Classic motorsport moment: Senna’s pole lap, Monaco 1988 | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
eBay's Guide to Thrifty Motoring
Read it all here
Sunday 2nd April
Formula One

Classic motorsport moment: Senna’s pole lap, Monaco 1988

This masterclass from Senna remains one of Formula One’s defining feats of driving

Published: 06 Apr 2021

His heroics at the 2018 Singapore GP in a car that wasn’t supposed to be quick enough to challenge Red Bull and Ferrari for pole left the world of motorsport in both shock and awe. Lewis Hamilton conjured an absolute masterclass around Marina Bay and put his Mercedes comfortably on top.

It ranks as one of the finest ever qualifying laps Formula One has witnessed, but perhaps the finest of all time belongs to Lewis’s idol and hero, Ayrton Senna. In 1988, Senna had joined McLaren after years showcasing his brilliance at Toleman and Lotus, in one of the prettiest – and dominant – Formula One cars ever built. The seminal, Gordon Murray-designed MP4/4.

Advertisement - Page continues below

His teammate that year was Alain Prost, setting up an incredible fight between the two titans of motorsport. That year, Senna went on to win eight races versus Prost’s seven, handing him his first ever Formula One world championship.

More incredibly, Senna recorded 13 pole positions (versus two for Prost), the third of which is brain-frazzingly brilliant to this day.

“He approached qualifying like it was a religious experience,” then McLaren team manager Jo Ramirez once said. Ayrton would describe his pole position lap as him operating on an entirely different plane altogether.

“I was in a different dimension,” Senna said, “the circuit for me was a tunnel, and I was just going, going… I realised I was well beyond my conscious understanding.”

Advertisement - Page continues below

He ended up recording a time of 1m 23.998s. Prost, in the exact same car remember, recorded a time of 1m 25.425s, which meant that around the principality Senna somehow carved out 1.427s over his biggest rival.

“I was way over the limit but still able to find more,” Senna said. “That was the maximum for me; no room for anything more.”

Though he never made it to the end of the race the following day – crashing into a barrier on lap 67 – that one minute and twenty three seconds remains one of the finest demonstrations of driving Formula One has ever seen.

Photography: Motorsport Images/LAT

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

More from Top Gear

See more on Formula One

Promoted Content

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5