Ayrton Senna’s “Miniature Engineering”

Ayrton Senna's Hotshot - First time driving the model, 1986

AyrtonSenna_BrandsHatch_1986_001_editOne of the most popular articles on R/C Toy Memories to date has been “Racing Drivers & R/C Cars“, probably in large part thanks to the images of Ayrton Senna and his Tamiya Hotshot.

But there’s more where those came from.

Here are some never-before-published photographs of Ayrton, enjoying his R/C models way back in 1986.


Watching the opening race of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Australia a few weeks ago reminded me once again just how much has changed in the sport. But since it’s my home grand prix, I usually feel obligated to tune in.

But boy, what a snooze it was.

So while I’m on the subject of vintage Formula 1, and this article is about Ayrton Senna’s interest in Tamiya models back in the 1980s, forgive me while I start by drawing a contrast between Formula 1 in the 1980s, and the dire state of the sport in 2015…

You see, in 2015 several teams are struggling to afford to compete in Formula 1. Nothing new there of course, as the sport has always been expensive and there have always been some cash-strapped back-markers. But at the season opener in Australia, only 18 cars even attempted to qualify. And of those, just 15 made it to the actual race – by far the smallest grid in the 30 year history of the Australian Grand Prix.

For contrast, there were 25 cars on the starting grid back in 1985.

Less cars means less action and, once underway, the top two cars cruised to the 1-2 victory that everyone had predicted. Back in the pack, there were just 7 on-track overtaking manoeuvres during the entire afternoon.

2015 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix Grid

Just 15 cars contested the 2015 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix

The problems with Formula 1 these days are many and varied, and far too much to cover here. I could rant about the high costs, the silly changes to the point scoring system, and how the continued dropping of many of the classic and iconic race tracks from the Formula 1 calendar have caused many to despair that F1 doesn’t care about it’s own history and tradition, leading them to look elsewhere for more authentic motorsport (such as the still-great Le Mans 24 hour race).

But you reap what you sow. The sport’s management are to blame, and the viewership appears to be in decline already anyway.

A lot of that decline is probably because, in 2015, not only does F1 feel more like a race between artificial rules and software than it does between horsepower, tyre-rubber and driver skill (to quote former F1 team boss Flavio Briatore, “Drivers are doing their accounting in the car rather than being gladiators”), there are so many other distractions in life and many people are now busy doing other things. Such as watching Youtube.

And while there are undoubtedly more people watching funny cat videos right now on Youtube than there are watching vintage F1 footage, it’s worth considering just how great it is that we can at least access so much historic footage so easily.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, if you wanted to get your “fix” of Formula 1, all you had were the live TV broadcasts themselves, and a few VHS highlights tapes. Today, there are dozens of old F1 race videos and documentaries free to watch online, whenever you please. With a Chromecast, they can be playing on your living room TV in a matter of seconds. Do you remember who won the 1985 European Grand Prix? If not, you can spend an afternoon pretending it’s 1985, complete with classic commentary by Murray Walker and James Hunt.

Why sit through another 2 hours of today’s compulsory pit stops, “DRS”, and boring and contrived racetracks, when you could be enjoying the blown turbos, manual gearshifts and scenic track venues of the F1 we grew up with. How I still miss the sweeping hillsides of the original Osterreichring.

1985 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix Grid

25 cars contested the 1985 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix

Likewise, writing this blog has afforded me the chance to relive (some would say “live in”!) the past, with each article.

And occasionally, my endless drivel has even led to something useful… such as when former R/C magazine journalist and industry figure Colin Spinner contacted me a few months ago to begin sharing his collection of never-before-seen candid photographs of racing drivers from the 1980s.

So put on some classic 1986 F1 footage, and enjoy these complimentary snapshots of Ayrton Senna messing about with R/C models from the same year.

A quick note about the title of this article… Colin says he once used the term “miniature engineering” when explaining the details of Tamiya R/C models to Ayrton, and this term later became Ayrton’s preferred way of describing Tamiya R/C cars, so impressed was he at their construction and level of detail.


Ayrton at the 1986 British Grand Prix, with a Tamiya Road Wizard F-1

These photos were taken at Brands Hatch – the venue of the 1986 British Grand Prix (and incidentally, the last F1 race ever held at Brands Hatch). Ayrton qualified third for the race, but ended up retiring on lap 27 with a gearbox issue. Nevermind though, because he got to take home a nice Tamiya model for his collection.

Here Ayrton can be seen with Colin, examining the Tamiya Road Wizard F-1 model which was finished in the livery of his team that year (Lotus, with their John Player Special black and gold sponsorship)…

Ayrton Senna at British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, 1986

The next two images also feature Gérard Ducarouge (in sunglasses) – the late designer of cars for Matra, Ligier, Alfa Romeo, Lotus and Larrousse. Gérard was a designer on several cars for Lotus, including the Lotus 98T that Ayrton drove in 1986, and which won 2 Grands Prix. Sadly, Gérard actually passed away just a few weeks ago, aged 73.

Ayrton Senna at British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, 1986

Ayrton Senna at British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, 1986


Ayrton’s first drive with his new Tamiya Hotshot, 1986

With the boom in off-road R/C models in the mid 1980s, Ayrton had to have one as well. These photos show the Tamiya Hotshot he was given, which again was finished in the JPS Lotus colours of his real F1 car that year.

I had previously shared one photo of this car, but this time we can see it in full colour.

Colin always made a considerable effort to replicate the real colours and logos worn by drivers when delivering these souvenir cars, and in this case you can see that the Hotshot driver figure has Ayrton’s racing jumpsuit and helmet.

Firstly, here’s the Hotshot itself. According to Colin, “some of the decals were hard to achieve”

Ayrton Senna's Hotshot, 1986

Ayrton Senna's Hotshot, 1986

Ayrton Senna's Hotshot, 1986

And here’s Ayrton running it for the first time in England, in the car park near the office where Colin worked at the time…

Ayrton Senna's Hotshot - First time driving the model, 1986

In the next image, Ayrton was busy explaining to Colin that it “wasn’t handling right…”

Ayrton Senna's Hotshot - First time driving the model, 1986

Ayrton later broke the car and phoned Colin for help in having it repaired.

As Colin recalls:

Ayrton drove to my office on a Tuesday and we took the pics in the staff car park. He then went back to his house in Egham (living with Mauricio and Stella Gugelmin). He phoned me on Thursday with the following conversation which I still remember vividly to this day: “Colin… (long pause)…Don’t want to be a big sh*t but the car is broken. Can you fix it if I come over as I am flying back home to Brazil tomorrow?”. Needless to say he jumped in the car, did the journey in around 35 mins (normal humans would have taken an hour), brought it over and I repaired it. He had broken a rear upright so I made him up a small spares package to take with the car back to Brazil. Fond memories of a driving error by the great and late Ayrton.


Ayrton’s Asahi R/C boat, 1986

Ayrton’s interest in R/C models was not restricted to cars of course, and many people are aware that he became an avid flyer after quickly learning how to operate R/C aeroplanes and helicopters.

But few will be aware that he was also interested in R/C boats. And after he received his Tamiya Hotshot, Ayrton asked Colin if he could have a boat as well – in JPS livery of course. The model Colin chose was one manufactured by Asahi Corporation.

After the earlier meeting with the Hotshot, Colin replicated the casual clothes that Ayrton actually wore on their previous meeting in the car park (above), for the boat’s driver figure…

Ayrton Senna's JPS livery Asahi R/C Boat, 1986

Here’s Ayrton holding his new acquisition…

Ayrton Senna holding his JPS Livery Asahi R/C Boat, 1986

After Ayrton received his Tamiya Hotshot, it also wasn’t long before “Mauricio Gugelmin wanted one too”.

This next image shows good friend Gugelmin (then an F3 driver) with Ayrton, as they do a little late-evening R/C boating…

Ayrton Senna and Mauricio Gugelmin controlling Ayrton's JPS livery Asahi R/C Boat, 1986

I’ll be sharing some more photos of Mauricio Gugelmin next time.

Until then, I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these previously unpublished images. And once again a very big thank you to Colin Spinner for sharing these artifacts from his personal archives.

(A brief disclaimer – please do not reproduce these images without permission, or remove the watermarks. But feel free to link to this page of course.)

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8 responses to “Ayrton Senna’s “Miniature Engineering””

  1. Manny Laguatan says :

    Back when I was a kid in the 80’s I had to wait for a week for my f1 news (Autoweek) and occasionally got to watch races on ABC & ESPN…..now we get as much “news” and F1 coverage as we can stand!

    F1 needs a systematic makeover. Keep all the safety technology but bring back the aspects that made the cars stuff of fantasy and inspiration in the first place: Big, wide tires, flat bottoms and brutal, normally aspirated engines that don’t need a bank of computers just to get them going.

    • rctoymemories says :

      Couldn’t agree with you more Manny.

      I recently watched an F1 race from 1986. Murray Walker and James Hunt spoke so generally about the sport beforehand – about the possible outcomes. Come race time, you felt as if it was still almost anyone’s game. There were no “pit stop strategies” to pick apart pre-race because, well, there were no pit stop strategies. Cars made pit stops if, and when, they needed to. Very little pre-race spoilage, technical blather about wing angles and so forth. The two hosts were like armchair gentleman, observing a field of gladiators. When the race arrived, the action unfolded with genuine surprise. A more innocent era I suppose.

  2. Matthew Philipse says :

    Hi, this is a fantastic story, I am writing this to all I have a community on google+ dedicated to Hotshot owners and lovers of the Hotshot and cars from the Hotshot family and other cars that tamiya made but mostly hotshot it is open to all people to join but preferably hotshot owners, please come and join us and share experiences and everything you love and know about the Hotshot and the company that created it. I constantly looking for stories for the community and I was hoping someone might know of the whereabouts of Ayrton’s Hotshot these days it would make for a great story for the community and it would put many members minds at ease knowing what has come of it. The Hotshot a legend of the Tamiya company but one that was owned by the greatest legend of F1 in my eyes is priceless and the people of my community would love to know if it is safe or not. Even if you could point me in the right direction to start my search would be greatly appreciated.please reply to my email.
    Kind Regards Matt

  3. DriftingRCs says :

    As stated above the issue is not only F1 but the automotive companies but to the economy which suffers. Automakers try to make affordable cars but all of them have no soul, unlike the 80s and 90s. Back then cars the sports cars were actually sports cars, not a hatch with simply a fast engine and sporty trims. You could see 180sx etc that has been an affordable car and could still with a bit of taste look close to a super car. Nowadays are simply cars rely on electronics sensors just like f1. Unfortunately, F1 is the stage of car development and since strict regulation about emissions is getting more restrictive the F1 will still be what it is today. NA engines simply can’t deliver enough power with low enough emissions of a small engine hence all the companies turned into turbo for higher performance models and sadly the f1 follows. And maybe is not just the turbos but the hybrid systems which make it seem like a video game when you find the cheat codes like DRS, KERS. Push the button and the lead car is helpless if you enter DRS zone. And since I ‘ve been talking much about not so relative subject with the current article, I want to add that thankfully modern RC have improved and introduced a lot of advances and outstanding quality if you go with a quality brand, especially electronics which are now better than ever with electronics with endless functions and options,high capacity batteries and efficient motors, radios, and lightning fast servos which most of the time is faster than our own reflects.

    I ‘ve been too long with this comment and for closing, I ‘d like thank rctoymemories for this great photos of Senna, a man who name will always live in the history of F1.

    • R/C Toy Memories says :

      Thanks for the comment DriftingRCs. You made a lot of good points about F1 – I particularly agree about how things like DRS and KERS have turned motorsport into a video game with cheat code. Well said my friend.

  4. Billy the Kitten (@d4wnbreaker) says :

    Hi, Brazilian here. I do remember of many those things back in the day about the F1. As you could have guessed though, what brought me here was Senna. I was one of those avid kids watching F1 back in end/beginning of the 90s. The excerpt of him breaking his toy car and showing up in record time to fix it make me laugh pretty good. Sounds like Senna. Thanks for that.

    And good holidays. 🙂

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