‘Disrespect for money’: Ex-McLaren boss reveals $1.5m bet with Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna won three world championship titles during his time with McLaren, making him one of the most successful drivers of all time.

To be the childhood hero of seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, you must have a fair amount of quality.

This is the case for Ayrton Senna, who was idolised by a young Hamilton, leading the Brit to display a Brazilian flag on the podium during the 2021 Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.

Senna won three world championships with McLaren in 1988, 1990 and 1991, as the team dominated the sport following the Brazilian’s move from Lotus.

While he was a legendary driver on the track, he was also a well-respected and highly influential individual away from the racetrack, with his tragic death leaving the sport in mourning in 1994.

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Former McLaren chief Ron Dennis has revealed that his relationship with Senna started frostily, as the Lotus driver’s financial demands threatened to see the move break down.

“Ayrton had a pretty healthy appetite for money,” said Dennis.

“We started to butt heads on money, half a million, and couldn’t agree, and it got really tense – it was becoming relationship-threatening.”

Dennis has revealed that he was forced to employ an unorthodox strategy to get over the stumbling block in his negotiations with Senna, putting the difference in demands down to chance.

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“Everything had to be black and white for him and the concept of chance didn’t enter his psyche, so I said: ‘Let’s flip a coin’,” he explained.

“He completely lightened up; this was fun. After a bit of debate about who would do it, I flipped the coin and won the bet.

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“What neither of us had twigged at the time was that it was a three-year contract, so it was a $1.5m flip. I know it has been seen as a total disrespect for money, but in fact it was a great respect because it was the only way to break our log jam. After that, everything cascaded and off we went.”

Senna’s relationship with McLaren lasted from 1988 to the end of 1993, when the Brazilian decided to move to Williams after collecting three titles with the team.

Tragically, Senna lost his life during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, colliding with a concrete wall at around 145mph, leaving F1 to mourn the loss of a legend.