When Formula One fans around the world are asked the question “Who is the greatest of all time?” more often than not, a passionate and heated debate involving the two legendary names Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna is summoned from the purgatorial prison where it has dwelled for many years.
Many Schumacher fans will argue that his number of world championships undoubtedly earns him the title whereas Senna fans feel that Senna could have gone on to win more championships and possibly prevented Schumacher from winning his two first titles in 1994 and 1995, had the 1994 tragedy at the Imola circuit not occurred.
I would like to point out why I believe Senna is worthy of the title of Formula One’s greatest pilot of all time and welcome anyone who reads this to offer their opinions as well.
One of the main reasons why I believe that Senna is a superior driver to Schumacher is that he built his legendary reputation during a time in Formula One where there were other drivers equally as legendary as he was.
To cite a few examples, I would like to bring up some all time records in Formula One all of which still stand today.
The record for most pole positions in one season (14) was set by Nigel Mansell in 1992 during Senna’s career. Mansell has won the most races out of any British Formula One driver and held the Formula One and CART world titles simultaneously, being the only driver in history to do so. There is no doubt that he was a force to be reckoned with during Senna’s time.
Another record I would like to bring up is the most consecutive pole positions in the history of Formula One. Just behind Ayrton Senna's eight consecutive poles is Alain Prost having been on pole position seven times consecutively in 1993, also during Senna’s career.
Alain Prost has won four world championships and was undoubtedly a huge obstacle for Senna during his career. I would also like to raise the point that Prost and Senna drove on the same team for a few years; two legends in equal machinery giving it their all trying to prevent the other from winning the title, a rivalry so fierce, encompassing so much talent that yet another all time Formula One record emerged as a result.
That record being the most victories by one team in a season as together the two rivals won 15 out of 16 grand prix in the 1988 season!
Schumacher, on the other hand, during his five-title stint at Ferrari, always had a wingman for a teammate whose job duties included facilitating his conquering of the world championship which meant Schumacher got the better car and on one very controversial occasion, even had his teammate Rubens Barrichello ordered to pull over on the side of the road to let him by for the win. That situation prompted rule changes in Formula One.
These are hardly the difficult conditions faced by Senna during his career. I do want to stress however, that I am not trying to bring down Schumacher’s skill level when raising these points and that I do recognize his phenomenal talent.
Both drivers were exceptional in the rain. However, in my opinion, Senna’s rain performances had more impact on his legend than Schumacher’s.
In 1984 Senna took his unimpressive Toleman from 13th place to second place in the heavy rain at the Monaco Grand Prix, closing in on Prost for first place, but the race came to an end due to safety issues regarding the heavy downpour.
Perhaps the most striking performance by Senna in the rain came in 1993 at Donington, when Senna climbed from fifth to first place in the opening lap of the race, finding grip that no other driver on the field, including Schumacher, could. He went on to lap the entire field that race!
I would like to conclude this article with a statistic that may not prove that Senna was a better overall driver than Schumacher, but that definitely proves that Senna was a better qualifier than he was.
Out of 250 career races for Michael Schumacher, he managed 68 pole positions, where as Ayrton Senna managed 65 poles in only 162 races. Senna ended his career only a mere 3 poles behind Schumacher’s career pole count, but a massive 88 races behind Schumacher’s career race starts.
Schumacher was on pole for 27.2 percent of his career, whereas Senna was on pole for 40.1 percent of his career.
These are but a few of the reasons that I think are enough to convince myself and many Senna fans.