In 1984, Ayrton Senna was an F1 rookie, driving for the under-funded Toleman team. In the season’s first five races, Senna had completed just two events, both in sixth place, but things changed at Monaco. There, in the wet, Senna displayed his brilliance behind the wheel, challenging championship points leader Alain Prost for the race lead. On May 11, the 1984 Toleman-Hart TG184 driven by Senna to a second-place finish at Monaco in 1984 heads to auction, presenting a unique opportunity to own a legendary piece of F1 history.
Senna shouldn’t have even been at Toleman during his rookie year, as the Brazilian driver had already agreed to a deal – paying him $50,000 a season – to drive for John Player Team Lotus. Under pressure from its sponsors, Lotus backed out of the arrangement, and Senna signed with a team that would put few expectations on him during his rookie season. From 1981-’83, Toleman had entered 41 F1 races (with two cars, making the actual total 82) and finished just 15. In its first two seasons, the team failed to score a single point in the constructor’s championship, but in 1983 drivers Derek Warwick and Bruno Giacomelli managed 10 top-ten finishes between them, collecting 10 points and finishing ninth in the constructor’s championship.
Toleman’s cars – and their Hart engines – had gotten better as the team matured, but in early 1984 the team again found itself struggling for consistency. Senna and his teammate, Johnny Cecotto, both retired from the season-opening Brazilian Grand Prix with turbocharger failures. Senna finished sixth in South Africa and Belgium, while Cecotto failed to finish either race. Senna failed to qualify at San Marino due to tire supply issues and a fuel pressure problem, while Cecotto’s day ended eight laps down, not classified in the standings.
The Toleman team had reason for optimism at the 1984 French Grand Prix, the fifth race of the 1984 season. Its TG184 chassis was finally ready for competition, and the outdated TG183Bs driven by Senna and Cecotto earlier in the year were retired. The Hart 415T engine, which produced over 600 horsepower from just 1.5-liters of displacement, carried over, and before the race’s halfway point, both TG184s had retired, again with turbo failures.
Then came Monaco. Senna qualified 13th on the 20-car grid, with Cecotto qualifying 18th, but all that went out the window on race day, which dawned to torrential downpours and standing water at various points on the circuit. Conditions were so bad that the tunnel beneath the Fairmont Hotel was flooded by a local fire brigade in an effort to make grip more consistent (and reduce the chances of wet tires sliding on accumulated oil). Prost started from pole – his first for McLaren – and in the opening laps it looked like the race would be contested between Prost and Nigel Mansell. Mansell took the lead on lap nine, and quickly began to pull away from Prost’s McLaren, but just six laps later Mansell spun his Lotus on a painted line and collected the wall, forcing his retirement.
The crash put Prost back in the lead, followed by his teammate, two-time world champion Niki Lauda, but that was about to change. Senna worked his way through the field, passing drivers seemingly at will, including Lauda. In second place, Senna began to close the gap to race leader Prost, who was having difficulty keeping even heat in his McLaren’s carbon fiber brake rotors. Senna was closing the gap to Prost at a rate of three seconds per lap, but on lap 29, Prost began signaling to race director Jacky Ickx that conditions were simply too dangerous to continue the race. On lap 32, Ickx waved the red flag, signaling the end of the race, and just before the start/finish line, Senna stormed past Prost for what he believed to be his first F1 race win. Under the rules, however, the finishing order was determined by the positions of all cars on the final full lap, and on lap 31, Senna remained just over seven seconds behind Prost. Senna hadn’t scored the win he imagined, but he did achieve his first fastest race lap, his first F1 podium, and the first podium for the Toleman team.
The Monaco race proved extremely controversial, and some pointed fingers at race director Jacky Ickx, who drove for Rothmanns Porsche as his regular job. Porsche was the engine supplier for the McLaren team, and by ending the race early – well before the halfway point – Ickx ensured that Porsche, and not Hart, would be credited with the win. As a result, Ickx was suspended from his role in F1 as Clerk of the Course, and, ironically, Prost would lose the championship to Lauda by a half-point at the end of the season.
Had the race gone the full distance with Prost in the lead, he’d have won the title by four points over his teammate. Ironically, Senna would soon have been forced out with suspension issues, but the red flag meant that history was recorded differently. Instead, Monaco demonstrated Senna’s mastery in wet conditions, prompting James Hunt, then a commentator for BBC, to remark, “I think we are watching the arrival of Ayrton Senna as a truly outstanding talent in Grand Prix racing…”
Reliability issues continued to plague the Tolman team throughout the 1984 season, but Senna would capture two more podium finishes before the end of the season, ending up ninth in the driver’s standings. He’d drive chassis TG184-02 – the car on offer in Monaco – in Canada, Detroit, Dallas and Brands Hatch, and later in the season, Stefan Johansson would race the car in Italy, Germany and Portugal. The following season, 1985, Senna would break his three-year contract with Toleman, joining John Player Special Team Lotus – this time at a reported salary of $585,000 per year.
Bonhams predicts a selling price of $910,000 – $1.2 million when TG184-02 crosses the auction stage at the firm’s “Les Grandes Marques À Monaco” sale. For additional information, visit Bonhams.com.