Winning Driving Styles: Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna

Updated on March 31, 2020
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F1 Enthusiast | Michael Schumacher Fan | Grown to Respect Ayrton Senna | Discovering Past Masters in F1 | Amazed by F1 Cars!


Fans of Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna usually get on fights on social media as to who was the greatest between them. While the figures favour Michael, the cut-short career of Senna leaves the fans wondering about what could have been if Senna had continued. The feelings and emotions run so high on YouTube or Facebook that we can only imagine what would happen if these fans ever met face-to-face.

But let’s bring all the fans some cheer. For once, we will be looking at an aspect which is common for both drivers. To be honest, there were many similarities between them that track personalities and erst-while champs had pointed out. They both were exceptionally self-assured, were doggedly determined to win, ruthless on the tracks and no amount of defeats on the track could defeat them. The problem with these parameters is that they are qualitative and hardly measurable. So, the topic will always be subjective.

We don’t have to lose heart because there is indeed a quantitative parameter that has been measured already.

So, let’s look at that parameter.


Driving Style – Bringing Schumacher and Senna together

By driving style, we don’t mean how they drive their cars but rather how they counter twists and turns on the track as much as how they react to abnormal situations on the track. We will look at cases where Michael and Senna’s handling style is visible.

Handling Track Conditions

Here is a video of Senna managing to overtake in a rain-soaked track. On the same spot, we see the other cars spinning and sliding out. We see the difference between a master and other good drivers.

Now, let’s look at Schumacher handling an almost impossible situation around the track.

I am sure we can notice the similarities between the two of coming out of a rather tricky situation almost unharmed. While they do make it look easy, it is not something mere mortals can achieve. And the mere mortals that we are referring to are excellent F1 drivers, not just some rookies.

Did You Know?

When asked 'who was the best driver of all time?' Schumacher answered that Senna was the best. This despite the world acknowledging Schumacher as one of the best.

Handling Wet Conditions:

We will look at a video of Senna storming up the track on a lesser car during his debut year, passing legends like Niki Lauda and Nigel Mansell while nearly taking out Alain Prost. Have a look.

Senna was truly dancing in the rain. There was no stopping the man. He was catching up with Alain Prost at a mind-boggling 15 seconds a lap. When had we last heard of that kind of speed difference? Had the race gone on for one more lap, Senna would have been the winner. Regardless, he left his mark here.

Now, let’s look at Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari in 1996 Spanish Grand Prix. While the rain was incessant in collecting driver-after-driver from the track, Michael continued to overtake and move forward.

Michael Schumacher ends the race nearly a minute ahead of the second-placed man. Had he gone any faster, Schumacher would have lapped Alesi in second place before the race ended. Can you beat that? Barring the winner, every other driver on track would have been one lap down.

It is not a coincidence that both Senna and Schumacher were called rain masters as a rain situation meant that they would win that race. There would be very few races where Senna or Schumacher did not win on a rain-soaked track.

That’s the second similarity between Senna and Schumacher. However, the next comparison shows a proper study that was conducted individually on Schumacher and Senna during their racing careers.

Driving Around Turns

If you ask an everyday driver or even a good driver on track about their drive around the turns, chances are that most would say drive hard to the corner, brake, encounter the corner, accelerate out of the turn, and race away. Well, that is precisely how I would do it too, but not Michael Schumacher and Senna.

It turns out that the best way to encounter a turn is to brake gradually (relative), encounter the corner keeping the throttle up and exit at full throttle. For those of us having questions on that, I recommend that you don't try this. These are the only two gentlemen topping the all-time pole position list in Formula 1. Which means they knew how to go around a track faster than any of their compatriot racers.

Here is the comparison video.

Till 2:45, Michael Schumacher’s driving graph around a corner is discussed. From 2:45, Senna’s style is discussed. I am sure that we can see the similarities. This driving style means that even when the car is slowing down to counter a turn, both drivers must be having a foot on the accelerator already. This is best seen in the following video where Senna is driving a Honda road car around the track.

Readers can see Senna’s foot on the accelerator and brake and how he uses them while at the corner. The redlining of both the tachometer and speedometers is awesome!

And last but not the least, Senna’s exclusive driving style, barring Schumacher's, makes him faster than most F1 legends of Senna’s time. Take a look at the drive around in the Mercedes Cup in 1984.

This race was for the current and previous world champions. Since Emerson Fittipaldi couldn't make it, Senna took his place. Senna was the only non-champion and the youngest on track. He won the race while Niki Lauda, a two-time F1 champion, was second. See the difference that the driving styles make.

Back to the Garage

Senna and Schumacher had a brief overlap and were representing different generations, and yet their styles meant that across all of the F1 history, they remained at the top of the list of fastest laps. They were different and still similar in so many ways!

© 2019 S K


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