Future three-time Formula 1 world champion completed the championship opening race at Brands Hatch in fifth place, at the end of the year, he would be champion of two tournaments in the category.
March 1st became a landmark in the history of world motorsport. Exactly 40 years ago, in 1981, young Ayrton Senna da Silva competed the first race of his career. On the English circuit at Brands Hatch, Van Diemen team driver was fifth in the opening race of the English Formula Ford 1600 Championship. It was the kick-off to one of the most successful and celebrated careers of all times.
Before starting his career in motorsport, Ayrton was involving in karting. He was two times champion of São Paulo (1976 and 1977), three times Brazilian champion (1978, 1979 and 1980) and two times South American champion (1977 and 1980). He missed the world titlein 1979 and 1980.
Chico Serra, recommend Ayrton to Ralph Firman, who had his team in the Formula Ford 1600.
The day came when Firman, Chico and Ayrton met to discuss the contract for the 1981 season. In short, the rookie wanted a greater number of tests and races than the one proposed by the owner of the team, not to mention that Senna had only two-thirds of the amount that Van Diemen wanted to fund the year. Soon after, Ayrton went to the bathroom, and Firman asked Chico:
What the hell does this kid think he is?
At the end, the contract was signed, and Ayrton da Silva adopts the proposal of his surname “Senna” from Chico Serra for his first season in motorsport.
Ayrton then went on to compete the British RAC and Towsend Thoresen championship. In the first race, on March 1, 1981, Senna did not have a more up-to-date chassis available and raced with an old car, as the new one was not ready. In the end, he finished fifth. The following Sunday, the first podium with a third place was at Thruxton, and the first victory came on March 15, in the rain at Brands Hatch.
In 2013, I met Mexican Alfonso Toledano at the Daytona race track during the coverage of the 24-hour race, and he said:
Ayrton asked me to explain to the mechanics that I wanted more tire pressure, but they didn’t want to do it without Ralph Firman’s authorization. And he really didn’t want to, but Ayrton insisted, in the end, they did what Ayrton wanted.
After the victory at Brands Hatch, Senna recorded 11 victories, five second places and a fourth. He won two titles in the Formula Ford 1600. And then he dropped the bomb: he abandoned racing. Ayrton even worked with his father Milton, but he was given the green light to resume his trajectory.
He started to race in Formula Ford 2000, for the Rushen Green team. He won the English and European category with an impressive record of 21 wins in 28 races. Some of the European races were preliminary to the F1 races, and the young Brazilian started to be noticed by the team leaders.
In 1983, Senna moved up to Formula 3, then, the main entry category before Formula 1. The destination was the traditional West Surrey team, and at that stage, the Brazilian already had good sponsors. With Senna already considered a candidate for the phenomenon of speed, Globo broadcast live the race that could decide the title in favor of the Brazilian, at Silverstone. In that race, Ayrton was second, but then he would win the title in a fierce fight with the Englishman Martin Brundle.
Later that year, the 23-year-old Senna made his first tests with F1 cars. First, by Williams, in Donington Park, where he broke the track record for the aspirated engine . Then, further training sessions with Brabham, McLaren and Toleman. Toleman was the team chosen for Senna’s debut in 1984.
The rest is history. Senna won three podiums in his debut year for Toleman, then won his first races for Lotus and was crowned three-time world champion by McLaren.