Ayrton Senna’s First Victory-1985 Portuguese Grand Prix

Ayrton Senna, Elio De Angelis, Lotus-Renault 97T, Grand Prix of Portugal, Estoril, 21 April 1985. (Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)

On a cold, rainy day in Portugal, a legend was born.  It was April 21, 1985, and the Autodromo do Estoril was being drenched by a constant downpour of rain and the chill was inescapable.   The Portuguese Grand Prix was the second race of the Formula 1 season and little did fans know they were about to see a master at work.  Ayrton Senna would capture the checkered flag for the first time with a drive of epic proportions in some of the worst conditions imaginable.  In so doing, a legend was born.

Qualifying

Qualifying was as wet as the race would prove to be and teams jockeyed to earn good positions on the grid.  The better the position the less spray you would have to negotiate when chasing the checked flag.  Senna managed to hang onto his car, while others went all directions, garnering himself the pole position despite the tempestuous weather. His longtime rival, Alain Prost, would be starting second with Keke Rosberg and his Williams-Honda was starting third. Senna’s teammate Elio de Angelis would round out the second row.  The rest of the cars fell into place behind them and the grid was set.

Racing in the Rain

From the very beginning of The Portuguese Grand Prix, the rain caused problems. Cars spun off the track left and right and collisions between cars were frequent. Senna, however, had found his groove.  By the time Lap 10 rolled around the distance between him and second place was 13 seconds. Second place was in contention, however, with Prost, Michele Alboreto, and de Angelis all battling for position. De Angelis would eventually secure the spot with Prost and Alboreto hot on his heels.  Those four remained in their places until Lap 15.  Rosberg spun on Lap 16 and caused a caution to come out.  His car was incapacitated in the middle of the track for several laps, extending the caution for extra laps.

By Lap 20, Senna’s lead had grown to 30 seconds over de Angelis. Prost and Alboreto continued to push and stayed close to de Angelis despite the inclement weather. Only nine cars remained on the lead lap as the rain continued to worsen.  On lap 25, Nelson Piquet was forced to retire due to a tire issue and repeated pit stops.  Prost spun, hit the track barrier, and was forced to retire around lap 30.  Senna asked officials to stop the race due to the weather, however, officials declined his request and the race proceeded at a painfully slow pace.

Rain-Soaked Checkered Flag

At lap 67, Senna was given the signal that one lap remained. The race had exceeded the two-hour time limit. Senna had led the race from the green flag to the checkered. Only one other car, that of second-place Alboreto, remained on the lead lap.  Senna won his first Grand Prix in the worst conditions in a display of masterful driving.  Senna displayed the art of racing in the rain and in so doing laid the foundation of a legend.


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