Champion of Champions: Ayrton Senna vs Jack Brabham

Ayrton Senna vs Jack Brabham

Champion of Champions

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Champion of Champions: Ayrton Senna vs Jack Brabham

Ayrton Senna and Jack Brabham each won three world championships – but these two drivers had very different careers.

One interesting similarity is they both won the championship and then lost it to their team mate the following year. Although it happened in rather different circumstances.

Brabham’s third championship in 1966 was remarkable because he won it at the wheel of a car he’d built himself. But the following year team mate Denny Hulme took the title off him, then left the team.

The tension between Senna and Alain Prost (a fellow Champion of Champions quarter-finalist) at McLaren was on a whole other level.

Senna won the championship in 1988 but the following year Prost beat Senna to the title. The championship was decided after Prost controversially collided with his team mate at Suzuka.

It’s hard to put Brabham’s achievement of winning the title with his own entry into perspective today, when even the smallest teams have hundreds of staff. Senna’s technical abilities have sometimes been underestimated but even so its difficult to compare any driver with Brabham on this benchmark.

Senna’s career came to an end far sooner than it should have. Although Brabham started fewer races his career stretched across 16 seasons; Senna was killed in his 11th.

The superstar status Senna had in the later years of his career was not something ‘black Jack’ would have envied – he was well-known for spurning the increased attention that inevitably accompanied his success.

The engineering wizard and the master of the pole position. These are two very different thrice-champions.

Which of these drivers should go through to the next round of the Champion of Champions? Vote for which you think was best below and explain who you voted for and why in the comments.

Ayrton Senna Jack Brabham
Ayrton Senna, Williams, 1994 Jack Braham
Titles 1988, 1990, 1991 1959, 1960, 1966
Second in title year/s Alain Prost, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell Tony Brooks, Bruce McLaren, John Surtees
Teams Toleman, Lotus, McLaren, Williams Cooper, Brabham
Notable team mates Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger, Mika Hakkinen Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney, Denny Hulme
Starts 161 123
Wins 41 (25.47%) 14 (11.38%)
Poles 65 (40.37%) 13 (10.57%)
Modern points per start1 11.68 7.63
% car failures2 20.50 34.96
Modern points per finish3 14.70 11.74
Notes Won three titles in four years with McLaren Back-to-back titles for Cooper in 1959 and 1960
Controversial clash with Prost sealed second title Then became only driver to win a championship in his own car
Killed in third race for Williams in 1994 Runner-up in 1967 to team mate Denny Hulme
Bio Ayrton Senna Jack Brabham

1 How many points they scored in their career, adjusted to the 2010 points system, divided by the number of races they started
2 The percentage of races in which they were not classified due to a mechanical failure
3 How many points they scored in their career, adjusted to the 2010 points system, divided by the number of starts in which they did not suffer a race-ending mechanical failure

Round two

Round one

Which was the better world champion driver?

  • Jack Brabham (17%)
  • Ayrton Senna (83%)

Total Voters: 524

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Images ?? Williams/Sutton (Senna), Peter Denton (Brabham)

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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119 comments on “Ayrton Senna vs Jack Brabham”

  1. Can’t see to many people voting for Jack here, great driver that he is ( and thank god he beat Hamilton!)

    Senne is easily top 3 , so deserves to go through.

    If only because I’m sentimental and he’s the last person to win a race for team Lotus :P

    1. Bu but but.. he won with his own car!! I am voting for Jack. Senna didn’t win with his own car; no comparison!

      1. Sir Jack might not win the champion of champions contest but he would win the mosted underappreciated driver contest hands down.

        I voted for Jack.

      2. I don’t see how the fact that he was racing with a team he owned has anything to do with it?
        If it’s about being your car then we would have votes for Ron Dennis and Montezemolo, heck even Bernie.

  2. The man who relied on Prost’s relentless testing (sometimes taking Ayrton’s place because he refused to turn up) for his championships or the guy who won one in a car he built himself? No contest.

    1. …you’re right on the money

      1. You see now this is just it, I think Brabham deserves a good amount of votes here.

        Senna was a brilliant driver until he threw the safety rulebook out the window and smashed into Prost. I hate the way he is looked at through rose-tinted glasses every time he is mentioned when all he did was bully people on the track and complain when Prost showed him how to race.

        I remember when Schumacher arrived and had some battles with Senna, his favourite pass time was complaining about how dirty a move was from him, Schumi just dished out some of Ayrton’s own medicine. He couldn’t beat Prost when they were team mates so that too me shows he was not a true champion. (And no Senna did not beat Prost in ’88)

        1. Of course he beat him. Everyone played by the same rules and Ayrton’s car carried the No.1 the next year.

          1. If the ridiculous “Best 11 finishes” rule had not been in place Senna would be a two time champ.

          2. Exactly, thems the rules and Prost agreed to play by them.

            I take it that you’re just going overlook ’89 when it comes to ridiculous things affecting the title?

        2. Prost showed him how to race? In which way? Being much slower and benefiting from retirements /of Senna at most/? :D
          Prost was better then Lauda, Mansell, Arnoux, Hill or Rosberg, but he clearly had not the abilities of Senna, especially in rain… And results of many fan or expert polls are proving that who they consider as better driver… And btw. on abilities Senna beat Prost in 1988 and even more in 1989… Qualifying battles and laps spent in lead showes the real picture as I don t count luck coming from mechanical retimerents to a special driver ability…

          1. You’re spot on, mate. But haters will hate no matter what. Relying on Prost’s testing? Didn’t beat Prost in 1988?! No use to argue with illogical comments. phhh is all I can say to that.

          2. To finish first first you have to finish; this is one of the most important and fundamental parts of motorsport. Senna evidently was harder on his car than Prost, so it is good driving by Prost to go so quickly but not damage the car, or crash.

            Prost is always cast as the villain of the rivalry, but in my opinion Suzuka 1989 was a racing incident where Prost refused to back down against Senna’s very optimistic attempt down the inside, and 1990 was the most dangerous piece of driving in the history of formula one by Senna. Driving into someone at 170 mph it could have ended so much worse, risking both his life but worst still Prost’s.

            Top Gear in the UK did a feature on Senna where Martin Brundle said that Senna would put his car into a position to pass even if it was not really on, and it was left to the other driver to decide whether they wanted to crash. I guess Prost just had had enough of Senna’s bully boy tactics as he swerved across him the previous year at Portugal, and went against the first corner agreement at Imola.

            I rate them pretty much even, probably with Senna slightly ahead, as Senna is probably slightly quicker overall. However you don’t win championships just by winning pole positions and Prost’s racecraft is arguably superior to anyone else’s in history.

            Senna is overrated by some people (i.e claiming he was much better than Prost) due the circumstances surrounding his death, but over the two years in the same car there was nothing in it.

          3. Hater? That has nothing to do with hating as I am not a fan of Senna… :D
            If you can t see those simple things, it is not my fault… :) Prost is in Stewart, Moss or Ascari league, but Senna is higher, because most of the time he didn t need retirements to drive in lead or to win… (especially in McLaren days with Prost)

          4. Even if the crash in ’89 was 100% Senna’s fault, which I am by no means saying, that’s irrelevant. The car was in a dangerous position, he got it going again with the help of the marshals and he went on to win but was then unreasonably disqualified.

          5. Relying on Prost’s testing?

            Read Malcolm Folley’s Senna v Prost, he (and I) knows what he’s talking about on this matter:

            ‘I had an argument with Ron.’ he [Prost] explained. ‘At times in the season, Ayrton had gone home to Brazil while I was testing all the time. Now, he had flown home to Brazil for three months’ rest. At this time, we were testing a lot and doing a lot of endurance testing. I was driving, driving, driving and very often I was tired. I’d been in Formula One for almost ten years and I always tested a lot. We had been through great tension in 1988…and Ayrton was on the beach for months and I was still testing, testing. I was not very happy.’

            And people have the temerity to talk about McLaren’s favouritism of Hamilton, Ron was practically in love with Senna by that standard.

          6. Marco re-read my comment. I agreed with your previous post entirely. The “haters” thing is meant for comments above yours who are blindly against Senna(and I’m neither Senna nor Prost fan). Cheers

          7. debaser91 I disagree there was nothing in it, in 1988-89. Senna was usually faster than Prost, and although I agree with the “first you have to finish” thing, on many occasions Prost’s only hope of winning was that Senna retires from the race. That doesn’t suggest equality at all. Prost was a great driver but Senna was faster, not only in the wet, when he was miles faster, but in the dry as well and was considered better than Prost even before his death.

          8. To Icthyes: I’m not unaware of what you’ve brought up here. However, going from this to what you’ve said “only relied on Prost’s testing” is a very long way and a mistake IMO:
            1)We’re talking here about an isolated period of three months between 1988-89. Wasn’t SEnna testing as rigorously as Prost before the 1988 season or during it or during 1989?
            2)Senna kept Mclaren on top also in 1990-91 through his testing, not Prost’s. Or do you suggest Berger was developing the Mclaren?
            3)I never saw any mention of Senna being a lazy test driver apart from this isolated episode based on Prost’s words and on this I must say one more thing:
            I admit I’ve never liked Prost. Admired his talent yes, but couldn’t bring myself to like him, and that was not ’cause of his RELATIVELY poor wet weather driving, but for the simple reason that I don’t like politicians and Prost was maybe the greatest politician to ever sit in an F1 car. He would always try to manipulate the team to get behind him, even when he didn’t need to,(I mean Mansell’s a great driver but not one of the best ever, why would he need to that to him, unless political games are in his nature?), so I would take anything he says about Senna and favouritism with a pinch of salt. By the way, he’s not dissimilar to Alonso in that if there’s no favouritism toward him, it automatically meant favouritism to the other side of the garage.

            For those reasons, I maintain that your claim of Senna’s successes being solely the results of Prost’s testing is illogical and comes only from your personal dislike of Senna(of whom I’m no fan by the way even though I prefer him to Prost)

        3. I think Senna came to Mclaren which was Prost team at that time and Senna took 6 pole position immediatly and showed prost what real speed is. Well i’m not 100% sure on the 6 pole thing, but Senna came in and took the team from prost. Prost eventually fled.

          1. @ Montreal 95, fair enough. If everyone had the same opinion on here it would be rather boring :)

            As I said earlier it is clear Senna was the faster driver of the two. Also, I like most people on here prefer the flat out approach of Senna over the more calculated approach of Prost. However quicker over a single lap does not necessarily mean greater IMO.

            Saying Prost only won because Senna retired discredits the ability of Prost to maximise the potential of his car into points and championships. He realised this better than anyone else before or since, having lost to Lauda similarly. Comparing their results as teammates:

            Senna 1 Prost 1

            Senna 14 Prost 11

            Senna 150 (154) Prost 163 (186)

            Senna 26 (this is just ridiculous) Prost 4

            Fastest Laps
            Senna 5 Prost 10

            Average starting position
            Senna 1.25 Prost 2.50

            Average finishing position
            Senna 2.61 Prost 1.81

            I don’t agree that Senna’s death has not elevated his legacy, he was an absolutely incredible driver but if you look at the results over the two seasons as teammates there is nothing to suggest Senna was enormously better, except the massive number of poles. I would wager that Prost drove within the limits of the car on most of these occasions, as he was pretty much guaranteed to be second on the grid regardless.

            I think it is this differing approach to racing that means Senna is rated more highly. Prost would often do the bare minumum whereas Senna would push for every lap he was in the car. How many other drivers in history would have fared so well against probably the fastest driver in Formula One ever (along with Clark)? Very few would have done as well as Prost.

          2. Icthyes,

            For the record, Malcom Folley’s book, which I have read twice (the second time to make sure that it really was as shocking as I thought it was the first time) is arguably the most sympathetic book towards Prost that has ever been written, and it is openly scornful of Senna in places in a way which betrays its author’s bias.

            Keith reviewed it here and found it very credulous and uncritical of Prost’s claims, and for more detail of how it was received in general, read the reviews of it at Amazon for example, where you will find several claims of gross bias:

            Prost can say what he wants about testing, in the forum of a revisionist 2008 interview with an extremely sympathetic author, but it doesn’t really alter the fact that he was serially outpaced in dry weather, and in wet weather was generally not even in the same race.

        4. all he did was bully people on the track

          I agree with much of your sentiment here, but I have to take issue with this throw-away statement.

          If you’ve seen an onboard lap in his car, it’s scarily good. Every twitch, every murmur, every bump every marble I’m sure he could feel and sense through the car. What you really notice, is how much he put his soul in to driving that car, and how on and over the edge he was, and yet continued to drive rescue, nurture and bully his car around the track. He’s one of the few drivers that could take a car beyond what people thought the car was capable of.

          Similar to Jim Clark, the drivers of the day, recognised him as the best, it’s not just a post-era sentimental fantasy.

          Brundle said, If you saw Senna in your mirrors during qualifying, you got out the way, you didn’t want to be the person who stopped his quick lap, not just because of Senna’s reaction, but your would stop what his genius could do in the car.

          The word I really disagree with is ‘all’. As if he was just a bully. He was also big on safety in f1 further on in his career. He gave millions to charity. Frank Williams said “he was an even greater man outside of the car than he was in it.”. He led the drivers after Ratzenburger died.

          I don’t know of many drivers who can do that, and certainly none today have the same near death experience driving, The cars are unbelievable safe, you don’t need to be as ballsy to take the car to the edge. There’s more worry about the financial implications than the safety in the minds of many.

          If he was alive now, Im sure he would be playing a significant role in F1 somehow, but also continuing in the charities for children.

          So while I agree with some of what you say, ‘all he did was bully people on the track’, is not a phrase I would feel comfortable using.

          1. spot on Hare.
            It’s weird how some people percepion of senna have nothing to do with reality. There is a reaction from some people against senna, even without following f1 when he was driving.
            He was the good guy of the picture, but for some reason, some people, want to destroy his legacy.

          2. +1 my thoughts exactly

          3. I certainly disagree with the statement that “all he did was bully people on the track”. It’s a common exagguration for anyone who is noted for being aggressive in their attacking or defending.

            However, having read up on the topic, and heard from people who did follow F1 when he was driving, it’s clear that he wasn’t always “the good guy” as you’re suggesting kowalsky.

        5. RIISE: I’m glad you are rewriting F1 history here on F1fanatic…go on now lad! Also, please remember your beloved Schumi was using an illegal traction controlled car in ’94, (thank you Mr. Briatore) while Williams was on their back foot coming off the ban on active suspension. I seem to remember you saying the ’94 Williams was the superior car.

        6. But, it was in place.

        7. OK, I’ll bite.

          Senna made it very clear before Suzuka ’89 that he would crash into Prost if Pole position was not switched and Prost was leading into the first corner. It was a openly premeditated plan in contrast to Schumacher’s infamous and numerous last second panic reactions.

          Senna was a driver who lived and raced according to his own rigid set of principles, which he did not change to suit the situation as some others do. Senna taught us all what true dedication and determination is. He had such an impact on Sport in general precisely because he started off as a self righteous young charger who made way too many mistakes, but made up for them through sheer will power. It was not until 1991 that he evolved into a true world class racing driver.

          His willingness to extract every little bit of ability out of himself, driving himself to total exhaustion, on his way to becoming the world best racing driver is an inspiration to all who strive to live their dreams.

          1. I find it incredibly shocking (well, not really, but that’s because I see it all the time) that someone who calls themself an F1 fan could justify a move that could ended up in many fatalities just because he’s a fan of the driver.

            If Schumacher fans tried to justify the infinitely more tame move in Jerez on the grounds that Michael was so desperate to win the championship and be the best he would do anything, Senna fans (amongst others) would be the first to howl disagreement.

          2. Let’s not confuse determination and desperation.

          3. I agree with Icthyes.

        8. you probably just trolling around
          so the truth must be said…

          …in 1989 Prost never won a single race while Senna was on track…only after Ayrton’s retirement was he able to win races.

          …not a single race.

          for 1988 now by todays stadards is like Robert Kubica goes next year to Ferrari and beats Alonso in every single race laping 1-2 seconds faster…

          i do not really see how a driver can be hard on his car…an F1 car is made to be driven flat out…the unique throttling technique that Ayrton used and that made him faster than any other driver ever, was probably engine demanding but he never had an engine failure…most of the time was electronics, hydraulics, out of fuel and things like that.
          you cant harm the electronics by driving hard.

          1. To finish first, first you have to finish. It was like when people were saying how Vettel would have easily been world champion if his car hadn’t let him down so many times, forgetting that sometimes it’s the thing that makes you fast that makes you fail too e.g. Hamilton’s daring overtakes sometimes makes him crash out too.

        9. Spot on. Everyone complains about Schumacher but who did he learn from? Mansell once tried Senna’s tactics on him when he first entered F1 and Senna raged about it because he didn’t like it.

    2. I think you may be confusing Senna with Mansell re not turning up for testing. Ayrton showed up for work.

      1. Read Malcolm Folley’s book, Senna once didn’t turn up for 3 months in the winter.

        1. I wouldnt refer to a book that is utter garbage.

      2. I stand corrected (see Icthyes’ posts above and below). I had read only Prost’s complaints about Mansell going off to play golf all of the time.

    3. If Senna relied on Prost’s testing, then it only shows how good Senna was, beating Prost in a car that he had soooo much less testing time in and a car that was developed more in favour of Prost’s driving style.

      1. senna was so superior that he didn’t need testing.
        He rarely did testing in winter, maybe this is what people are talking about. he stayed in brazil all winter, relaxing, Then came back and in a few laps beat the track record.
        In 1991 berger was doing all the testing thinking he was going to have an advantage over the brazilian. They got to phoenix, for the first gp, and in qualy senna was two seconds faster. Berger was destroyed, and eclestone came to the rescue saying. Forget about senna, he is too good, focus on the rest.
        So everybody has part of the truth. Senna only tested when he saw a good reason, otherwise the test drivers did it.
        Sometimes he showed up, and did a few laps if requested, and lower the lap time a second in just two laps. The test driver were not happy at all. ( mostly Alliot, and palmer)

        1. Or perhaps inferior so he needed Prost’s testing to make the car good enough?

      2. Senna did have a brilliant ability to make the car do what he wanted, somewhat like Hamilton but much greater. it didn’t matter whose style the car was set up for, he could take it further. But the car would never have been as good in the first place if it wasn’t for Prost’s hard work.

        1. Winter testing is all about setting up the car for the season. Not even Senna or Prost could fight for a championship in a **** car, so the argument that Senna didn’t need the tests is false, he didn’t needed to test himself, but it was essential for him that someone did it, or else he wouldn’t be able to fight for the Championship. Senna admited (in his 1990 playboy interview) that he benefited a lot from Prost’s skills.

          As for Suzuka 89, it was Senna’s fault. Look at Lauda’s statement on that:

          “Why should Prost let Senna pass without a fight? Alain drove the normal fight-line, not zig-zag, we know that from Patrese. Alain did not at all drive unfair, the driver, who is behind the other is always guilty at accidents. Prost is absolutely innocent!”

          Manu pointed out that Prost only won when Senna DNF in 89. However, in some races Prost was already leading, and Senna sometimes spun off or crashed. Also, he did had engine failures, more than Prost. If you compare onboard videos on the same tracks, you’ll see Senna struggled much more with the car, while Prost seemed to barely move the steering. Jackie Stewart said that.

          While Senna got the poles, Prost totally dominated the races. In each season they raced together, Prost scored twice as many fastest laps as Senna. He was also much more consistent than Senna. Senna’s average start position (in 88/89) was 1.5, and his average finishing position was 2.5. Prost’s stats are exactly the opposite. Prost was just quicker. In an interview to Autosport, Prost said Ayrton was unbelievable in qualifying, but he never impressed him during races. If Senna was better than Prost, why he couldn’t match his pace during races? Prost beat Senna both seasons and he made it look like he wasn’t trying too hard

          1. I can’t understand how anyone can blame Senna for Suzuka ’89.

            He made a legitimate attempt to pass Prost, Prost took the opportunity to take his title rival out of the race. I really don’t think there’s any more to it than that.

            Suzuka ’90, on the other hand, was obviously Senna’s fault.

          2. ok m8 seems like you study the 89 season out of the wikipedia table…Senna lost the 89 championship not because of failures but because he was rammed 3 times…twice by Ferrari drivers. one of them was a blackflagged Nigel Mansell in Estoril and one time by his teammate Alain Prost

            Prost was the first and only driver in f1 history who rammed a teammate in order to win title

            Senna was the man who turned driving to art…he managed to express his emotions to all of us using a steering wheel and a gas pedal.

            testing is for test drivers not for artists.

          3. Roberto…i think you really miss the point, however this video may help you

            Prost vs Senna in Suzuka 1989 side by side comparison
            1.7 secs gap in Q
            as a matter of fact Senna’s mclaren in 1989 was faster than Coulthards mclaren in 1999 in Suzuka

            Senna 1989 1.38.041
            Coulthard 1999 1.38.239

            if hope you get my point


          4. @Keith- Agree. There is no question in my mind that Prost turned into Senna. I’ve watched over and over and can’t see it any other way.

          5. Prost was faster then Senna in races? :o Because he had one lap faster? So, then by this logic Räikkonen was the man of 2008 season having 10 or how many fastest laps in total… 1 single fastest lap means NOTHING… Senna just often controlled the situation in lead and didn t need to go any faster… Prost was better then many his previous teammates, but he was short on Senna… And I am looking at performances, not results, which are affected by external things like luck or misfortune… If we should concentrate only at results, then Marques was better then Alonso in 2001! But, no he wasn t, he just had luck in key races…

          6. Senna’s average start position (in 88/89) was 1.5, and his average finishing position was 2.5. Prost’s stats are exactly the opposite. Prost was just quicker.

            No, Senna was quicker, Prost was better at bring the car home.

  3. An easy one I think, Senna.
    After Clark lost vs Schumacher, this will be an easy fight for Senna till the end. I will vote for MSC (later on) because I think he is the most complete of them all, not the fastest, not the most fair, not the best overtaker, not the best defender, but still overall Schumacher is the one that gets most total points.
    Congrats to Senna, his death made him immortal.

    1. And Keith, can you tell me, till now, which driver won the highest number of votes in a single comparison so far? That could be a good marker too for the competition.

      1. The winning numbers are:

        01 Schumacher (R1-609) (R2-602)
        04 Alonso (R1-570)
        05 Mansell (R1-434)
        07 Clark (R1-568) (R2-516)
        09 Prost (R1-568) (R2-504)
        11 Hakkinen (R1-642)
        13 Lauda (R1-566) (R2-314)
        15 Ascari (R1-458)
        17 Fangio (R1-538) (R2-488)
        19 Fittipaldi (R1-433)
        21 Stewart (R1-509) (R2-524)
        23 Raikkonen (R1-532)
        25 Senna (R1-642) (R2-477)
        27 Hill (R1-326)
        29 Brabham (R1-510) (R2-397)
        31 Hamilton (R1-595)

        1. Thank you for the info, interesting numbers, if I am not wrong Hakkinen is the one with the highest number of votes.

        2. And Senna :)