Formula One: The greatest lap 0

1993 European Grand Prix. Donington Park, England. 9-11 April 1993. Ayrton Senna (McLaren MP4/8 Ford) 1st position at Redgate Corner. Ref-93 EUR 32. World Copyright - LAT Photographic

Donington Park race track in the depths of the East-Midland countryside has only ever held one Formula One Grand Prix, but it can lay claim to debatably the most spectacular lap the sport has ever seen, by arguably the greatest driver.

Even before his untimely death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, Ayrton Senna was regarded by many as the greatest driver of his generation. Heading into the ‘93 season he had found himself in a state of limbo; a move to rivals Williams from his McLaren team had not materialised and he was left driving a car no longer powered by the all conquering Honda, his car instead fitted with an as yet untested Ford Cosworth engine.

At the time, the Williams engine was unrivalled with Nigel Mansell winning the previous season at a canter. This season, Senna’s historical rival, frenchman Alain Prost, had replaced Mansell and was looking to pick up the victories where the departing Englishman had left off. Senna knew that barring “unusual circumstances”, his McLaren wouldn’t have a prayer competing against the more powerful car.

But come race day, the conditions were just that. Described by commentator Murray Walker as “the worst conditions he’d seen anywhere in the world”, Donington Park was subject to a torrential deluge in the hours leading up to the race, helicopters covering the race from the air were unable to make out anything going on on the ground, so bad was the weather.

Despite the conditions, the race went ahead. It’s important to reiterate that Donington was not a regular F1 circuit, so knowledge amongst the drivers was limited. This makes what Senna did all the more remarkable.

After qualifying fourth in his underpowered McLaren, Senna found himself behind a young Michael Schumacher in third, and a Williams front row of Damon Hill and Alain Prost.

The race started with large patches of standing water pooled around the circuit. Senna initially lost a place, dropping to fifth but he made this up immediately overtaking Schumacher at the first corner.

Karl Wendlinger, driving a Sauber, had started well and moved up to third. Senna than demonstrated an overtaking move that displayed either a touch of genius or reckless foolishness (depends which way you look at it). He passed the Austrian on the outside as they took Craner Curves.

Moving towards The Old Hairpin, Senna was clear from the chasing pack and moving towards Damon Hill who he passed easily thanks to his faster exit speed.

That left just Prost, who himself was a seasoned wet weather driver. The small 1.5 second lead the frenchman had built up was obliterated as he braked into the Esses. Emerging onto the following straight, Senna was right on Prost’s gearbox. In the blink of an eye, he powered past the Williams and the rest, as they say, was history; the Brazilian easily completing what is widely considered his finest drive.

Let’s not beat around the bush, Senna turned in scores of remarkable performances. What makes Donington so special?

Three contributing factors put this one on top: First, the track was unchartered territory. The European GP awarded to Donington after the circuit had unsuccessfully bid for the British GP the previous year. None of the drivers were familiar with it, making Senna’s assured drive all the more remarkable. Secondly, the conditions were truly dreadful – only 11 of the 25 drivers actually completed the race. Finally, Senna triumphed in a car that was chronically underpowered compared to the Williams of Prost and Hill.    

Watch Senna’s lap below and judge for yourself.

For affordable, convenient and top quality car servicing from industry professionals choose Servicing Stop – All offers include FREE car collection and delivery plus a 12-month parts and labour guarantee!