“5 million dollars for 5 races?!”: Former McLaren member reveals how Ayrton Senna raced for them on a $1 million race-by-race deal; threatened to walk off if failed to pay

Somin Bhattacharjee
|Published 29/10/2021

3 time F1 Champion Ayrton Senna charged his team a million dollars per race in 1993 according to the former McLaren operations director. 

The late great Senna reportedly gave the McLaren accountants a very hard time with his demands back then. The Brazilian driver went into the 1993 season without having signed a deal with McLaren. His first contract that season would see him compete in only a third of the races and it was only later that he would agree to show up for all of them.

Senna’s contract stated that he had to be paid $1 million before each race. The legendary driver even refused to show up for GP weekends if he wasn’t paid prior to boarding his flight to the venue.

“I remember it was a million dollars a race!” recalls then McLaren operations director Martin Whitmarsh. “In 24 and a half years I was at McLaren we were profitable in F1. Our other businesses every single year apart from 1992-’93. We lost £1.5m, and we were paying Ayrton a million dollars a race.”

The problems with McLaren began after the ’92 season when Honda and McLaren parted ways. “As soon as Honda left, he didn’t want to continue,” says Whitmarsh. “Like any driver you want a works deal, and I think he was right.”

Ayrton Senna wanted McLaren to pay him $5 million in 1993, a $1 million for each race

Ayrton Senna knew that he was a driver who was in demand. He knew his market value and negotiated with the Surrey based team accordingly. His former teammate Gerhard Berger had signed a big money deal with Ferrari and the man from Sao Paolo was not going to make any compromises.

Senna’s manager Julian Jakobi gave insight into this incident during negotiations with Ron Dennis, McLaren CEO. “Ron was having to pay for the customer engines. And he said that he only had $5m available, and therefore he couldn’t pay Ayrton what he’d paid him in the past.”, he said.

“So Ayrton said, ‘That’s fine. I’ll do the first five races, and that’s it.’ And so that’s how the million per race happened. He didn’t say, ‘I want a million per race,’ he just said ‘I’ll just do the first five races.'” “There was kind of a silence in the room.

“And then Ayrton said, ‘Well, if you find you have any more money later on, fine, we’ll discuss the extra races after the first five.’ So that’s what happened, the first contract was signed for five races, and a million a race.

“But we put a provision in the contract. Ayrton said, ‘But I’m not coming unless the money is in my bank account by the Wednesday before each race.”

Ayrton Senna is one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. The former Williams driver won 3 World Championships before his untimely death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.

Also read: Daniel Ricciardo talks about how Ayrton Senna impacted him in his childhood when he went to watch 3 time world champion live in action


About the author
Somin Bhattacharjee

Somin Bhattacharjee

Somin Bhattacharjee is an F1 writer at The SportsRush. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration and aims to work in the sports industry for the rest of his life. Somin has been a fan of Scuderia Ferrari since 2010 and his favorite driver is none another than the great Fernando Alonso. Other than longing for a Ferrari Championship win once again, Somin spends his free time playing football and basketball.

Read more from Somin Bhattacharjee