For many Ayrton Senna is the best driver in the history of Formula 1. The charismatic Brazilian runner won three world championships before tragically losing his life in Imola and becoming a legend. Many think that, with the same car, no one would have been able to beat Senna, but they are wrong. There was one who already did: Terry Fullerton.
No, Fullerton never won a World Cup, not even a race.. What’s more, this mustachioed Brit never even entered a Formula 1 race. But he suddenly rose to fame when Senna himself chose him as the best driver he had ever faced. And the data gives rise to believe that it could be true.
Senna chose Fullerton as his best rival
It was at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix. Alain Prost was retiring from Formula 1 at that race and Senna was to be his replacement at Williams. It was the ideal scenario to see a reconciliation between the two great pilots and enemies of an era, so in the previous press conference the question came up: “Ayrton, Who has been the best driver you have faced?“.
Senna, more bullfighter than ever, went off on a tangent leaving all the staff impressed: “Terry Fullerton”. And to the surprise and general confusion in the room, Senna began to rave about this stranger. “I’m going back to 1978, 1979 and 1980. He was my partner in karting, and he was very good.”
“He had a lot of experience and I liked racing alongside him because he was a fast and consistent driver. He was for me a very complete pilot. I learned a lot from him. Those were times of pure pilots, pure racing. No politics, no money in between. Just racing. I have a very good memory,” explained Senna.
What had been a pass from the dead for Senna to praise Prost had turned into the discovery of a forgotten talent. Later Senna won that race and had a sincere hug with Prost on the podium, but Fullerton’s name was already in the air. And now we will know who she was.
Fullerton is one of the best drivers in the history of karting
Seven years older than Senna, Fullerton is a true legend of karting, the discipline in which he won absolutely everything. He was world champion in 1973 and racked up five Europeans between 1971 and 1980. In addition, he was also North American champion in 1980 and has five British nationals and won the Champions Cup four times.
When Senna arrived in Europe, still using his father’s surname, da Silva, he joined the Italian team DAP. With a small difference: while Fullerton was the star and charged to run, Senna was just a paid pilot. However, from the first day the British realized that there was wood there.
“This kid is a little special”Fullerton said of Senna after the team’s first tests, which were held in Palma de Mallorca. At that time, Senna was only 18 years old, while Fullerton was already 25. During the first two years Fullerton crushed Senna mercilessly, although personally they had a good relationship.
Years later, Fullerton, who is still alive and in good health, explains that “Senna had a little trouble realizing where she belonged. About driving the kart“However, from the second half of 1979 and throughout 1980 they began to even out. So much so that Senna began to dream of beating Fullerton, but never succeeded.
Senna came close to winning the karting world championship on several occasions, the most in 1979 in Estoril, but he never succeeded. In fact, there are only two drivers who have won the karting world championship and the Formula 1 world championship: Fernando Alonso y Max Verstappen. Of course, Senna would have been the first without a strange change of rules that there was only in that 1979.
Senna was not the only illustrious rival of Fullerton, the British also against Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell or Nelson Piquet, but he was clear: “Prost was fast in karting, but never someone I was worried about might beat me. Same with Mansell. But with Senna I did have to concentrate more.”
Fullerton did not dare to go to F1 due to the death of his brother and has been a driver teacher
However, Fullerton never raced in Formula 1. His stint in single-seaters was limited to a brief venture in Formula Ford. Some theories have been that Fullerton’s lack of financial resourceswho came from a poor family, was the one who deprived him of jumping into Formula 1. But, with his talent, for him the first one would have been free.
Actually there was a deeper problem. Safety. Fullerton himself acknowledges that “at that stage there were three or four Formula 1 drivers who died every year. I didn’t like that at all.” A family drama lurked behind such a devastating thought that kept Fullerton from racing in Formula 1.
Terry Fullerton’s older brother, named Alec Fullerton, was a motorcycle racer. Thanks to a financial effort from the family, he was competing in categories of a certain level, until in a Mallory Park race he suffered a serious accident and died. “My parents would not have endured losing another child”assures Fullerton.
“Yo he was only 11 years old and was on the track when he died. I saw him in the ambulance; it was all quite traumatic. I also wanted to race motorcycles, but my father switched me to go-karts. I felt a lot safer there,” Fullerton explains. “What happened to my brother was a catalyst for that thought process not to go into Formula 1.”
When Fullerton ran out of competition, he created his own karting team. It was in 1984, precisely the year in which Senna made his debut in Formula 1. Some of the greatest British talents in motorsport have passed through his hands in recent years. Allan McNish, Anthony Davidson, Paul di Resta, Justin Wilson, Dan Wheldon …
The top four raced in Formula 1, while Wheldon won the Indianapolis 500 twice before he died. In addition, McNish won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times and Davidson is the world endurance champion. At 69, Fullerton is now resting at his home in Leicester. The legacy of the pilot Senna could not beat.