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Senna vs Alonso Symonds Reflects on Individualism

Senna vs Alonso: Symonds Reflects on Individualism

19/05/2024

Pat Symonds recalls working with Ayrton Senna in 1984, highlighting the Brazilian’s unique character and individualism compared to other F1 legends.

The former technical director of Williams F1, now serving in the same role at FOM, reflected on his relationship with the Brazilian, whose potential he recognized 40 years ago.

Speaking for Pirelli, which equipped Toleman at the beginning of 1984, Symonds shared his special memories of both the driver and the man, Senna.

The Brazilian impressed him from the winter tests, where he beat the lap time of main driver Derek Warwick.

“It wasn’t his speed that impressed me most, but his character.”

“His confidence in his destined path. It’s true that race drivers and athletes in general must believe in their own abilities, otherwise they would never succeed. Throughout my career, I’ve had the chance to work with incredible drivers like Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, but I’ve never met anyone who, on the day of a first test with a car and a team he didn’t know at all, had such an awareness of what he needed to do and what he wanted to achieve.”

“There was no shyness in him; he simply wanted the opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car. It was an attitude that left no room for doubt or uncertainty and manifested in an incredible ability to precisely explain everything about the car’s behavior.”

“We were all struck by this attitude. Let’s not forget that at the time, there was no telemetry, and we engineers were entirely dependent on what the driver said, even when it came to something like monitoring the engine temperature. None of the drivers we had worked with until then could provide feedback as precise as his.”

Williams and McLaren also tested Senna… but ultimately decided not to retain him! How does Symonds explain this in hindsight?

“At the time, much more than today, top teams didn’t like to take the risk of betting on a rookie. Additionally, there weren’t as many programs for young drivers as there are today. Betting on a rookie was perhaps too risky. Ayrton had won the British Formula 3 championship, it’s true, but he hadn’t been dominant, having to fight to the end to beat Martin Brundle. In a way, it was understandable that Frank Williams and Ron Dennis didn’t want to take the risk.”

“For us, as a small team at Toleman, it was easier to approach him, and we were really struck by the fact that he immediately felt comfortable in a rough and unstable car like ours: he seemed born to race in Formula 1.”

Was Senna not too disappointed to join Toleman? Didn’t he think he deserved better?

“He was well aware that Toleman would only be a first step and that it wasn’t with us that he would grow and achieve his goals. It wasn’t arrogance, just complete self-confidence.”

Senna’s first Grand Prix ended in retirement, but at Kyalami, Senna scored his first points in conditions that were challenging for him. According to Symonds, the driver had one weakness – his physical condition.

“At Kyalami, the race takes place at an altitude of over 1,500 meters above sea level, and it requires considerable effort to race in these conditions. If the early Ayrton had a weakness, it was his physical condition. Starting thirteenth, he managed to cross the finish line three laps behind the winner Piquet, but he finished 6th. His first point in the championship. At the end, he was exhausted, and we had to help him out of the cockpit because he couldn’t get out on his own.”

“This Grand Prix was a wake-up call for Ayrton, as he realized he wasn’t fit enough and thus began to work on this aspect. At Zolder, he finished sixth again, an excellent result.”

Reliability issues hit Senna again at the next Grand Prix, at… Imola, in 1984. A problem prevented him from qualifying for the first time in his career.

“For the first and only time in his career, he couldn’t qualify on the starting grid. In hindsight, it was a bit of a sign of destiny if you think about it,” commented Symonds.

A narrowly missed first victory at Monaco – or was it?

Toleman then switched to Michelin, but the highlight of the year was, of course, the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. In pouring rain, Senna finished 2nd, but without the race stoppage and red flag, he would surely have won his first race ahead of Alain Prost…

Symonds, however, reveals that the red flag may have prevented a retirement for Senna!

“It was an unforgettable Sunday. In the wet, Ayrton was literally flying, then the race was stopped at Prost’s request, and the dream of victory faded, but we were all happy that day. The next morning, however, we began to think that instead of achieving a podium, it was actually a victory that had been lost.”

“That said, we later discovered that Ayrton’s car had a broken suspension rocker: we don’t know how long it would have lasted, maybe one more lap, maybe until the end of the race, or perhaps just hitting a kerb would have broken it completely.”

Senna compared to Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso

In hindsight, how does Symonds compare Senna to Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, drivers he also worked with at Benetton and Renault, the teams that succeeded Toleman? Who is Senna closest to?

“Ayrton was a loner, a free spirit, absolutely convinced of his mission, capable of building a loyal group around him in a very close relationship.”

“Michael is one of the kindest people you could meet, completely normal and above all, a team player, especially because from the beginning of his career, he grew up in an environment where that was the norm.”

“Fernando is closer to Ayrton in this respect, although over the years, particularly through his participation in endurance racing, I think he has better understood the importance of teamwork, whereas at the beginning of his career, he was more, let’s say, individualistic. In any case, I have been incredibly fortunate to get to know them closely, as race drivers, but above all, as people.”

Senna vs Alonso Symonds Reflects on Individualism

Senna vs Alonso: Symonds Reflects on Individualism. Senna vs Alonso: Symonds Reflects on Individualism. Ayrton Senna AND Fernando alonso : Symonds Reflects on Individualism. Ayrton Senna AND Fernando alonso : Symonds Reflects on Individualism

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