Ayrton Senna, Nurburgring, 1984

Watch F1 rookie Ayrton Senna beat ten world champions in identical cars

F1 historyPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

A full-length video of a race which saw a young Ayrton Senna take on and beat a group of Formula One world champions has recently appeared.

The race for identical Mercedes 190 E saloon cars featured 20 drivers, half of which were already F1 world champions. It was arguably the first occasion Senna proved his abilities against top-flight F1 drivers, three weeks before his celebrated performance in that year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The event was held to mark the opening of the new Nurburgring. Mercedes invited all the living world champions of the day to participate. Among those who could not attend were Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi, who were competing in the Indianapolis 500.

Mercedes marketing chief Gerd Kremer, who had met Senna the previous year at an F3 race, invited him to take Fittipaldi’s place. At the time Senna had entered just four F1 races with Toleman and had failed to qualify for the most recent of those at Imola.

Senna knew few of the other competitors including Alain Prost, who collected him from the airport. The pair ended up sharing the front row of the grid, with Prost on pole position, and what happened next may well have been the beginning of their subsequent rivalry.

Ayrton Senna, Mercedes 190E , Nurburgring, 1984
Senna was at full attack in the Mercedes
Unfortunately the television director for the event was still showing a lengthy speech by Rhineland president Bernhard Vogel as the race began. According to Prost, Senna forced him off the track at the start, leading him to collide with Elio de Angelis. The latter can be seen pitting with damage later in the race.

While Senna edged away from the pack on a damp, slippery circuit, Niki Lauda made his way past former Ferrari team mate Carlos Reutemann into second place.

Though Senna was clearly giving it everything he’d got, most accounts of the race suggest his rivals were not taking it as seriously. Certainly several of them treated the track limits with little respect – notably James Hunt. And the 56-year-old Hans Hermann trailed around at the rear having reportedly arranged to buy his car and preferring to keep it intact.

Nonetheless some of Senna’s rivals were impressed by what they’d seen of the F1 rookie. John Surtees urged his former employers Ferrari to snap him up for the future and John Watson, who ran close enough to the front to watch Senna drive, praised his commitment through the high-speed chicane at the end of the lap.

It wouldn’t be long before those skills were realised to their full at the wheel of an F1 car.

1984 Nurburgring Champions Mercedes-Benz Cup results

12th May 1984

Along with Andretti and Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Jackie Stewart and Juan Manuel Fangio also chose not to participate.

Position Driver Notes
1 Ayrton Senna British F3 champion, three F1 starts
2 Niki Lauda Two-times champion, won third that year
3 Carlos Reutemann 1981 championship runner-up
4 Keke Rosberg 1982 champion
5 John Watson Five-times grand prix winner
6 Denny Hulme 1967 champion
7 Jody Scheckter 1979 champion
8 Jack Brabham Three-times champion
9 Klaus Ludwig Le Mans 24 Hours winner
10 James Hunt 1976 champion
11 John Surtees 1964 champion
12 Phil Hill 1961 champion
13 Manfred Schurti Nurburgring race winner
14 Stirling Moss 16-times grand prix winner
15 Alain Prost Went on to win four championships and 51 races
16 Udo Schutz 1966 German sports car champion
17 Jacques Laffite Six-times grand prix winner
18 Hans Hermann 7th in 1954 championship
19 Elio de Angelis One-time grand prix winner at the time
20 Alan Jones 1980 champion

1984 Nurburgring Champions Mercedes-Benz Cup pictures

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37 comments on “Watch F1 rookie Ayrton Senna beat ten world champions in identical cars”

  1. This sort of thing should happen at every Grand Prix, compulsory for drivers competing if Formula One that season.

    The cars should change for each event, perhaps the cars from a local series.

    To see the current F1 drivers in equal cars and without much practice would be extremely interesting and entertaining and might give us a better clue as to how they compare.

    That is something I would LOVE to see.

    1. Be careful what you wish for, an event like this could very easily become a more popular feature than the overly ‘tech-y’ main race itself.

      Not that I’m against some form of a feeder competition for the main protagonists…

      1. Yes please! All drivers in spec road cars, differrnt for every race…

    2. If one is allowed to dream, I’d like to see interseries GP.
      I mean the top 3, 4, of the major tourism series would meet to race in the same car form a given series once a month.
      Something like 3, 4 Nascar, DTM, TC(arg)/Stock(bra), WTCC, V8SC, would race, for instance, all in DTM cars, the next month Nascar’s in ovals, next month in South America, then Australia and so on.
      Plus one of the series representatives must be under 25 yo.

    3. I don’t think it needs to be every race, but just a once every couple years or so as a special event would be nice.

      1. Once a year would be awesome!!

        1. @anakincarlos Ya, something like the race of champions…

    4. Sort the qualifying order for sunday by having a short race in saturday where the f1 drivers need to drive cars provided by some sponsor. Winner gets the pole and so forth.

      1. The sad thing is that the manufacturers would never let their own drivers drive a car made by rivals though. Merc would not like to see rosberg and hamilton drive hondas in japanese race just like honda would not like to see alonso and button driving mercs in the german gp.

  2. Apologies for knit-picking, but it doesn’t happen all that often that a driver from Liechtenstein gets mentioned: shouldn’t it be Manfred Schurti in 13th position?

    1. @atferrari Have fixed the typo. And apologies for nit-picking, but it isn’t spelled ‘knit-picking’! :-)

      1. @keithcollantine :-) Touché. I cannot attribute this to the idiosyncrasies of Liechtensteinian spelling… Many thanks for fixing the typo and for your great services to the F1 fan community worldwide.

  3. Oh, it’s too long since I wanted to watch this race. It was in my childhood in a Chirstopher Hilton Senna book that I first read about it.

    The new Nurburgring is better than most of the Tilkedroms, but is still a poor excuse for a race track literally next to perhaps the greatest circuit on Earth. And even one of its most interesting original element is now gone in the form of that high-speed chicane near the end of the lap.

    1. Well, not literally gone, but F1 doesn’t use it anymore.

  4. Sometimes I get the feeling that the driver most like Ayrton in F1 today is Pastor Maldonado…

    1. Please don’t insult Pastor!!

      1. Pastor Maldonado isn’t a F1 driver. He’s just a payer.

      2. “Don`t insult Pastor” hahaha classic!!! Senna was a maniac & tragic he died at his peak because he’s held in high esteem. Such injustice!!!

    2. @alec-glen While initially I wanted to agree, I think MAL has never been in anything near a front-running car, nor has he proved himself in equallizing events, i.e. rain, to warrant being in such a car.

  5. I wish we had these types of races in modern times, how else do we find another senna in the pack? this is the best way to see who is and isn’t the real deal. I guess its the exposure of the latter that most are worried about in taking part.

    Yes I know we have ROC but I like this approach better.

    Senna was leading but he was in no way running away from 2-5th place, well done non the less. Most didn’t have a point to prove, he was driving to impress for his career

    1. Renan Martinuzzo
      11th January 2016, 21:10

      I believe he was driving to win. Keeping his gap in check to the guy behind and responding with pace when necessary.

      Much of Senna’s wins were obtained this way. At that time, keeping the car in one piece was a quite important.

      1. You’re speculating about managing the gap. I don’t see him just keeping a gap, he was clearly on it to the max the entire time.

        1. So, he’s speculating that Senna was managing the gap, yet you know for sure he was on it the entire time to the last tenth? has the race director concentrated entirely on him? And even if he was, how can you know that? Senna’s style was such that he could appear pushing while he was at 90%. In contrast to someone like Prost who could appear at 90% even when he was pushing

          The truth is, we cannot know. But knowing how Senna was , I’m more inclined to agree with Renan Martinuzzo than you, as it was classic Senna race: lead from the start, build a big lead early, then manage it, to keep the car intact till the end

    2. If one is allowed to dream, I’d like to see interseries GP.
      I mean the top 3, 4, of the major tourism series would meet to race in the same car form a given series once a month.
      Something like 3, 4 Nascar, DTM, TC(arg)/Stock(bra), WTCC, V8SC, would race, for instance, all in DTM cars, the next month Nascar’s in ovals, next month in South America, then Australia and so on.
      Plus one of the series representatives must be under 25 yo.

      1. Had something similar to this in the US with the International Race of Champions (IROC). Although it was ran mostly on ovals, and the field quickly became NASCAR heavy, it was interesting in the beginning.

  6. This story is well known the video though is something I’ve never seen. Anyway, it’s a race where a young gun is going for glory, the old glories and the rest are just having a leisurely time. Relevant or not, the race beckons Senna in every way.

  7. @keithcollantine I can’t view it on my phone, got audio but no video can you suggest anything, don’t have access to a computer I’m afraid.

  8. Fantastic, I had no idea there was footage.

    As an aside, the list of driver achievements is a bit mixed. Some have their best results at the time listed, others have their future ones, others are missing. Didn’t Hans Hermann win Le Mans? For Reutemann it says when he was runner-up, whereas for Moss it has his win tally.

  9. There’s little doubt that the other F1 title holders were not as serious about winning the race as Senna. Which is smart, particularly if they happen to see what happened early on:

    “According to Prost, Senna forced him off the track at the start, leading him to collide with Elio de Angelis. ”

    That’s as much of a pre-cursor to Senna’s career as was his winning the race. IMO.

  10. Well, it was a.wet start.. And he was Ayrton Senna… Just like how I imagined it. Great find!

  11. to make it commercially desirable, Bernie shd let a top bidding sponsor to bring their fleet of equal cars for such a match at the season finale!

    1. lets use the finishing order be the grid position for the race! hahah

  12. I’m watching for the first time , a race I wanted to see for so long. So many great drivers in equal cars. Yet for the most part the only thing I could concentrate on was how rubbish the TV race director was. I’ve seen many useless directors in my decades as a motorsport fan but this guy is clearly the worst ever. He’d managed to miss the start, he’d managed to miss most of the overtakes and battles that happened, specifically into the last corner. Rosberg and Watson were an inch apart, going into it on the last lap and he doesn’t even follow them! I wouldn’t trust this guy to sweep the streets properly, let alone direct anything

  13. My dream would be to put all of the F1 drivers in identically prepared, 1977-spec, Ralt RT-1 formula Atlantic cars. This was a no frills, no BS, bullet-proof race car. It would be fascinating to see who’d win. In my view it would be Vettel.

  14. I recall seing this very video some years ago, but maybe it was just an extract

    1. On youtube, I should say

  15. Great video ! Never seen it before ! I think nowadays F1 needs that kind of event to heat up show.
    Hill, Montoya, Villeneuve, Häkkinen for example vs current drivers in road car will be awesome.
    But I don’t think it going to happend soon ;-/

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