ECHOES OF AYRTON
Driving Formula 1 cars previously raced by Ayrton Senna would be a special experience for anyone; for his nephew, even more so. Bruno Senna climbs behind the wheels of the iconic Lotus 98T and Toleman TG184
Being ve centimetres taller than his late uncle, Bruno Senna sits that little bit higher in the cockpit. The Lotus 98T and the Toleman TG184 may be a tight t, but the overall effect is not compromised: a combination of the iconic yellow crash helmet and two classic F1 cars instantly rekindles emotions that are both heartwarming and confusing. We may be going back in time, but the sight and the sound symbolising a unique chapter in F1 history make it seem like ten years ago, not 30. It’s a reminder that F1 cars have changed signicantly, yet the assault on the senses makes the Toleman and the Lotus seem part of the here and now. As the turbo tones resonate on warm-up in the garage, the lovingly prepared cars are crying out to be driven. It is a huge moment for the nephew of the man who captivated the world’s imagination in these very machines.
Bruno was just one year old when Ayrton came so close to winning the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix in a Toleman-Hart; a stunning drive in the wet that gave the wider world a rst hint of his future greatness. Bruno knows of this car only by reputation. It’s a practical machine produced by a small team who, by
“With the Toleman you feel it’s a more honest car because it gives you more feedback. It’s still going at the end”
their very nature, allowed Ayrton to make his F1 debut without the pressure that would have come from either McLaren or Brabham – two teams who also made him offers for 1984.
Bruno also knows that the Hart four-cylinder engine, with its Holset turbo perched high on the exhaust, needs a respectful right foot. The conditions at Donington are chilly and he is not alone in being thankful the track is dry.
Alistair Davidson, the TG184’s owner, is keen for his car to be used – but he would like it returned in one piece. Apart from the obvious, he would nd it heart-breaking to replace bodywork still in as-raced condition, stone chips and aking-round-the-edges paintwork included. As Bruno climbs on board and gingerly threads his legs over the top of the massive re extinguisher, he sees elbow pads, secured with aging black tape, that are unchanged since Uncle Ayrton gave them a bashing three decades before.
The image takes on a new dimension as he lets out the clutch and the emotive combination of Senna and Toleman head down the Donington Park pitlane. It’s a new experience for Bruno. This is all about the joy of driving a classic F1 car while being enveloped by a ood of memories.
“As a kid, you have this romantic vision of how things are,” says Bruno. “I had great memories of cars that were bringing Ayrton success in F1. I was racing karts, but couldn’t begin to imagine what these cars would actually be like.
“Like all drivers, I enjoy the chance to try different race cars. But this is special because of the connection with Ayrton, and that in turn makes it daunting because you are getting behind the wheel of a car that is a priceless piece of history. You don’t want to damage it or do anything silly. When you see how lovely it looks, how well-maintained it is, you really don’t want to grind the gears or miss a gear and buzz the engine. You are always on the back foot a bit. But yet you want to feel the car; experience the power; try to understand what he must have felt.
“All I knew before this was how we felt at home, watching the races on TV. We have so many good memories, especially when Ayrton won his rst grand prix in the Lotus 97T in Portugal 1985. And then there were all the pole positions. The thing about the JPS Lotus
“With the Lotus, you have to be very precise… you have to know exactly where the gears are or you’ll miss one”
was that whenever you saw it on TV, it looked special, even though it didn’t take Ayrton to the title. He would always be in the running, sometimes at the front, then a problem would strike. But he was able to shine and show what he could do.”
The Lotus-Renault 98T, raced in the latter half of 1986, looks the part, right down to the Avon tyres with ‘Goodyear Eagle’ stencilled on the sidewalls. If the Toleman was a tight t, this is even more cramped but it’s clear Bruno will suffer whatever discomfort is necessary for a run in this evocative car, now owned by Patrick Morgan, son of Ilmor co-founder, Paul Morgan.
The settling-in routine is the same, the image even stronger as the yellow helmet with blue and green stripes seems as much a part of this car as the striking black and gold livery. Several laps, faster and faster, and Bruno has returned, briey lost in so many thoughts before that deep melliuous voice delivers them in a rush.
“This is an incredible experience,” he says to no one in particular. “I’m just loving it. Both cars have different characters. The Toleman seems a bit more nimble and the Lotus seems a bigger car, mainly because it has Ayrton’s seat, which is a bit too small for me. While I love to be in his actual seat, I can’t drive the car properly like this! I’m sitting quite high. With the Toleman, there is no seat as such; just bits of foam, so I’m kinda loose in the car. There is nothing under my legs. The seating position for both cars is more sit up than current cars and it’s high and exposed, although with the Toleman, you sit a bit more inside the car; with the Lotus, you feel you are completely outside the car.
“But the thing you notice more than anything is that the driving position is so far forward. When you’re driving a modern car and you steer into a corner, the momentum you take is like a rotation and you know where the rear is going. On these cars, it’s a lateral movement; you get pushed across the corner. There is a very big difference because the rear feels so far behind and you don’t know what it’s doing.
“With the Toleman, you feel it’s a more honest car because it gives you more feedback. You keep upshifting and it’s still going at the end. The Lotus is carrying a huge Monaco rear wing and when you get to fourth gear, you hit a wall as the drag really comes in. With the Lotus, you have to be very precise with the gear changes. It’s
not stiff but you have to know exactly where the gears are or you’ll miss one. You keep punching the side of the cockpit; by the end of the day I’m going to have a few bruises!
“This experience gives you an idea of how the dynamics of the cars then were different; of how hard they were to drive. The mental effort required was high because you always had to think about the fragility; it was easy to over-rev an engine, break a gearbox, run out of brakes or get into trouble. These cars may not be as fast as today’s, but they required huge concentration because you had to go through a whole race without making mistakes. Not just missing a gear, but having a bad downshift. You were focused on so many things at the same time.”
The Hart 415T and the Renault V6 twin turbo may have been detuned slightly for the purpose of this exercise, but there is enough performance to catch the driver’s attention.
“The boost is sudden on both cars and comes in really hard,” says Bruno. “But you can feel it coming more with the Toleman and there is less turbo lag than with the Lotus. The bottom end of the Renault has more torque because it’s
“I reckon they set these cars up with understeer because there is no way you could drive them with oversteer”
a bigger engine. The downshifts are nicer with the Toleman because it’s hard to get the Renault to rev up to where you need for downshifts.
“Going down the Craner Curves, I got the rear of the Toleman moving a bit whereas the Lotus is planted because of all that downforce. Saying that, the Renault has so much power that you can get the rear to kick out. You don’t want to be pulling any lateral G when the turbo kicks in because you might get a snap sideways. In those days the drivers probably wouldn’t be pushing at the maximum on the exit of a corner. They would know how much time they had before the turbo kicked in coming out of the corners. I think Ayrton was one of the masters at controlling this.
“People say how he was always stabbing the throttle – bap-bap-bap-bap – through the corners and, from what he said, and from what I’ve learned today, he was not only trying to cure understeer on the low speed, but also keeping the turbo at the max. I reckon they set these cars up with understeer because there is no way you could drive them with oversteer. If you have a moment in the corner and you have to steer out of it, you’re going to have your body moving
“Ayrton would tell the engineers every detail of every lap. It was as if he needed only 20 per cent of his brain for driving”
outwards as well. It’s a really weird sensation not knowing exactly where the rear is going to go.
“That throttle technique worked well for Ayrton, but he did it even after turbos were no more; it was something that was built into his way of driving. He was not only a gifted driver, but also clever; he knew what he needed to go fast and I think, in his mind, that was all that mattered. He knew exactly what was going on and had a great memory of what the car was giving him. There was no telemetry then, of course, but he would tell the engineers every detail of every lap. It was almost as if he needed only 20 per cent of his brain for driving with 80 per cent available for everything else.”
Bruno spends considerable time walking slowly round each car, the sight before him clearly evoking special personal memories.
“The cars look great and run so well,” he says. “People really take care of them; they love them. When you look at the Toleman specically, you wonder why it didn’t break down on every lap. The rear is so exposed to the elements. You’d think stuff would y out and cut electric cables and oil lines. But it nished races of around 185 miles and that’s incredible. Ayrton nished third at Brands Hatch; I can’t imagine what it must have been like going through Paddock in this!”
Bruno has been running the Hart engine to 7,500rpm, the Lotus to 10,600 rpm. He becomes lost in thought when told that Ayrton raced the Toleman with 10,750 rpm in 1984, including at that wet race at Monaco.
“He said he turned the boost down at Monaco,” says Bruno, pointing to a yellow knob in the cockpit. “He took the power away so he didn’t get snaps every ve seconds. He could make a tyre work and would have been in a good situation with the wet-weather Michelins. But it was still a challenge to drive in those circumstances.”
Then another long silence as Bruno stares at the Toleman-Hart, then across at the sleek black Lotus. Finally, he shakes his head before summing up the entire experience.
“Awesome,” he says softly. “A-maze-zing. This has been such a nice thing to do.” You can watch Bruno, Martin Brundle and Damon Hill drive both these cars on Sky Sports F1