic: Ayrton Senna's Most Memorable Moments

At last weekend's Monaco Historic, the roaring engines of yesteryear reverberated around the Principality. Alongside the fiercely competitive racing, tributes were held for the late Ayrton Senna, who passed away 30 years ago this month. To celebrate his legacy, a number of Senna's iconic cars were on parade, including his 1977 Championship winning Go-Kart, his Formula 3 Ralt RT3, and his 1990 McLaren MP4/5B. Overcome with nostalgia, we have pulled together a collection of Senna’s most memorable Monaco moments, starting with his 1984 Monaco debut...

Written by Archie Hill for The Apex by Custodian.

Eddie Irvine, Bruno Senna, H.S.H Prince Albert II, Gabriel Bortoleto, Thierry Boutsen, Cristina Gutierrez // Credit: ACM // Maxime Le Juste

1984 Monaco Grand Prix: Senna Shines in the Pouring Rain 

Five races into his debut season, Senna and the Formula One cavalry arrived in Monaco. Qualifying would see Senna place his inferior Toleman 13th on the grid, five positions ahead of teammate Johnny Cecotto. The race itself was marred by rain, but despite the adverse weather, Senna demonstrated his mastery of the circuit and made his way up to 2nd, relentlessly chasing down Prost in the leading McLaren. In the closing stages of the race, Senna closed the gap to Prost at an astonishing rate, lapping several seconds faster than the Frenchman.

Senna's Toleman TG184 on display at the 14th Edition of the Monaco Historic // Credit: ACM // Jean-Marc Follete

As Senna closed in, the race was stopped prematurely due to safety concerns, with Prost declared the winner. However, Senna's electrifying performance in Monaco captured the attention of the Formula One world and established him as a rising star in the sport. The 1984 race is remembered not only for Senna's remarkable debut on the streets of Monaco but also for foreshadowing the legendary battles that would unfold between Senna and Prost in the years to come.

1988 Monaco Grand Prix: In Racing 1.427 Seconds is an Eternity

Fast forward to 1988, Senna signed with McLaren and would go on to win his first World Championship. His qualifying performance at Monaco that year was not just a highlight of his career, but is considered one of the greatest qualifying laps ever in the history of the sport, out-qualifying his second place teammate by 1.427 seconds.

“Suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension.”

Unbelievably, there is no footage of the lap. Not a single TV camera captured any of the 84 seconds it took for Senna to take pole. But it doesn’t end there. On race day, Senna's 1.427 second advantage compounded. He was 50 seconds ahead of Prost and cruising to what should have been an easy finish, when a lapse in concentration, possibly caused by a radio message from Ron Dennis telling Senna to slow down, resulted in a crash at Portier corner. In what looked to have been sheer disbelief, Senna made his way back to his Monaco apartment, and was not seen or heard from until later that evening.

Later in his career, Senna said of the Monaco incident, “Monaco was the turning point in the championship. The mistake I made woke me up psychologically and mentally and I changed a lot after that. It gave me the strength, the power and the cool mind to fight in critical situations. That was when I took the biggest step in my career as a racing driver, as a professional and as a man.”

1990 Monaco Grand Prix: Welcome to the Ayrton Senna Show

Senna won the Monaco Grand Prix consecutively between 1989 and 1993, but his 1990 win was a total annihilation of the competition. He qualified on pole, led every lap of the race and took the fastest lap. Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger closed the gap to Senna in the later stages of the race, but as Senna would go on to demonstrate in 1992 (see below), he was virtually impossible to overtake. Fortunately this time there was a camera on Ayrton’s car, and so we all get to sit back and watch the master at work. 

Bruno Senna behind the wheel of Ayrton's 1990 McLaren MP4/5B // Credit: ACM // Jean-Marc Follete

1992 Monaco Grand Prix: You Shall Not Pass

1992 was the first time in four years that Senna did not qualify on pole position at Monaco. That year, Williams had brought the heat to McLaren, with Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese locking out the front row, with Senna in 3rd.

Mansell built out a 30 second lead ahead of Senna who was now up to 2nd, but a pit stop for tyres as a result of a suspected puncture had leap-frogged the Brazilian up to 1st with only 8 laps remaining. Mansell quickly closed the gap and was all over the back of Senna, but could not find a way past. Senna put on a defensive masterclass, and he beat Mansell by 0.2 seconds. It was Senna’s fifth win at Monaco, equalling Graham Hill’s record. 

After the race, an exhausted Mansell was helped up the stairs to the podium by marshals, and praised Senna’s defensive driving: 

“I must compliment Ayrton because he pretty well second guessed every move I tried to do and he was very fair and he is entitled to do what he did and I think he drove fantastic and that's why he won the race I came a close second.”


The most exciting end to a Formula 1 Grand Prix // Credit: Formula 1 Group

1993 Monaco Grand Prix: At Last, the King of Monaco

Alongside his legendary wins at Interlagos and Donnington that year, Senna’s Monaco win in ‘93 saw him eclipse Graham Hill’s 24 year record for the most wins around the Principality. Rather fittingly, sharing the podium with Senna was Damon Hill, who finished the race in P2. Senna's unparalleled achievement of six Monaco Grand Prix victories remains unbroken to this day. 

The Apex Team

The Apex Team

The Apex Editorial Team @Custodian: Archie Hill - Interviewer & Editor, Archie Hill Jeremy Hindle Charles Clegg - Editors, Archie Hill - Production, David Marcus - Transcription.