A lot of people will have never heard of Formula Ford legend Rick Morris but to one driver he was a constant pain in their side.
Back in 1981, Morris was racing for the works Royale team in the British FFord and found himself competing against a young driver who had moved to Britain from Brazil to race for the works Van Diemen squad. That driver was Ayrton Senna.
The 21-year-old Senna had made the move to Europe in pursuit of reaching Formula 1, but in order to get there he had to race – and beat – Morris.
Morris was a well established FF1600 racer by 1981 but unlike Senna, he did not race full-time. At the end of each weekend he had to return back to his nine-to-five day job, earning a living so he could enjoy going racing on a Sunday.
Despite being a ‘part-timer’, Morris was still able to beat Senna on six occasions and he got his first real taste of their dramatic rivalry that year at Thruxton.
“I think in ’81, which was the second or third race on the RAC [promoter of the national FF1600 championship] calendar, it was a big race, and Senna in the first two races hadn’t been very good because he was new to it” Morris recounts to FF1600website.
“I had won one of them and was second or third in the next and I beat him here [Thruxton].”
At the time, Morris was the sole works Royale driver but Senna was part of the large works Van Diemen team who were also fielding Mexican driver Alfonso Toledano and the Argentinian Enrique Mansilla.
All four drivers spent the season battling for the title but it was Senna who pushed the boundaries.
“He was an absolute arsehole when you were racing against him, a complete arsehole because he was so self-believing,” Morris states.
One example Morris has of Senna’s brutality was a race at Silverstone. Morris won, but not before Senna had tried to force him off the track.
“You may have seen the photograph of me overtaking him on the last corner at Silverstone flying the thing, flying over the chicane.
“It’s a good story, the reason for that is that he had me on the bloody grass on the last lap and the Royale has always been very good through the fast corners and so I had a beating of him.”
Morris credits his win at Silverstone for his talent at being able to go quicker than Senna in the fast corners.
“He was good through the slower corners because when he came over here [he had done] 10 or 12 years of karting”.
“I didn’t do any karting and I was like 30 at the time or something and he was 19 or 20 and since the age of four he had been in karts and was from a wealthy family. So he was very good on the slow corners.”
“You know how the karters go in…”.
At this point, Morris makes a revving kart engine sound effect to illustrate his story.
“Sideways and everything, so somewhere like Snetterton hairpin or Druids, he was very good, but on somewhere like the old Grand Prix circuit at Silverstone, because of my style, I could beat him and luckily I did.”
Senna eventually beat Morris to the 1981 British FFord title, with 210 points to Morris’s 156.
In 1982 Senna graduated to FF2000, where he won the British and European titles, and it was at that point that Morris began to see a different side to his rival.
“The following year I was still in the works Royale and Mauricio Gugelmin was a Van Diemen driver, Julian Bailey was a works Lola driver and we all got on very well including Senna.”
Both Brazilian Gugelmin and Englishman Bailey made it to F1, with the former also establishing a career in CART.
“He [Senna] was living with Gugelmin in a house in Virginia Water so we saw a lot of each other and he was a different person.
“I remember the first time he won a race for a 2.3 Mercedes 16 valve car somewhere.”
During his rookie F1 season, Senna was gifted a Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 ‘Cosworth’, along with a host of other racing stars, to christen the Nurburgring’s current layout. He ended up winning, beating Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann.
“They gave him one and he came up to me at Brands and said ‘Rick, you’ve got to see this’ because he had an old Alfa Sud before that.
“I’ve got a picture somewhere in my loft – I must find it some time – of my son Stevie, who was born in 1981, sitting on Senna’s shoulders in ’82 in the paddock at Brands.”
Nearly four decades after battling with Senna in FF1600, Morris still has the competition bug and is currently competing in Classic FFord.
At the Thruxton meeting last month Morris got his first pole at the track since beating Senna.
“Last time I was here was 34/35 years ago and the last time I was pole here I beat Senna in ’81, and the memory comes flooding back of the circuit quite quickly. It hasn’t changed much.”
Morris is currently challenging for the title with British Touring Car Champion Tim Harvey, although he is set to absent from the next round at Snetterton.
At Thruxton, Morris won the second race of the meeting after a race-long battle with Harvey – a dice which more than fed Morris’s racing bug.
“We were side-by-side at 130mph round the back there, literally side-by-side around some of the corners.
“[Tim Harvey] is such a good driver, such a sensible driver that I was happy to do that with him and I hope he was happy to do that with me. He was driving cleanly and I was never in any fear of him hitting me up the arse at all and I don’t think there was any fear of me hitting him up the arse.
“The competition is very healthy for the formula and Tim is a good advert for the Formula- Bastard!”
The respect is clear to see between Morris and Harvey but it is also a rivalry that Morris takes seriously and in many ways is reminiscent of his dices with Senna back in 1981.
Despite it being nearly four decades ago, you can be sure Morris is using the experiences of those battles to get the better of his rivals now.
Photos courtesy of Rich Craner and Heroes of FF1600