Would Ayrton Have Joined Ferrari?

Thursday 1st May 2014

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Would Ayrton Have Joined Ferrari?

Would Ayrton Have Joined Ferrari?

Twenty years on from that fateful weekend at Imola, Luca Montezemolo claims that he was in talks with Ayrton Senna that could have brought the Brazilian to the Ferrari team.

The Ferrari president revealed on the team's website that he met with Senna four days before the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix and that he was already working out his exit strategy from the Williams team.

"He wanted to come to Ferrari and I wanted him in the team," claims Montezemolo. "When he was in Italy for the San Marino Grand Prix, we met at my home in Bologna on Wednesday 27 April. He told me he really appreciated the stand we had taken against the excessive use of electronic aids for driving, which didn't allow a driver's skill to shine through. We spoke for a long time and he made it clear to me that he wanted to end his career at Ferrari, having come close to joining us a few years earlier."

That may have been true. But in 1994 we had already lost traction control (at least on most of the cars) and active suspension was about to be banned. Senna was approaching his third race for Williams who had been runaway winners of the 1992 and 1993 World Championships.

Ayrton was a hard-nosed pragmatist who despite his level of skill wanted to drive the best car. After his death, team-mate Damon Hill should have won the World Championship in the final race in Australia and so it's pretty much a given that Senna would have surpassed that and become World Champion in 1994.

Anyone who saw the ferociously political man revealed by Senna the movie would also appreciate that the Brazilian would not have let the matter of illegal traction control software being found on Michael Schumacher's Benetton rest. In the wake of the tragic 1994 season it was swiftly brushed under the carpet. That would not have happened on Ayrton's watch.

Had Senna remained at Williams it's likely he would have been World Champion in 94, 95, 96 (Hill) and 97(Villeneuve) making him a seven-times World Champion at 38. Would he have gone to Ferrari then? Unlikely. There's no reason to disbelieve that Montezemolo had the meeting with Senna and that they discussed the future, but drivers and their managers do that all the time. Alonso's manager spoke to Red Bull last season (that's the same Fernando Alonso who was ending his career at Ferrari).

Professor Sid Watkins always maintains that Ayrton was more likely to retire than keep driving and may not even have seen out 1994. The FIA's much-loved medical delegate spoke to Ayrton about giving it all up after he saw how Roland Ratzenberger's death on the Saturday of Imola had affected him. Then the following day a freak accident robbed us of one of motorsport's greatest names.

Twenty years on and there have been no further deaths in F1, (though we came close with Karl Wendlinger at Monaco in 1994). It's an amazing record given fatalities in MotoGP, World Rally and junior formulae, so if Senna and Ratzenberger's deaths have done anything, it's given us a stark point of reference for how far we've come in safety issues.

What Senna would have done after the 1994 season is anyone's guess. Would he have kept going? Would he have entered politics, or just sat and bided his time as he did with Ron Dennis at Mclaren one season? Or would he have signed for - what was then - the third-best team on the grid at such a late stage of his career? Senna was always a brilliant negotiator and his contract discussions with Dennis were epic affairs. An offer from a rival team would seem like a great thing to keep in his pocket for future negotiations with Williams, but the idea that he was going to move to Maranello to end his career after just one season with Williams, on the basis of two races, is fanciful to say the least.

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