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Senna vs. Irvine

© StuSeeger (Flickr)

Before the 80’s the drivers were too gentlemanly and these days the contemporary “ultra- professional” drivers generally allow their disagreements to be worked out in the Steward’s office. It could be argued that the innovator in this area was Piquet, his most famous fight being at Hockenheim in 1982. Here he collided with the back marker, Eliseo Salazar. When both were out of their cars Piquet flew at Salazar all limbs flailing as he attacked.

The two drivers who refined fisticuffs have to be Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna. If you were to create psychological profile for Senna or Mansell you would find a very emotional driver who drew on his highly charged emotional state behind the wheel to channel into positive energy. This volatile brew often lead to the drivers exploding outside the car.

A famous incident between Mansell and Senna occurred at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1986. The race was stopped after a first lap pile up. Senna grabbed the lead after the restart. Mansell pursued and collided with Senna when he tried to slip past him into Les Combs on the first lap. Senna was eliminated, trapped in the gravel trap. The damage that Mansell sustained resulted in his retirement from the race. They blamed each other and squared off in the Lotus garage. (Un)Luckily the Lotus mechanics diffused the situation. But by far the most famous incident in which Senna was involved was his confrontation with Irvine after the Japanese Grand Prix in 1993. Senna landed a punch on Irvine after Eddie had held Senna up when the Brazilian came to lap the Northern Irish man.

Senna won his penultimate Grand Prix at Suzuka in 1993, vanquishing his rival, Alain Prost in commanding style, scoring a great victory. However, Senna was not happy after the race. Eddie Irvine, then a Grand Prix novice was battling hard with Damon Hill for fourth place when Senna came up to lap the Jordan driver. Doggedly Irvine ignored Senna’s attempts to lap him. Senna described the behavior of Hill and Irvine.”..in there fight the two of them (Hill and Irvine) almost drove into each other, several times; Irvine was in the dirt a few times and threw up some stones – all right in front of me. How easily that could have cost me victory; I could have gone off with them if something when wrong. In any case I lost fifteen seconds. It’s really not on.” If this had been an isolated incident things made have been different but Irvine aggravated again Senna toward the end of the race. As Senna began to ease up to conserve his car to ensure his finish, Irvine had the audacity to pass Senna to un-lap himself.After the race Senna seemed to be relaxing, as he bathed in the kudos he received after his victory. Josef Leberer, Senna’s fitness coach recalled the set of circumstances led to the confrontation between Senna and Irvine. “Ayrton was actually quite relaxed again. The recording of the race was being shown again on the television and he was making a few comments “look at the way those two are carrying on,” but in a quite casual way… then some sneaky person comes along and tips him off about the crude comments that Irvine had just made about him: “Who does he think he is? F**k Senna!?” Then Ayrton got really mad, that was simply very provocative. And one must bear in mind all the feelings and tension that are built up in a driver during a Grand Prix; it’s probably impossible for a normal person to understand this. Stupidly, I was busy, with cooking or something, and when I turned around he had already rushed out of the door…”Leberer is sure that he would have been able to pacify Senna if he had had the chance to pull him back. “I would have told him to just sit down for a moment, have something to eat and in ten minuets things will look different. If necessary I would have simply grabbed him. Perhaps he would have bawled me out or attacked me, but it would have not mattered – our relationship our relationship is so good that that it would have not been a problem and in hindsight he probably would have been grateful.” It can not be difficult to understand why Senna would want to confront Irvine. racing drivers are professionals and have to be restrained in the cars, in so far as not punting other off in fits of rage. So it is perhaps indefensible that under continued provocation from Irvine Senna lost self control and planted one on Irvine.

The verbal exchange between them reads as follows:
: What the **** do you think you were doing?
Irvine : I was racing!
Senna : You were racing? Do you know the rule that you’re supposed to let the leaders come by when you’re a back marker?
Irvine : If you were going fast enough, it was no problem.
Senna : I overtook you! And you went three times off the road in front of me, at the same place, like ****ing idiot, where there was oil. And you were throwing stones and all things in front of me for three laps. When I took you, you realised I was ahead of you. And when I came up behind Hill, because he was on slicks and in difficulties, you should have stayed behind me. You took a very big risk to put me out of the race.
Irvine : Where did I put you in any danger?
Senna : You didn’t put me in any danger?
Irvine : Did I touch you? Did I touch you once?
Senna : No, but you were that much from touching me, and I happened to be the ****ing leader. I HAPPENED TO BE THE ****ING LEADER!
Irvine : A miss is as good as a mile.
Senna : I tell you something. If you don’t behave properly in the next event, you can just rethink what you do. I can guarantee you that.
Irvine : The stewards said “No problem. Nothing was wrong.”
Senna : Yeah? You wait till Australia. You wait till Australia, when the stewards will talk to you. Then you tell me if they tell you this.
Irvine : Hey, I’m out there to do the best for me.
Senna : This is not correct. You want to do well. I understand, because I’ve been there I understand. But it’s very unprofessional. If you are a back marker, because you happen to be lapped …
Irvine : But I would have followed you if you’d overtaken Hill!
Senna : You should let the leader go by …
Irvine : I understand that fully!
Senna : … and not come by and do the things you did. You nearly hit Hill in front of me three times, because I saw, and I could of collected you and him as a result, and that’s not the way to do that.
Irvine : But I’m racing! I’m racing! You just happened to …
Senna : You’re not racing! You’re driving like a ****ing idiot. You’re not a racing driver, you’re a ****ing idiot!
Irvine: You talk, you talk. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Senna : I was in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Irvine : Yes. I was battling with Hill.
Senna : Really? Really? Just tell me one thing. Who is supposed to have the call? You, or the leader of the race who comes through to lap you?
Irvine : The leader of the race.
Senna : So what have you done?
Irvine : You, you were too slow, and I had to overtake you to try to get at Hill.
Senna : Really? How did I lap you if I was too slow?
Irvine : Rain. Because on slicks you were quicker than me, on wets you weren’t.
Senna : Really? Really? How did I come and overtake you on wets?
Irvine : Huh?
Senna : How come I overtook you on wets?
Irvine : I can’t remember that. I don’t actually remember the race.
Senna : Exactly. Because you are not competent enough to remember. That’s how it goes you know.
Irvine : Fair enough. Fair enough. That’s what you think.
Senna : You be careful guy.
Irvine : I will. I’ll watch out for you.
Senna : You’re gonna have problems not with me only, but with lots of other guys, also the FIA.
Irvine : Yeah?
Senna : You bet.
Irvine : Yeah? Good.
Senna : Yeah? It’s good to know that.
Irvine : See you out there.
Senna : It’s good to know that.
Irvine : See you out there …

Irvine continued to prevaricate with Senna, giving obtuse answers until Senna’s South American temperament took hold and he landed a punch on Irvine before he stormed out.Appearing to turn away Senna then turns back and hits Irvine with his left hand. The blow lands on the right side of Irvine’s head. Irvine loses his balance and falls off the table. Senna is still shouting as he is hustled towards the door.

Irvine (yells) : Insurance claim there!
(leaving) retorts : You got to learn to respect where you’re going wrong!

Gerhard Berger has stated that he believed that every young driver believes they are the best, if given the right car. Irvine showed no respect for the triple world champion and this infuriated Senna at the time. After he had cooled down Senna admitted that he had been wrong to resort to violence but he had been pushed by Irvine would not own up to any part of the blame for the incident. Later in the year the whole affair was subject to an FIA hearing. Senna was sure he would be acquitted but to his surprise the verdict went the other way. His punishment, a two race ban, suspended for six months. He was livid but he let off no steam publicly. Next year in testing at the Estoril track Senna met Irvine for a handshake for the photographers with no real conversation. Irvine was later banned for three races for his part in a multiple pileup at the Brazilian Grand Prix that year. Privately Senna must have been delighted, his point about Irvine proven. This was the last physical confrontation in F1 to be widely documented. The only thing that have may have come close was the aftermath of Schumacher’s coming together with David Coulthard at Spa in 1998. Only a gaggle of Ferrari men could keep the fired up Schumacher off Coulthard….. if only they had not.

Quotes taken from: “Ayrton Senna :Goodbye Champion, Farewell Friend” by Karin Sturm

Originally posted by Tris (May 2000)



  1. […] (twice!) against Senna, then tell the greatest racing driver of all time he was too slow, and end up taking a Brazilian left right combination for his troubles.  It turned out to be a vow to far for our […]

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