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Racing With Ayrton Senna: 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix

Frozen in Time: 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix

Bruno Senna demonstrates the Lotus 97T that Ayrton Senna drove in 1985, in Japan. Image by Morio (photo taken by Morio) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Bruno Senna demonstrates the Lotus 97T in Japan, which his uncle Ayrton Senna drove in 1985. Image by Morio (photo taken by Morio) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Portuguese Grand Prix


Estoril, Portugal


April, 1985

“He went out there and just blew everybody else away. It was one of those motor races of all time – not for the closeness of competition, but for exactly the reverse. Anyone who stood there that day and saw him drive away from a field of some of the fiercest competitors that Formula One has seen could not fail to be impressed.”

Peter Warr, Lotus team principal after the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix

Race Brief

Rainy Estoril was the second race of the season with a slippery circuit that threatened to turn into a lake. But it was business as usual, even though large sprays of water threatened to obscure the vision of every racer except the leader. Ayrton Senna in his Lotus Renault had managed to grab the pole position, with championship contender and McLaren driver Alain Prost at second place on the grid.

The lights went off and the drivers took off down the track, even as Keke Rosberg’s car stalled unceremoniously, and had to be pushed to start. Senna maintained his lead, a clear track in front of him, unlike the rest of the pack. Teammate Elio de Angelis took hold of the second place; while Alain Prost held on to a 3rd place. Even as Senna ran an almost-immaculate race around a circuit that had tiny rivulets flowing through, a great battle for 2nd was taking place. Prost laid siege to de Angelis trying his best to move past the Italian, but the Lotus driver would have none of it. As James Hunt, commentating that day said rather aptly, “When you are holding the second place in a grand prix, you just don’t give it away.” And so de Angelis held on, as racers fell by the way, spinning out of control or making multiple pitstops, courtesy the treacherous weather.

There came a point in the race when Rosberg’s car spun out of control, stalling in the middle of the track, where it was left for quite a while, much to the horror of the commentators and viewers alike. But the race continued, even though Senna raised his hand indicating worsening track conditions. Prost attacked de Angelis yet again, and again, but there was no way he was getting past. Another attempt to take 2nd place let Prost spinning on the track before hitting the barricades and breaking a wing off his car. The Frenchman was out of the race.

There were more victims – 17 cars retired, and several others had been lapped many times over. But the winner was clear. Senna took the win, with Ferrari’s Michele Alboreto in the 2nd and Renault’s Patrick Tambay in the 3rd. The race was stopped after 2 hours in the 67th lap.

A reproduction of a victory sticker from Ayrton's first  Lotus win in Portugal

Reproduction of a victory sticker from Ayrton’s Portugal win.

The Ayrton Moment

Every once in a while, during the race, the camera would move away from the cars vying for second or third, and search for Ayrton Senna, somewhere in the distance, faster than all the rest, even in pouring, I-can’t-see-a-thing rain. He raced alone, leading from the first lap to the last without any competition in a race that was treacherous at its best and, which had taken many victims.

It was a perfect weekend for the Brazilian, who took his first pole and first victory, while scoring the fastest practice time of the weekend, and in pouring rain, the fastest lap of the race – 1’44’’121s. Rounding off this impeccable, mature, and absolutely stunning run was the ease with which he pulled away from the others in the pack, increasing the distance methodically, from 15 seconds in the first few laps to over 1:02.978s by the end of the race. By this time, Senna had lapped almost every car on the track, except for Alboreto who took second place.

TOMORROW  Racing With Ayrton Senna: 1985 Belgian Grand Prix

PREVIOUSLY  Racing with Ayrton Senna: 1984 Monaco Grand Prix

[Quotes are taken either from the commentators while watching race footage, Ayrton Senna – Memories and Mementoes from a life lived at full speed: An interactive voyage by Christopher Hilton, and The Life of Senna by Tom Rubython]

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Categorised in: Ayrton Senna, Faces, Legends

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