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Ayrton Senna Special: Part 25 - The beginning of an era - The contract at McLaren (1988)

  • Published on 19 Apr 2019 21:30
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  • By: Fergal Walsh

McLaren and Senna already had a history together before they announced their partnership at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza 1987. 

Ron Dennis and Ayrton Senna came into contact in 1982 during the Brazilian's Formula Ford 2000 season. At the time, Senna asked Dennis if it was possible to have a test drive in a Formula 1 car. Dennis answered: "I would like to give you that option only under the condition that I pay you this season in Formula 3." Ayrton didn't want to make any deals and decided to make it clear to Dennis that he wasn't interested in this. "He had the opportunity and he wanted to be independent. I thought it was interesting, I didn't really like it but I respected it.

Ayrton was supposed to test at McLaren in 1983, we have paid extensive attention to this in a previous episode. Four years after this test Senna made his own approach to McLaren. Ayrton had a 'joker' up his sleeve. His pleasant relationship with Honda could also be interesting for McLaren. "All the big drivers are aware of the importance of a team, but they do everything possible to make it easy for themselves. He saw that McLaren was very competitive and wanted to participate. He offered us an alternative engine supplier in Honda. I then started the conversation with Honda and realised that I had an ally in Ayrton," Dennis said. 

"I can remember the moment of the announcement to Phillip Morris in the paddock in Monza. I can still see all those faces in front of me. It was the first time I could see Alain to see if it was a good move. Alain was satisfied with the choice as we could also go for Piquet." Alain Prost later said in an interview that he convinced Ron Dennis to choose Senna: "Take the best, take Ayrton", he said. 

Dennis also told an anecdote about the contract negotiations with Senna. "Ayrton had a fairly healthy hunger for money. We started concentrating on the compensation. We stuck at about half a million. Everything had to be black and white for Ayrton and eventually, we couldn't figure it out. I then said to him: Let's flip a coin. I could tell that he liked it. After a little discussion about who would do it, I threw up the coin and won the coin toss. What we hadn't discussed back then was the duration of the contract. In the end, it was a three-year deal, so it was a flip of 1.5 million dollars. I know people see this as a lack of respect for money, but in fact it was a great respect because it was the only way to get on together." 

It took a long time for McLaren to put the Honda engine in its new chassis. Just one week before the Brazilian Grand Prix the car was ready to be tested. "The car was much too late", said designer Steve Nichols at the time. "I really wanted to do everything in my power to get the car ready to perfection," he said. From the moment the car first came onto the track, this impression was made. McLaren had done a number of shakedowns at the Imola circuit the week before the test.

The best lap of the test, in which McLaren also had an MP3/4B at its disposal, had until then been put in a Ferrari by Gerhard Berger. Berger, who had already driven thousands of kilometres in the F1/87/88C, was with a 1:29.90 the only driver who had fallen below one minute and thirty seconds. When Alain Prost gave the MP4/4 his first real track he got in the car in his first morning to a time of 1:28.50. The Frenchman bettered Berger's time for almost one and a half seconds. That wasn't all. Ayrton Senna came onto the asphalt shortly afterwards and drove a time of 1:27.86. 


Ayrton Senna Special: Part 1 - Ayrton and karting - The early years
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 2 - Ayrton and karting - International

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 3 - Ayrton and karting - The tough trip in Buenos Aires
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 4 - Ayrton and karting - The last race
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 5 - Ayrton in Europe - Formula Ford 1600 and the battle with Rick Morris

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 6 - Ayrton in Europe - A glorious year in Formula Ford 200
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 7 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - Senna in a class of his own
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 8 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - First signs of pressure and dirt game 
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 9 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - Shame at Oulton Park and another title
Ayrton Senna Special Exclusive Interview: Allen Berg: Ayrton drove against the British system
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 10 - Ayrton as a test driver - The first experience in a Formula 1 car
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 11 - Ayrton as a test driver - A selection of different teams
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 12 - Ayrton at Toleman - Why the choice for Toleman was the right one
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 13 - Ayrton at Toleman - Monaco Grand Prix - Stefan was faster
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 14 - Ayrton at Toleman - Monaco Grand Prix - Post-race
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 15 - Ayrton at Toleman - Competitive in a new car with two podiums
Ayrton Senna Special: Technical Analysis 1: The Toleman TG183 (1984)
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammate 1: Johnny Cecotto
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 16 - Ayrton at Lotus - Facial Paralysis
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 17 - Ayrton at Lotus - Masterclass in Estoril
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 18 - Ayrton at Lotus - An unfortunate first half of the season
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 19 - Ayrton at Lotus - Many podiums and a victory at Spa-Francorchamps
Ayrton Senna Special: Technical Analysis 2: The Lotus 972
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammate 2: Elio 'The Gentleman'
Ayrton Senna Special: Extra 1: Veto 1

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 20 - Second year at Lotus - Titanium competition with Nigel Mansell
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 21 - Second year at Lotus- A good start and the lead in the championship after Detroit (1986)
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 22 - Second year at Lotus - Decay in the second half of the season (1986)
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammates 3: John Crichton-Stuart, 7th Marquess of Bute (1986) 
Ayrton Senna Special: Extra 2 - Gérard Ducarouge - Designer of Ayrton's winning Lotus (1986)

Ayrton Senna Special: Exclusive Interview 1: Allard Kalff: 'I still honour Roland on April 30'.
Ayrton Senna Special: Exclusive Interview 2: Allard Kalff: "I only saw at Linate Airport that Ayrton had died"
Ayrton Senna Special: Exclusive Interview 3: Allard Kalff: "The accidents in 1994 were coincidence, in 1995 nothing happened"
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 23 - Last year at Lotus - Excellent season with the 1986 Honda engine (1987)
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 24 - Last year at Lotus - The victories at Monaco and Detroit (1987) 
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 25 - The beginning of an era - The contract at McLaren (1988)

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