He’s arguably the greatest Formula One driver that ever lived, but there was a time when he considered leaving everything in F1 and joining the IndyCar ranks.
At the end of the 1992 season, McLaren lost its factory Honda engine deal. The manufacturer had been with McLaren for all three of Senna’s World Championships, but with a move to a customer Ford program in 1993, Senna knew that his prospects of a fourth world championship would be slim, if non-existent.
Senna wasn’t thrilled. But then an opportunity arose: a test of Emerson Fittipaldi’s Penske IndyCar at Firebird Raceway in Arizona. In the early 90s, IndyCar was nearly as popular as F1 globally with a wide variety of drivers and packed grandstands at nearly every race. It was also the opposite of F1’s high tech machinery. There was high horsepower, less grip, and more onus on the driver. It was a true challenge.
That’s what appealed to Senna.
During that test at Firebird Raceway, Fittipaldi went out in the morning to dial in the car for about 10 laps. According to Motorsport, he ran a 49.7 second lap on the tight 1.1 mile course in the 1992 spec car. Senna went out later that day. His first session was 14 laps. His fastest time was 49.5 seconds. He went out again later that day for 10 more laps on the same tires. He ran a 49.0 second lap.
Senna ultimately didn’t go IndyCar racing. He drove that McLaren with the customer Ford engine in 1993. Even if he was down on power, he had one of his most brilliant seasons, winning five races and finishing second in the world championship. An amazing result.
But what could have been if Senna had gone to IndyCar instead? It’s a question that will never be answered.