Hethel, UNITED KINGDOM — Lotus Cars is observing the 35th anniversary of motorsports legend Ayrton Senna’s first Formula 1 victory — April 21, 1985 — with a brand-new 52-minute podcast interview with Senna’s mechanic, Chris Dinnage.
On that April day, Senna — who had just turned 25 — was behind the wheel of a Lotus 97T at the Portuguese Grand Prix. With the car at the absolute limit of its grip, he delivered a master class in extreme wet-weather driving for the hardy Estoril crowd and powered to the checkered flag. Such was his dominance he lapped the entire field up to second place, finishing over a minute ahead of his nearest competitor.
In just his second race for Lotus, Senna took the first of 41 career F1 victories — six for Lotus — and a legend was born. The performance stunned his rivals and established a marker that would see him go on to become a global sporting icon and a national hero in his native Brazil. Despite his tragic death in 1994, he remains a racing legend.
The podcast — part of the recently launched US LOT Sessions — features an exclusive interview with Chris Dinnage, Senna’s chief mechanic in 1985 and today the Team Manager at Classic Team Lotus.
Describing the raw emotion of the weekend and the Lotus that catapulted Senna to stardom, Dinnage says: “Ayrton hadn’t tested the car in the wet — that was the first time he’d driven in those conditions. Estoril was when he really hit the scene, because people sat up and thought ‘hang on, he’s lapped almost everybody’ and we knew we had something pretty special.”
Dinnage adds it was this quality that made the difference between Senna and other drivers, explaining: “Ayrton had the same raw pace as everyone else, but he was only using 50% of his capacity as a human to drive the car at full speed, leaving him the other 50% to be really aware of everything that was going on around him. His concentration levels were unparalleled — I’ve never met anyone else like him.”
Get more about Senna’s Portuguese Grand Prix victory on the US LOT blog, hosted on the Lotus site.
The Lotus 97T chassis was the first in F1 to use bargeboards that were placed between the front wheels and sidepods. This aided airflow around the side of the car and is a concept that still exists in motorsport to this day. The car took eight poles and three wins that season with Senna and de Angelis at the wheel.
Today, the actual Lotus 97T in which Senna won at Estoril is owned and maintained by Classic Team Lotus, which uses a team of expert and knowledgeable designers, engineers and mechanics — including Chris Dinnage — to preserve classic Lotus F1 cars for their owners.
Clive Chapman, Managing Director of Classic Team Lotus and son of Lotus founder Colin Chapman, said: “For Team Lotus, Ayrton joining was a vital piece in the jigsaw, as the team faced the challenge of F1 without my father. Ayrton’s technical abilities, driving skills, hard work and motivational powers all proved to be more vital ingredients to the Team Lotus mix, which led to success almost immediately.”