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Senna's first taste of F1



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Ayrton Senna


Williams-Cosworth FW08C


Donington Park


Tuesday testing before the British GP (11 July 1983)


What could have been… Sometimes history takes a left turn when it could have easily gone the other way instead. In 1983 Williams Grand Prix Engineering tested a young Brazilian hotshoe that was fighting over the British F3 championship with another hot prospect named Martin Brundle.

They had a genuine cause. In Keke Rosberg's title-defending year the team found its Cosworth-engined FW08C generally outclassed, the turbo teams taking a decisive step ahead of the remaining atmo teams. At street circuits like Monaco and Detroit the nimble 3-litre cars with their immediate throttle response still held an edge, Williams even winning the race in the Principality through a storming drive by the World Champion, while Michele Alboreto sealed the Cosworth's final win at Detroit, ahead of Keke.

But there was no escape for teams delaying their switch to the turbo route. While Rosberg and team mate Laffite were regular point scorers in the first part of the season, Laffite's sixth place at Hockenheim would be the last point the team scored until the season-closer at Kyalami, which saw the debut of its FW09 Honda turbo car.

Meanwhile, Jacques Laffite's much vaunted comeback to the Williams team had been a disappointment. He stuck in some solid performances in his first races but his qualifying left much to be desired. The two late-season DNQs at Monza and Brands were frankly embarrassing. In fact, Frank Williams was considering alternative drivers before eventually re-signing Jacques for the 1984 season.

One of them was 1983 test driver Jonathan Palmer, who qualified for the Brands race in a third car where Jacques failed to do so. Another option was British F3 championship leader Ayrton Senna da Silva from Brazil. A promising test in true Räikkönen/Massa fashion left Frank Williams seriously impressed. But he knew he wouldn't be the only one vying for the Brazilian's services. And after a moment's hesitation Toleman scooped young Ayrton for 1984.

It would be a full ten years later before Senna finally became a Williams driver - as it turned out for three races only.

What would the parallel universe have looked like when Williams had managed to persuade Ayrton into signing for him in 1983? Keke Rosberg retiring early? Nigel Mansell disappearing into obscurity after 1984? Elio de Angelis staying on at Lotus for 1986? A straight Prost/Senna title fight as early as 1986? Piquet missing out on his third title? Better career opportunities for Derek Warwick? Or Martin Brundle? We'll never know…