Three time world champion Ayrton Senna had a Williams contract ready to sign ahead of the 1992 Formula 1 season, claims his former manager Julian Jakobi.
Speaking in the ‘Beyond the Grid‘ podcast, Jakobi says that the 1991 World Champion believed that Williams were stealing a march on his McLaren team and that his future may lie beyond the team that he’d joined in 1988 and with whom he’d not only claimed his three titles, but had grown into the world’s best driver.
“Even late ’91, when he won the third championship, he didn’t feel instinctively that the Honda was what it was, and he was worried about the future.” says Jakobi.
“I remember going to Spa with two contracts for Ayrton, one for McLaren and one for Williams. And Ayrton knew, I think, that he should have gone to Williams.”
“We had both contracts ready to sign. And we thought on Sunday morning that he was going to sign with Williams.
“His basic instinct was to go to Williams earlier, but he was loyal particularly to Mr. Kawamoto, who was the president of Honda.”
“It was a really difficult decision. And in the end it was down to him. All we could do was present both alternatives. In the end, he chose loyalty.”
And so Senna remained with McLaren for a further two years, during which time Williams picked up all four constructor’s and drivers titles, before the Brazilian jumped ship to Williams for 1994, Honda having long since departed Formula 1.
Was it likely Senna would sign a contract to drive for Williams in 1992?
Towards the end of 1991 – the very time Jakobi says Senna was weighing up whether to stick with McLaren or join Williams – it was becoming abundantly clear that the Williams-Renault partnership, with Adrian Newey penned cars had become the benchmark in Formula 1.
If it weren’t for Senna’s imperious start to the ’91 season where he was able to capitalise on teething problems with Williams’ new electronic wizardry, Mansell’s form in the mid to late season would have been enough for the Englishman to snatch the title from the three-time world champion’s grasp.
And so, according to Jakobi, the most fearsome competitor in Formula 1 history bar none, chose not to join a team that he thought was likely to give him the best chance of World Championship glory for seasons to come out of sentiment?
I don’t really buy that. Senna was a master at leveraging one opportunity against another in an effort to better the contract he thought he deserved as the world’s best driver, but that savvy McLaren team boss Ron Dennis was at pains to give him.
The offer of a Williams drive may very well have been on the table, but it’s more likely it was being used as a bartering tool to eke out more from his McLaren contract.
The fact that Senna chose to sign a McLaren contract for 1992 indicates to me that he thought that they could at least match Williams, and that his ability would be enough to give him the edge over Mansell in a championship fight.
Little did he know just how strong the pairing would be, as Mansell and Williams swept to the title in record time.
On realising just how formidable Williams had become, Senna then refocused his efforts to join Williams, offering to drive for free in 1993, eventually getting his wish a year later.