When Autocar met Senna: 24 hours in the life of a legend

Monaco played home to some of Ayrton Senna’s greatest victories. As F1 returns to the principality for the 2021 season, we’re looking back at when we spent 24 hours with the great man, ‘Mr Monaco’ himself. 

Sunday 23 June 1991, 6:30pm, Kidlington Airport – Michael Harvey reports

The sky is as bleak as the three grey stripes on the flanks of Ayrton Senna’s British Aerospace HS125, making the arrival of the Formula 1 world champion in Oxfordshire difficult to spot. He’s filed three different flight plans today for this short hop from Paris, but lands on the dot of 6.35pm.

Senna is first off the plane, his plain white Reeboks and straight uncuffed jeans sliding into sight first on the blind side of the aeroplane. He is slighter than you might think, but big in the chest and arms beneath the pale blue cotton short-sleeved shirt and the red McLaren bomber jacket.

The Honda PR man is standing beside me with his little boy, Jack. Jack wants to know if Senna can fly aeroplanes like he drives cars. 

“No‚” says dad, “but he flies his own helicopter back in Brazil.” Jack is impressed; has Senna really got a helicopter as well as a racing car and an aeroplane? “Oh yes,” says dad. “He’s got everything.”

Today he has a Honda NSX as well. The all-alloy supercar is parked just the other side of the airport building, but Senna has to talk to customs, immigration and Jack before he can get in the Honda; Jack looks like he’s going to faint when Senna asks him if he’s been a good boy. An affirmative answer gets him a badge.

7pm, Oxford ring road

Even world champions get stuck in traffic jams, and Senna drops the NSX’s window down as the big Honda slowly lines up behind at least a mile of traffic. “Oh nice!” he says, his English as soft and clear as a choirboy. “Looks really bad,” he concludes.

Still, it’s as good an opportunity as any to talk to Senna and he’s happy to chat about the automatic NSX, his own manual version in Portugal, the similar one he hopes to have in Brazil, and the Golf GTI and the Mercedes 300TE it will join there.

“You know, I basically like driving, so long as it’s more sportive than a classic and not a soft car that’s slow,” he says. He’s a big fan of the NSX, and not just because Honda pays his wages or because he’s likely to open the first Brazilian Honda dealership when he retires.

“It’s not a Ferrari, it’s not a Porsche, it’s a Honda. I drive many different makes of cars. I like this car for everything it’s not. It’s not the most powerful sports car, but it has enough power for you to enjoy on the roads. You cannot have a lot of power to use on the roads anyway or you may become a big danger for everyone else.” To prove the point, Senna floors the throttle and we race into the gap that has opened as we chatted.