Senna began his motorsport career in karting and moved up the ranks to win the British Formula 3 championship in 1983. Making his Formula One debut with Toleman in 1984, he moved to Lotus-Renault the following year, and won six Grands Prix over the next three seasons. In 1988 he joined Frenchman Alain Prost at McLaren-Honda. Between them, Senna and Prost won fifteen out of the sixteen Grands Prix which took place that season, with Senna winning his first World Championship, a title he would go on to win again in 1990 and 1991. McLaren's performance declined in 1992, as the Williams-Renault combination began to dominate the sport, although Senna won five races to finish as runner-up in 1993. He moved to Williams in 1994, but suffered a fatal accident at the third race of the season at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy.
Senna is regarded as one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula One. In 2009, a poll of 217 current and former Formula One drivers chose Senna as their greatest Formula One driver, in a survey conducted by British magazine Autosport. He was recognised for his qualifying speed over one lap and from 1989 until 2006 held the record for most pole positions. He was among the most talented drivers in extremely rain-affected conditions, as shown by his performances in the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix, and the 1993 European Grand Prix. He also holds the record for most victories at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix and is the third most successful driver of all time in terms of race wins. However, Senna courted controversy throughout his career, particularly during his turbulent rivalry with Alain Prost, which was marked by two championship-deciding collisions at the 1989 and 1990 Japanese Grand Prix.