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 signicantly, 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, briey lost in so many thoughts be­fore that deep melliuous 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 specically, 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

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