Ayrton Senna's best kept secret
Not many people know that the Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna had an unusual and quite particular driving technique, the São Paulo genius had a quite different technique to maintain and increase his speed when cornering, his technique consisted of pressing the accelerator and lifting In rapid movements through its passage through some curves, in fact some pilots have confessed that their technique made little sense to them, but what is that technique and why did they use it?
Every time the Brazilian legend went into corners like the parabolic in Monza or the peraltada corner in Mexico, you could clearly hear his unique cornering technique, no other driver played with the accelerator the way Ayrton did, accelerating intermittently while controlling the car with incredible skill, this throttle-drop-squeeze-and-release technique was mainly applied in slow corners and constant radius corners like the two previously mentioned.
Apparently, Senna learned the technique from his time in karting, this technique allowed Ayrton to win up to two tenths of a second in a single curve. Ayrton achieved with this technique of "pumping" his accelerator various advantages, it has been mentioned a lot that trough the years that this was Senna's secret with Formula One cars in his turbo era, but the incredible thing is that from 1989 he continued adding Poles and wins with normally aspirated cars, even driving cars with less power as he demonstrated with his five victories in 1993 on its Mclaren Ford, of much lower performance to the Renault engine of the Williams of Prost and Hill.
Ayrton Senna was a supremely fast driver, as Jonathan Palmer found in his role as tester for Mclaren in 1990, Palmer is a former F1 driver who participated in 87 Formula 1 Grand Prix, his best result was a fourth place in the Australian Grand Prix in 1987, at the end of 1989 and after two seasons with Tyrrell signed as a tester for Mclaren, Jonathan says that he was testing for two days the new Mclaren MP4 / 5 marking quite competitive times, after the second day Ayrton arrived to replace Palmer who was closely watching Senna's times with the same car he had been shooting with, when Senna completed 10 laps he had already set a faster time than the British by the small difference of 1 second ...
Palmer studied telemetry and realized that it was his very particular throttle technique that owed him a stratospheric advantage against smooth driving and progressive throttle handling like Palmer did.
This is something that other drivers have tried to develop but very few have succeeded, because it is a technique that goes against the conventional, most of the drivers do exactly what Palmer did, being very smooth with the accelerator as they pass curve and when they accelerate out of the curves, there are several reasons for this.
First of all, when you apply the brake pedal severely in the last meters before entering a curve, what you want is not to transfer as much weight around the car, cars with suspension when applying the brake tend to transfer the weight forward, the car braking reduces the distance of the car's nose from the ground at the front, and weight is transferred to the front suspension, creating a heavier effect on the front suspension and taking less load off the rear suspension, also reducing grip on the rear, By turning the steering wheel at that precise moment the rear suspension is caused to slide and time is lost per lap, drivers normally seek to avoid this sudden transfer of weight, which is why they always seek to be gentle with the application of the power as much as in applying the brakes.
Having explained this basic principle of sports driving ... Why did Senna always apply his "pumping" technique aggressively on the accelerator if he theoretically went against this principle?
Many point out that it was something that Ayrton understood that would help him to be faster with Formula One in the Turbo era, but there is something more surprising, Senna used this technique from his times on karting, obviously being an extremely studious and methodical driver, he understood very soon that his technique would help him a lot to maximize the use of turbo power and applied it like no other being an F1 driver, but to that was added that his control of the car was sublime, the result was many Poles and spectacular performances on sundays.
How did the turbo work at that time in F1?
Ayrton used his "pumping" technique on the throttle to reduce the delay in turbo power delivery, basically keeping his foot on the throttle with quick movements during his cornering made the turbo keep spinning and the turbo stayed at its peak of power delivery, thus obtaining maximum use of the maximum range of power that its turbo engine offered in those years. This was done both with the Renault engine in Lotus and also with the Honda engine that was available in 1987 with the same Lotus and with Mclaren in 1988. In this regard there is an anecdote that Rory Byrne tells about how it was the first time that Senna tried a F1 with a turbo engine that can be revealing:
Alex Hawkridge finally got Ayrton to test the Toleman two weeks later, Senna da Silva returned to Silverstone for his third F1 test with a Toleman. On a cold day, but on the fast track, the potential future F1 driver made 72 laps with the TG183, that strange black car with bat-like spoilers. Slowly and methodically, he reached a time of 1,11.54s with an F1 turbo and had no less than a better time a second faster than Derek Warwick at the Grand Prix the previous July. And that in his first experience with an F1 turbo.
Da Silva's test was slightly disturbed by selection problems in the six-speed box mounted that same day and which had only been used a year earlier. Like a normal five-speed box, he believed it should drop the 1m 11s. The entire Toleman team was excited about Senna da Silva. Mainly Alex Hawkridge, after learning about Parmalat's problems, that he couldn't find an Italian in Brabham to team up with Nelson Piquet ... The most convinced was designer Rory Byrne:
"This is our driver, we have to get him to race for us in 1984. For Toleman, Ayrton could already sign that same day. What's more, he could have already signed a year earlier, when he was still in the FF2000 ... ". This is just one example of how Ayrton surprised people and strangers with his speed, no matter that he had no experience in a car, He was ultra-fast almost immediately, as it was throughout his career.
In 1989 the normally aspirated engines arrived and many thought that Ayrton would lose some of his amazing speed without the turbos, but Senna remained supremely fast in all conditions, Senna continued his particular technique and you could hear the continuous roar of the engine whenever Ayrton was in several corners.
Another theory about how Ayrton operated his technique on a normally aspirated Formula 1 is that using his cornering technique did not allow the car to react, the car was continuously unable to fully transfer its weight from one side to the other and he used that extraordinary control of the car balancing it to place it exactly where it wanted in its passage through a curve, thus generating more inertia through the curve and maintaining a higher speed than the rest in its passage through certain curves.
The hardest thing about doing this is getting it done consistently lap after lap, curve after curve, and that's where Senna and her immense talent completed the job.
Trying to do this in a current Formula 1 is an almost impossible challenge to achieve, because modern F1 cars have a much higher downforce than F1s of 30 years ago, and they generate this load in a slightly different way, modern cars have a higher Rake, the concept of the Rake is to give an angle to the flat bottom of the car with respect to the asphalt. The Rake is clearly appreciated when there is a certain inclination towards the front when the car is stationary, the rear is higher than the front.
The more Rake the car has, the greater the aerodynamic load of the car floor will be obtained, the Rake also defines the center of this aerodynamic load, the center of the aerodynamic pressure, in this way the car will detect more load towards the front of the car or towards the rear of the car as the case may be, so if in a modern F1 someone like Senna used his technique with the accelerator, the only thing that would be generated is that the car went from having understeer to oversteer continuously during the total curve crossing.
We will never know if a legend like Ayrton Senna was could have used his acceleration technique in a current Formula 1, but what is clear is that a talent like the Brazilian made his technique work for him both in the highest karting level as in each of the categories in which he raced, Formula Ford 1600, Formula Ford 2000, British Formula 3 (the most competitive of the time) and of course F1, where he will forever be considered a true genius of motorsport.
Ayrton Senna was a genius because he had many resources as a driver and an effective and well-worked driving technique, he developed all this from karting and managed to apply them on his way to F1 and especially when he reached the top level of racing, his driving on the rain was another of his resources that gave him a stamp among fans around the world, all this, added to his driving skills, supreme mentality and personality, made him a true legend of the sport.
No aniversário de 60 anos de Ayrton Senna, um presente especial para os fãs: o Sportv vai exibir neste sábado (21/3) o GP Brasil de 1991 na íntegra, mostrando a histórica vitória de Senna. Fiquem ligados, a partir das 22h15, no Sportv2.#Senna60anos #SennaSempre pic.twitter.com/0gaFNwEgJw— Ayrton Senna (@ayrtonsenna) March 21, 2020