The great duels: Senna vs Prost
The two were as different as the Sun and the Moon, but they had a common passion – victory. Their great rivalry on the track brought great fame to Formula 1 all over the world.
It all started in June 1984, when the Monaco Grand Prix was held. Ayrton Senna, who was then in his debut season, threw down the gauntlet to the Frenchman Alain Prost, already established as a pilot.
The dry qualifying was won by Prost, and Senna with his Tolemann (one of the slowest cars in those years) was only 13th. However, no one expected what was about to happen on Sunday.
Under the pouring rain in Monaco, the 24-year-old Brazilian impressed the whole world with his incredible riding.
Senna overtook the cars in front of him one after the other to reach the second position. On lap 32, after a signal from Prost, who was the driver of the column, the race was stopped because of the increasing rain.
This led to serious displeasure with Senna, who even managed to pass Prost before the red flag flew, but according to the rules, the results of the previous lap completed, in which Prost was first and Senna second, were respected.
This is how it all began…
In Portugal in 1985, again in the rain, Senna won his first victory, and Prost, who took his first title at the end of the year, failed to oppose him. Prost took another title in 1986, 1987 was for Nelson Piquet and in 1988 Ron Dennis teamed up with Senna and Prost in the dominant McLaren Honda car.
In their first season as teammates at McLaren Honda, Senna and Prost swept the competition, winning 15 of all 16 starts.
Only at Monza, when Prost suffered engine failure and Senna hit a car behind, did Ferrari win.
The battle between the two teammates started from the first race, in which Senna won the pole position, but was disqualified on Sunday because he had to illegally use the reserve car.
The two have alternated wins, pulling away from everyone else and with two rounds to go in the season, Senna needed success in Japan to become world champion for the first time in his career.
The race was special because Honda were looking to seal their title in front of their home crowd with a double win.
Senna was on the pole, but a clutch problem prevented him from getting off to a good start and he fell behind at the bottom of the column, while Prost shoot forward. Gradually, however, the Brazilian overtook his rivals one by one, and when it rained on the track, Senna caught up and overtook his great rival Prost with a brilliant maneuver on the start-finish straight.
Ayrton took his eighth win of the season together with the first chapter of the great rivalry.
Alain Prost had a hard time surviving his loss in 1988, so he was infinitely motivated for a revenge in the new season.
The McLaren Honda team was once again with the fastest car, but this year was not as dominant as the last year. Senna and Prost won 10 of 16 races and the title was again decided in Japan at the Suzuka circuit.
With two races to go, Senna had six wins to Prost’s four. The Frenchman had the points advantage due to the Brazilian’s many unfinished races.
A win for Prost in Japan makes him a champion, the exact opposite of what happened a year ago here.
Senna lost the start again despite being in pole position, but gradually caught up and with 7 laps to go he was in a position to attack Prost and the first place.
At the last chicane before the start-finish straight, Ayrton made his attack, but Alain closed the door and the two collided, leaving the track with their engines out. This is one of the most scandalous moments in the history of Formula 1.
Prost left his car furious, but with one thing in mind – if Senna doesn’t finish, Prost wins the title ahead of schedule. However, Senna was helped by the track marshals, who pushed him onto the track, starting his engine. The Brazilian won the race but is subsequently disqualified.
According to FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre, Senna missed the chicane, making his lap incomplete, and that’s what led to the penalty. This was strange because other pilots commit the same offense but without penalty.
After this technical decision, Prost became the champion by leveling the result in the head-to-head duel with his biggest rival.
However, Ayrton was furious and accused Balestre, who is French like his rival, of a conspiracy against him and the FIA working for Prost.
The scandal between Senna and Prost became gigantic as the two stopped all communication between them, and at the end of the season, Alain left the team, going to Ferrari.
After two seasons as teammates, one world title each, and numerous scandals, Alain Prost decided to try his luck at the fast-growing Italian Ferrari team, which has not won a title for more than 10 years.
Although many doubted Prost’s chances with Ferrari and accused him of leaving McLaren for fear of losing the head-to-head duel with Senna, the Frenchman disproved them all, and with two rounds to go, again in Japan, the two pilots decided the title for the third consecutive year at Suzuka.
Senna was back on the pole, but he remained very unhappy because the first position was on the dirt side of the track, which actually gave an advantage for the first corner to the second-position starter, namely Prost.
Before the start, Ayrton went to the president of the FIA, Jean-Marie Balestre, with a request to change the positions and that the advantage would be logical for the starter from the first position. Balestre refused.
This further angered Senna, who made the decision to deliberately crash into Prost at the first corner if he lost his position.
That’s exactly what happened – seconds after the start, Prost took the first position, but entering the corner, Senna hit the rear of the Ferrari, causing both cars to crash out and a new world title for Senna.
Despite the protests of Ferrari and Prost, there was no penalty for Senna this time and the Brazilian won his second set title.
The Formula 1 world was looking forward to the 1991 season, Prost’s answer, and Chapter 4 of the famous battle between the two pilots.
Unfortunately for the fans, however, Ferrari was far from McLaren this year. Prost did not win a single race and was dogged by technical problems throughout the season. These things infuriated the Frenchman to the point of comparing a Ferrari car to a truck.
Senna won his easiest and final third title with a huge lead over second-placed Nigel Mansell in the Williams.
Despite receiving a surprising offer from McLaren boss Ron Dennis to return to the team and become teammates with Senna again, Prost refused and decided to take a year off from the sport.
McLaren Honda was no longer at the level of previous years and Ayrton was only fourth in the drivers behind Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese in the new dominant car – that of Williams Renault.
Prost returned to the sport for one final season and one final title, this time with the Williams team.
Senna and McLaren looked competitive again. The Brazilian had taken the podium in five of the first six races, moving him almost the same points with his legendary rival.
The dominant Williams car, driven by Alain Prost, left Senna no chance in the second half of the season and the Frenchman won his 4th and final world title. After the end of the season, Prost announced that he was retiring from the sport for good, ending one of the greatest rivalries in Formula 1 history.
In 1994, in place of Prost, Frank Williams hired Senna, with whom to continue the dominance of the team. Senna only competed in three races for Williams…
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