Gerhard Berger was a prankster his whole career. Some of his most famous pranks came with Ayrton Senna.
Accounts tell of an incident at Monza where in a joint helicopter ride Ayrton had been showing off his new tailor-made briefcase. Having been made of carbon fibre composite, Senna boasted it was virtually indestructible – this claim his team mate Gerhard tested (to Ayrton’s disbelief) by opening the door of the helicopter and throwing the briefcase out as they were flying above Monza.
Gerhard asserted innocently that he only sought to test the hypothesis.
“It fell somewhere near the course but we found it again,” Berger recalled with a cheeky grin.
Gerhard later recounted further events before the 1990 Australian Grand Prix. “After dinner, we started to throw people in the swimming pool, all dressed. As I was good at defending myself, I escaped from the bath, but many people got wet. Senna ran away to avoid us from getting him, however, later, I went to his room and he awkwardly threw a glass of water at me. For a Tyrolean, that was nothing, but it did mean that the game was now on. With a hose, we improvised an extension to the fire extinguisher and we put it under his room door at three in the morning. We invited some people to watch and when we pushed the lever, Senna flew out of the window like a rocket. It looked like a bomb had exploded inside the room. The confusion woke many people up, who started to scream at Senna for making so much noise. He was terribly embarrassed.”
Berger is also accused of filling Senna’s hotel room in Adelaide with animals, when the Brazilian confronted his team-mate and angrily announced he’d spent the whole night removing frogs from his room, Berger asked “Did you find the snake?”
“Actually they weren’t frogs, they were bigger, more like toads. In Australia they have this kind of stuff. I thought he liked animals but clearly not,” Berger explained.
It was an incident that prompted retaliation by Ayrton, who then proceeded to put a strong smelling French cheese in the air conditioning unit of Gerhard’s room.
On another occasion, Ayrton Senna and Brazilian compatriot Mauricio Gugelmin decided to fill Berger’s shoes with shaving foam on a fast train ride to a dinner in Japan. Having been forced to attend the dinner wearing a tuxedo with sneakers, Berger vowed for retribution. It was at the Japanese Grand Prix a few days later that Gugelmin (driving for Leyton-House) was approached by Joseph Leberer, the McLaren team nutritionist, offering fresh orange juice. Ever vigilant, Mauricio declined the suspicious offer. He would later expand:
“One hour before the race starts he crushed four sleeping pills into that juice and sent it to me. I would pass out at the start of the race in which the world title would be decided. The cars roaring by at the track and I snoring in the cabin, can you imagine it?”
Best known is probably an incident in which Gerhard replaced Ayrton’s passport photo with what Ron Dennis described as “an equivalent-sized piece of male genitalia”. Senna’s fame meant he rarely had his passport checked, but on a later trip to Argentina Berger’s prank resulted in officials holding the Brazilian for 24 hours. As a response to this gag, Ayrton superglued all of Berger’s credit cards together.