senna-in-japan

3

Japanese Grand Prix 1993

Late in the race, on a damp but drying track, Senna had come up to lap the battling duo of Irvine and Damon Hill.

Senna held a relatively comfortable lead over arch-rival Alain Prost at this point and initially managed to slip past Irvine when the Jordan rookie ran wide at the tricky Degner section.

However, keen to resume battle with Hill, Irvine closed back in on Senna’s MP4-8 before, in an unprecedented move, audaciously re-passing the then 39-time race winner around the outside into the chicane.

Irvine would subsequently fall off the road again, allowing Senna to get by, but he’d rile the Brazilian still further by unlapping himself again on the penultimate lap, having survived a late race clash with Derek Warwick.

Picture the scene: Eddie Irvine has just taken a brilliant sixth-place finish in his maiden Grand Prix, and having changed out of his overalls, he’s now sat in the Jordan team’s rather rudimentary hospitality cabin in the Suzuka paddock, savouring the moment.

Suddenly the door to the Jordan unit swings open and in marches Ayrton Senna, followed swiftly by a string of worried faces from McLaren, including the Brazilian’s race engineer Giorgio Ascanelli and the team’s director of communications Norman Howell.

What the **** do you think you were doing?” says Senna, who’s already lambasted Irvine in the post-race press conference, by way of an opening comment.

I was racing,” comes the Jordan driver’s blunt reply.

You were racing?” says an incredulous Senna, seemingly taken aback by Irvine’s less than apologetic response. “Do you know the rule that you’re supposed to let the leaders come by when you’re a backmarker?

If you were going fast enough, it was no problem,” comes the quickfire retort.

You want to do well - I understand, because I’ve been there,” continued an irate Senna in the Jordan cabin. “But it’s very unprofessional…

But I would have followed you if you had overtaken Hill!” countered Irvine, tensions escalating.

You nearly hit Hill in front of me three times, because I saw, and I could have collected you and him as a result, and that’s not the way to do that,” said Senna, imploring Irvine to admit his mistake.

Irvine, however, was having none of it: “But I’m racing! I’m racing!” he protested.

It was at this point that Senna finally boiled over.

You’re not racing!” he exclaimed. “You’re driving like a ****ing idiot! You’re not a racing driver, you’re a ****ing idiot!

Moments later, with the two men still at loggerheads, Senna threw a fist in Irvine’s direction.

How much contact he actually made with the brash debutant is open to debate, but Irvine, who’d been leaning on a table, hit the deck as Senna was manhandled away by his startled colleagues from McLaren.

Within a matter of minutes news of the altercation had spread throughout the paddock - and would remain the hot topic of conversation for weeks until Senna was eventually handed a suspended two-race ban by the FIA.

2

On this day, 23 years ago, Ayrton Senna was crowned a triple world champion after finishing second in Japan.

Senna had arrived in Japan 16 points ahead of Nigel Mansell. After qualifying, Berger had clinched pole position with Senna in second and Mansell in third.

The strategy for McLaren was to let Berger keep the lead, with Senna behind holding Mansell back. On the 9th lap, the Brit tried to overtake the Brazilian but couldn’t control the car and spun. His hopes were over.

Senna said: “I saw the whole thing through my rear view mirror and admit that I wasn’t sad. In that moment I thought, ‘yes, now I can race the way I like to: in high gear and to win’. I was focused on the title. That was the opportunity I had been waiting for. There was no better way to win the world title than that: winning the Grand Prix as I did in 1988, in Japan. And I was just about to do so when Ron Dennis called me on the radio. I asked him to repeat the message and, once again, I couldn’t hear it very well. Then I decided to take my foot off the gas and let Berger pass.”

What Ron had asked him was to let Berger win the race. Senna: “If I’d said I hadn’t understood the request, everyone would have believed it. But Berger gave a beautiful performance and deserved to win as much as I did.”