Q: Could Ayrton Senna’s throttle technique still work in modern F1?

Q: “I want to know, could Ayrton Senna’s throttle technique still work in modern F1?”

A: Well, that’s an interesting question. And unfortunately, one we’ll never know the real answer to. But here are my thoughts

First, my observation and knowledge of Senna leads me to believe that his belief system – what he believed deep down inside – was what made him so special. This, along with his burning desire to be the fastest. Okay, he had skills. But he believed that he could do things that so many other drivers did not believe – at least at the same level, as deeply as he did. His self-confidence in his ability to do something overcame just about everything else. He MADE things happen, even when they seemed impossible. And possibly even when they went against what was considered to be the best driving technique.

So, could the way Senna used the throttle – the quick stabs or bursts of throttle (do a YouTube search for some videos where you can hear this) – work with today’s F1 cars? He would make it work. Would it be the best way to drive the car? Not from what I understand about how today’s F1 cars work. But he’d make it work!

One thing that is different with today’s F1 cars from when Senna drove is the way a modern car generates aero downforce. Today’s cars are much more sensitive to pitch. When the platform (think of the car like a flat board – that’s the platform) changes rake (the angle the car is at when looking from the side, with the front either lower or higher than the rear), the center of pressure of where the maximum amount of aero downforce is moves forward or backwards. That means that every time a driver causes weight transfer (changing rake, or pitch), the balance of downforce, front to rear, changes. And that means that the car’s handling will change from oversteer to understeer (or vice versa). When a car is changing, it’s very difficult for a driver to consistently drive it at the limit. The less weight transfer, the less aero balance change, the more consistent the car’s handling, the easier it is for the driver to drive it at the limit.

Apparently, this is something that Sebastian Vettel is very good at – maintaining the car’s aero balance. He does this by managing the weight transfer, and that results from being smooth. Quick stabs at the throttle would change the aero balance of a modern F1 car more now than ever, and I believe that would make it more difficult for that style of driving to be effective.

Still, in the end, a driver’s beliefs will over-power just about anything else, possibly even a changing aero balance.


  1. I somehow connected Senna’s throttle technique with the turbo era. Keeping the turbo spooled up gave him more power earlier. I’d love to know if I’m right. It seemed to outweigh the disruption of balance that pumping the throttle would cause.

    • If you dig around and listen to Senna driving non-turbo cars, he often used the same technique – even back in his F3 days. You could be right, but I think it’s something that he made work and then he used it in many cars. It’s hard to argue with his success… but then you wonder what would have happened if he had used a different technique?

  2. I remember reading an article in Race Car engineering on blown diffusers of that Era. Senna’s stabbing of throttle was to keep the exhaust gas velocity up through the diffuser which increased downforce. The blown exhaust was very effective. There are videos of free revving in the Pit Garage that show the rear of the car being noticeably pulled down by exhaust gas velocity alone.

  3. I find that pumping the throttle similarly mid corner, results in the car going from under to oversteer, if you are right on the edge. This means the car will dance a wee bit easier and more predictably since you know it will push and stop rotation on throttle, and off it will get loose and rotate the car toward apex… At apex, of course, it’s all about getting to flat out. So the modulation stops right at apex, with throttle application so you can rotate the car, just before unwinding. This results in the ability to use a much more of a earlier turn in to apex and still have not compromised as much on exit. Controlled ‘out of controlness’ is often my target. racing in the rain for example.. in order to keep heat in the tires you MUST alternate between under and ovesteer…. why not do it at the same time in the same corner =]


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