Alain Prost - Driving Career - Formula One - Rivalry With Ayrton Senna

Rivalry With Ayrton Senna

Prost's battles with Ayrton Senna were particularly notable. The rivalry originated in 1988, when Senna joined Prost at the McLaren team. The most notable event during the season between the two occurred during the Portuguese Grand Prix, where Senna tried to block Prost from taking the lead by forcing the Frenchman to run close to the pitwall; Prost managed to edge Senna outwards, taking the lead as they went into the first corner but he remained angered by the Brazilian's dangerous manoeuvre.

The rivalry intensified after the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix, where the two drivers had an agreement that neither would get in each other's way to the first corner (cf. 1982 San Marino Grand Prix). At the start, Senna got away in the lead and Prost followed him through the first corner without getting in Senna's way. Gerhard Berger's crash on lap four stopped the race. At the restart, it was Prost this time that got away the better of the two; but Senna forced his way past Prost in the first corner, breaking the pair's agreement at the start of the race, leaving the Frenchman furious with Senna. Senna argued it was the restart. Prost himself was angered by McLaren apparently favouring Senna because of Senna's better relationship with Honda, so he announced his signing with Ferrari during midseason.

The rivalry then reached its peak at the end of 1989, when the title was to be decided between Senna and Prost at Suzuka. The two McLarens collided at the Casio Triangle chicane when Prost blocked an attempted pass by Senna. Prost walked away while Senna returned to the track by illegally cutting the chicane. Though he went on to win the race, the manœuvre resulted in his disqualification. After an unsuccessful appeal by McLaren, the Brazilian received a further US$100,000 fine and a six month suspension, leading Senna to accuse FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre of favoring the Frenchman. Senna's disqualification meant that it was mathematically impossible for him to overhaul Prost's points total, and so the 1989 Championship went to the Frenchman. There has been much debate as to whether Prost intentionally ran into Senna, whether Senna was overambitious in his overtaking manoeuver, or whether the collision was simply a racing incident between two team-mates who were embittered with each other.

1990 saw the two drivers collide again. Senna led Prost, now in a Ferrari, in the world drivers' championship. Prost had qualified second for the penultimate race of the season in Suzuka, Japan, and Senna was on pole. Yet this pole position was moved to the other side of the racing line without an explanation. Senna had therefore complained that his side of the grid was dirty, meaning he would get less grip and therefore a slower start compared to Prost who had been moved to the clean side of the grid. The Brazilian's appeal was rejected. At the start of the race, Prost got the better start of the two; but whilst braking for the first corner, Senna refused to back off and collided with Prost at 160 mph (260 km/h), clinching the title for the Brazilian. Prost almost retired from the sport, saying "What he did was disgusting. He is a man without value." A year later, Senna admitted that the move was premeditated, in retaliation for Prost taking the two out of the race at the chicane on the same course the previous year when in a similar position.

There was one controversial incident in 1991, Prost's inferior Ferrari was unable to put up a challenge regularly to Senna's frontrunning McLaren. At the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, Prost battled Senna for 4th place, however he felt Senna defended too aggressively and at the first chicane forced Prost to take avoiding action by using the escape road. Prost stalled his car rejoining the race. Coincidentally, Senna ran out of fuel on the last lap at the very same point.

The Frenchman took a sabbatical in 1992 after being fired from Ferrari for publicly criticizing the car and the team, while the Brazilian struggled as McLaren was no longer competitive with Williams. Prost announced his signing with Williams for the upcoming 1993 season. Senna had wanted to join Williams too, as they were the most competitive, but Prost had a clause in his contract forbidding the Brazilian as a teammate and an infuriated Senna called the Frenchman a coward during a press conference at Estoril.

During the 1993 season, Prost and Senna continued their on-track rivalry. Prost was escorted by police to the Interlagos circuit for the 1993 Brazilian Grand Prix due to the hostility of Brazilians towards him. The two continued their on-track battles at Silverstone where Senna aggressively defended his position against Prost. At Prost's last Grand Prix, the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, he was pulled up by Senna onto the top step of the podium for an embrace.

On 1 May 1994, Ayrton Senna was killed during the San Marino Grand Prix. Prost was a pallbearer at the Brazilian's funeral. Speaking four years after the Brazilian's death, Prost told Nigel Roebuck that he had "always refused to speak about him." When Senna died, Prost stated that "a part of himself had died also", because their careers had been so bound together. Senna had also felt the same when Prost had retired at the end of 1993, when he admitted to a close friend that he had realised how much of his motivation had come from fighting with Prost. Only a couple of days before his death, when filming an in-car lap of Imola for French television channel TF1, he greeted Prost, by then a pundit on the channel: "A special hello to my,... to our dear friend Alain. We all miss you Alain." Prost said that he was amazed and very touched by the comment.

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