There is no doubt that Ayrton Senna was a true rain master with a level of car control very rare even in the exalted levels of Formula 1. One of his finest early F1 races was at the Portuguese Grand Prix, held at the Autódromo do Estoril circuit on April 21, 1985. Driving a Lotus 97T, with the 1.5 liter Renault V6 turbo engine, Senna captured his first F1 pole position ahead of Alain Prost’s McLaren MP4/2 and led from the start in terrible rain to win his first of 41 Grand Prix races. Wet weather driving with the super-powerful turbo cars of the 1980s demanded great concentration and a sensitive foot on the throttle. Senna’s margin of victory was over a full minute ahead of Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari 156/85 with everyone else a lap or more down. Even Prost, who would win the World Championship in 1985, found the rain too much while running third to Senna mid-race, spun on the main straight hitting the guard rail, and had to retire.
The Estoril circuit was built in the early-1970s and was used for F1 races beginning in 1984. It continued to host a Grand Prix through 1996, although safety concerns and cross winds off the sea, combined with uncompleted safety upgrades and the ever-increasing fees of F1 Management, brought the always exciting Portuguese Grand Prix event to an end. Today, Estoril is used for various classes of Portuguese national racing and some international level events such as the FIA GT series and the DTM.
A prime reason that Senna was so good in wet weather derived from practice. In Brazil he had a private kart track which could be flooded with water. This allowed him extended sessions to run a custom high powered shifter-kart in adverse conditions.
Photo by Nigel Snowdon ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com