Remembering Ted Toleman: The F1 Boss That Kick-Started Ayrton Senna’s Career

Remembering Ted Toleman: The F1 Boss That Kick-Started Ayrton Senna's Career
Credits: IMAGO / Motorsport Images |

L: Ted Toleman R: Ayrton Senna with his 1984 Toleman car

Ayrton Senna may have ruled the F1 world at McLaren, but it was the Toleman team that gave him his big break at the pinnacle of motorsport. Unfortunately, 40 years after the Brazilian made his F1 debut, his first team boss – Ted Toleman passed away at the age of 86. Toleman was suffering from a long-term illness called cardiorenal syndrome and died in Manila, Philippines, as per his family’s statement. Ted Toleman founded the Toleman F1 team that gave Senna his F1 debut in 1984.


While the three-time champion only drove for that one season at Toleman, it was a memorable one with three podiums and an almost maiden race win in Monaco under torrential rain! Had it not been for a controversial red flag that gave Senna‘s future arch-rival Alain Prost the race win, Toleman would have won its only Grand Prix.

Ted Toleman put his plans in place for an F1 team in 1980 for the 1981 season. However, their first two years were full of struggles, as they only qualified for two races [Italy and Las Vegas]. It was in 1983 when some points finishes came for Toleman and Co. with Derek Warwick scoring for them.


However, it was not until Senna’s arrival that the Toleman team tasted some sort of success. The Brazilian’s mind-blowing P2 finish at the 1984 Monaco GP behind Prost was their best race result of all time.

Unfortunately, the team had to scramble and sell off its operation after the 1985 season due to multiple financial issues. Apparently, it gave rise to Benetton and later Renault, and it seems unreal to think that the same team has become Alpine today! On the other hand, they also could not retain Senna naturally, in what was another classic contractual chaos of F1.

How Ted Toleman could not retain Ayrton Senna?

Ayrton Senna was making immense noise in the F1 paddock due to his talent and stupendous junior category results. Everyone wanted to sign the Brazilian prodigy, including giant teams like McLaren and Williams. Lotus could not secure Senna’s signature for ’84 due to their sponsors wanting a British driver.

However, after seeing what Senna did in that ’84 season, getting three podiums for a struggling team like Toleman, Lotus were very keen to poach him. It was during the Dutch GP that year when reports came out that Senna had signed a contract with Lotus despite having two more years to run at Toleman.

While he had a buyout clause in his Toleman contract, the Brazilian did not inform Lotus’ bosses, thereby causing a communication gap. Thus, even Toleman was in a fix about how the contractual situation was panning out with Senna wanting to leave.


Eventually, Senna ended up racing for Lotus in 1985 in a much more competitive car. Meanwhile, Toleman had bigger issues to deal with as they had to sign a sponsorship deal with Benetton, who eventually bought them out before ’86.

Nonetheless, Senna would have always been grateful for getting his big break at Toleman, with his Monaco GP drive in ’84 being one of the top highlights of his career. One would still wonder how amazing it would have been had the Brazilian won in the principality in his debut season for Toleman!

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