Saturday’s Monaco Grand Prix qualifying is likely to see the fastest lap yet around Formula 1’s most glamorous street circuit but a far slower one from 30 years ago will always be revered as one of the greatest ever.
On May 14, 1988, Brazilian Ayrton Senna steered his Honda-powered McLaren MP4/4 car onto a dry track and put on a masterclass that is still discussed in astonished tones.
It was, as the late triple world champion eloquently explained, almost unreal.
“I was already on pole and I was going faster and faster. One lap after the other, quicker and quicker and quicker,” he told Canadian reporter Gerald Donaldson some time later.
“I was at one stage just on pole, then by half a second, and then one second… and I kept going. Suddenly, I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my teammate with the same car. And I suddenly realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously.”
Midway through the session, Senna recorded a lap of one minute 25.6 seconds. Then he clocked a 1:24.4. And finally a 1:23.998.
His French teammate Alain Prost, who had won two of his four world championships by then, joined Senna on the front row but was an astonishing 1.427 seconds slower. Ferrari’s Gerhard Berger was third – 2.687 seconds off the pace.
Time and technology has moved on and Senna’s time now seems slow in comparison with those being set by the current crop of cars and drivers with their V6 turbo hybrid engines and hypersoft tyres.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who dominated Thursday practice for Red Bull, lapped the harbourside circuit in a record 1:11.841.
Senna’s lap still fascinates, however, even if it was not caught in its entirety on television because of the nature of qualifying at the time and the technology available.
A taste of it does exist, however, because McLaren this week put together a re-imagined version (above) with commentary by the veteran voice of Formula 1 Murray Walker.
On the Sunday, Senna failed to win in another drama that resonates down the ages.
Leading Prost by a massive margin, he set fastest laps until McLaren told both drivers to ease off. They did, but Senna hit the barriers at Portier, the right-hander before the tunnel.
While he strode off to brood in his nearby apartment, Prost won – pain and glory in one weekend.
A real Ayrton lap of Monaco (in 1990) from the Senna movie: