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When men were heroes

This Sunday saw the start of the 2015 Formula one season, which kicked off with the Australian Grand Prix: it turned out to be an easy win for the defending F1 champion, Lewis Hamilton. During F1’s short winter, the teams were frantically upgrading the technology of their cars using scores of technicians and computers costing tens of millions of pounds. But while there’s definitely been more exciting racing over the past two or three years, it’s the tech boys and the size of a team’s budget that determines which drivers are at the front of the grid.

To a degree it has ever been thus. But 20 years or so ago, a truly outstanding driver could overcome such disadvantages and stick an ‘underdog’ car at the pointy end of the podium.

At Prindiville we’ve been musing on how things have changed in F1, inspired by the arrival in our showroom of an ex-Ayrton Senna Toleman-Hart 184-02 grand prix car. This is the car in which the Brazilian prodigy famously almost stole the win at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix during his very first season in F1.

Monaco was wet that year. Sodden. Roads streaming like waterfalls. And while Senna’s Toleman was a good racing car, it was very much overshadowed by rivals Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Renault, Lotus and more. And Senna was racing against legends: Prost, Mansell, Rosberg, Lauda, Piquet, Arnoux, Tambay. To make matters worse, he started 13th on the grid.

But because of his prodigious driving skills – and not a bunch of clever electronics – Senna was able to battle his way through the spray, picking off F1’s finest lap after lap, until on lap 32 he passed Prost and splashed into the lead.

At this point the race was stopped and although Senna went on to conduct a victory lap, the race officials decided that final positions would be based on how things stood at the end of the previous, fully completed lap. So a bitter and angry Senna had to settle for second place.

Look into the Toleman’s tiny cockpit today and you get a sense of how it genuinely was the driver that made all the difference. Modern F1 cars have more buttons and lights and dials than the bridge on the Starship Enterprise, but in Senna’s workplace there are a scant smattering of old fashioned dials, some crude mechanical levers, and a wooden gearknob for the manual five-speed gearbox. In here the driver does everything, there are no electronics to lend a helping hand.

What makes Senna’s achievement all the more impressive during that bitter-sweet 1984 Monaco Grand Prix is the fact the Toleman-Hart was running more than 1000bhp and the turbo-lag in that era was epically unpredictable, especially when you had to use your brain, and not a microchip, to stay on top of it.

So whie we’re raising a glass to the victor of the Australian Grand Prix and the great team effort that took him past the chequered flag first, we’ll also be thinking about Senna’s car in our showroom and a breed of racing drivers who had to do it all for themselves.

Ayrton Senna’s famous Toleman-Hart TG 84-02 is currently for sale through Prindiville. Please look at our Cars for Sale section for more details, or call us on 020 7624 2911 to chat with us about it.

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