The time Ayrton Senna considered quitting Formula 1

The time Ayrton Senna considered quitting Formula 1

After the events of the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix and facing a ban from FISA, Ayrton Senna considered retiring from Formula 1.

Coming off his first Formula 1 World Championship in 1988, Ayrton Senna headed into 1989, along with McLaren teammate Alain Prost, as the two drivers most likely to contend for the title.

What had started off as a respectable friendship between the pair in 1988, would soon turn to a relationship of anger and mistrust. While Senna pushed for back-to-back Drivers’ Championship crowns, Prost was attempting to stamp his dominance as the senior driver and prove he could beat the young up and comer.

The breaking point for 1989 would come at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. A gentleman’s agreement was made between the McLaren drivers that whoever reached Turn 1 first, would go on to take the lead. Without challenge from their teammate during the early stages of the race.

After putting his MP4/5 on pole, Senna got off the line first. However, a crash from Gerhard Berger at the infamous Tamburello Corner, would result in the race being red flagged. Upon the restart, Prost got the better start of the two, reaching the first corner ahead of Senna.

But while the Frenchman was indeed ahead of the Brazilian, Senna would quickly pass him. Considering the previous agreement null and void, given the race had already started and this was simply a restart.

Prost was enraged by Senna’s act, with the relationship quickly becoming unrepairable. They would spend the rest of 1989 remaining distant from each other. Only coming together when required from McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis.

Fast forward to the penultimate round at Suzuka and Senna would find himself 21 points behind Prost. Putting his car on pole, Senna failed to capitalise, with Prost taking the lead ahead of him.

Needing to push past his teammate to secure as many points as possible, Senna made his move down the inside of the chicane in attempt to get past. Prost would close the door, however, with the two McLaren MP4/5’s making contact.

While the shunt would cause Prost to retire, Senna would push on. With the assistance from track marshals getting his car going again and pushing him through the run off area at the chicane. Senna would eventually take the win after pitting for a new front wing. However, Federation Internationale du Sport (FISA) President, Jean-Marie Balestre would reverse the decision shortly after the race.

The reason for Senna’s disqualification came down to the fact he had re-joined the track from the run off area, rather than turning around and driving through the chicane itself. Thereby not ‘officially’ completing the entirety of the race.

Upon appeal, Senna was slapped with a hefty fine, along with a suspended six-month suspension due to dangerous driving.

Feeling vilified and as if he had been treated like a criminal, Senna gave serious consideration to retiring from Formula 1, and not competing in the 1990 season. However, after consultation with Dennis, Honda bosses and FISA, an agreement was reached that his licence would be renewed should he issue an apology.

“I have not only considered, I have put forward a proposal. On the last minute,” Senna said prior to the 1990 F1 season. “This month in February, that I was prepared to stop, in order that all the parties involved, as far as McLaren was concerned and Honda and all the sponsors would have automatically ended on this dispute, and everything will be quiet.

“The other option was to go on and fight. But, I present those two options, both to Ron Dennis and to Mr Kawamoto, the Vice President of Honda, for them to decide. To make the decision, whichever or was their decision I would go along completely in peace.

“My instinct is to go and fight because I think it’s in my personal knowledge and my craft that if you believe in something, if you have principles. You go through it right to the end. And until everything is not over, you don’t give up.

“I know I’m a part of a great effort in order to win, to be successful. I’m sure when it comes down I’m sitting in the car and driving, I will perform to my best ability. I will be doing my very best, not only for myself, but for everybody involved. That’s how I intend to approach the 1990 season.”

Bouncing back from 1989, Senna would land his second World Championship title in 1990. Beating out rival Prost, who had since moved on to Ferrari.