Prost remembers Senna: The bitter feud that healed

Four-time world champion Alain Prost tells of the day that everything changed in his relationship with his arch-rival Ayrton Senna, six months ahead of the legendary Brazilian's death at Imola.

Prost remembers Senna: The bitter feud that healed

“I’m not going to celebrate like some people,” says Alain Prost of the anniversary of Ayrton Senna's death at Imola on May 1 1994. “I can answer these questions about him, no problem – he was an exceptional guy – but I just don't see it the same way as the other guys do.”

To understand why, you have to appreciate the background of their shared history: Prost and Senna fought out what was arguably Formula 1's greatest rivalry. After they became team-mates at McLaren in 1988, the first spark flew when Senna aggressively shoved Prost towards the pitwall at Estoril, later prompting the Frenchman to state: “Sometimes I admit I was frightened by him; he was prepared to do anything.”

Alain Prost, McLaren MP4/4 leads teammate Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/4 and Ivan Capelli, March 881 at the start
Alain Prost, McLaren MP4/4 leads teammate Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/4 at the start of the 1988 Portuguese GP

Photo by: LAT Images

Apart from several media spats that occurred before Senna was crowned world champion in 1988, the true ignition point for their bitter conflict was Imola '89. Senna passed Prost on the approach to Tosa at the restart after Gerhard Berger's fiery crash, breaking what Prost saw as an agreement not to pass each other there. But Senna was adamant he had the move completed before the corner, so in his mind that didn't count.

Whether it was gamesmanship on Senna's part or twisting logic in his own favour, Prost was furious and their enmity would run and run.

Their successive title-deciding collisions at Suzuka in 1989 and '90 tarnished F1's reputation and moved the goalposts in terms of the lengths drivers would go to win.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/5 Honda and Alain Prost, McLaren MP4/5 Honda collide
Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/5 Honda and Alain Prost, McLaren MP4/5 Honda collide in 1989 Japanese GP

Photo by: LAT Images

Both felt hard done by: Senna believed that the FIA had manipulated the '89 result in Prost's favour – “a result of the politics we had,” he'd claim – while Prost questioned Senna's ethics, and even his sanity.

But the antipathy that rumbled for half a dozen years was ended by Prost's retirement following his 1993 title success with Williams.

From that point on, these sworn enemies became friends. Which is almost unbelievable, given what had gone before when Senna had often refused to refer to Prost by name, never mind shake his hand or speak to him directly.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/5B
Ayrton Senna

Photo by: Sutton Images

“I don't keep the bad moments or any bad souvenirs in my mind about him,” Prost says. “I keep the last six months [of his life] in mind. That's when I knew Ayrton much more than ever before.

“He was a completely different person, I understood who he was and why he was acting sometimes.”

When you considered the ferocity of their duel, encapsulated by Senna launching his McLaren flat-out into Prost's Ferrari at the first corner at Suzuka in 1990, this is quite a reversal in their relationship to comprehend.

Podium: Race winner Ayrton Senna, McLaren, second place and World Champion Alain Prost, Williams
Podium: Race winner Ayrton Senna, McLaren, second place and World Champion Alain Prost, Williams

Photo by: Sutton Images

“I look back on how he was [when they were rivals] as a compliment,” he adds. “I came to understand that Ayrton's main motivation, almost his sole motivation, was to focus on me and on beating me.

“That is why when we were on the podium together in Australia in '93, when I stopped, just a few seconds later he was already a different person [recall that following what would be his last-ever victory, Senna insisted that Prost stand with him on the top step of the podium after Alain received his runner-up trophy, physically pulling him up to stand arm-in-arm together].

“That is the souvenir of our relationship that I carry with me today.”

Prost recalls his post-retirement dealings with Senna fondly, and acknowledges the irony that their conversations of the time were often about the need to increase car and circuit safety with what transpired.

“Near the end, when we were close, it was very strange because we would talk about the bad safety and this kind of thing,” says Prost. “He would ask me many times to take the lead of the GPDA, and I said no. We had some very private discussions together around this time. It was very strange.

“I keep this souvenir [of him] from then right until his last day, because I met him two or three times, and just before [the race at Imola] – and of course he was already this different person to me. That is why I prefer to think about that alone.”

Senna – The Last Weekend...

Of the terrible events of Imola that dark weekend in 1994, a race Prost attended to commentate on for French TV, he spoke to Senna on numerous occasions - twice on the morning of the race: once when Senna sought him out in the TV compound; and a second time when Prost went to see him in the Williams garage.

Recall too that Senna had sent the radio message (“a special hello to my dear friend Alain - we all miss you, Alain”) from his car to the commentary box over the radio during a lap in practice.

Prost confirms: “Ayrton called me on Saturday, so I met him on Saturday, and I met him on Sunday twice - the main constant [of their conversations] was safety and the fact that he was not happy with the situation, thinking that the Benetton was not legal. He was very focused on that, but it was very weird... Very weird.”

From Duke Video: Senna – Racing is in my Blood...

 

 

shares
comments
Verstappen: No falling out with Ricciardo over Baku crash

Previous article

Verstappen: No falling out with Ricciardo over Baku crash

Next article

Canadian Latifi to drive Force India VJM11 F1 car in Barcelona

Canadian Latifi to drive Force India VJM11 F1 car in Barcelona
Load comments
The core problems Yas Marina’s long-awaited tweaks won't address Prime

The core problems Yas Marina’s long-awaited tweaks won't address

OPINION: Changes to the layout of Abu Dhabi’s circuit aim to reverse the trend of insipid Formula 1 races there - the promoter has even described one of the new corners as “iconic”. And that, argues STUART CODLING, is one of this venue’s abiding failings

How Ferrari offered Callum Ilott what Red Bull couldn't Prime

How Ferrari offered Callum Ilott what Red Bull couldn't

Last year's Formula 2 runner-up Callum Ilott could be on his way to becoming the first Briton to contest a grand prix in an Alfa Romeo since Reg Parnell in 1950. But, says Oleg Karpov, the Ferrari Driver Academy protege is having to temper his ambition at the moment – outwardly at least…

Formula 1
Jul 25, 2021
The signs that point to F1's rude health Prime

The signs that point to F1's rude health

OPINION: Formula 1's calendar might still be facing disruption as the pandemic affects travel but, says Mark Gallagher, the business itself is fundamentally strong thanks to the epic rivalry taking place on track and the consistent arrival of new sponsors.

Formula 1
Jul 24, 2021
The unexpected benefit of F1's sprint race repeat Prime

The unexpected benefit of F1's sprint race repeat

OPINION: Formula 1's sprint race trial at Silverstone drew mixed feedback on Saturday, but there remained the true test of how it would impact Sunday's Grand Prix. While fans were busy marvelling at Fernando Alonso's progress, a key lesson was being learned that would directly contribute to the dramatic lap-one clash at Copse the following day

Formula 1
Jul 22, 2021
The off-track considerations that led to Hamilton/Verstappen F1 shunt Prime

The off-track considerations that led to Hamilton/Verstappen F1 shunt

OPINION: Formula 1’s 2021 title fight turned ugly last weekend when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided at the start of the British Grand Prix. Verstappen thankfully walked away unharmed, but this had been a clash long-since coming.

Formula 1
Jul 21, 2021
British Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

British Grand Prix Driver Ratings

The 2021 British Grand Prix will live long in the memory for the dramatic clash between Formula 1's two title protagonists, which opened the door for other drivers to capitalise. One did so in spectacular fashion, while others fluffed their lines

Formula 1
Jul 19, 2021
How Leclerc almost defied Hamilton after Silverstone clash Prime

How Leclerc almost defied Hamilton after Silverstone clash

A poor start for Valtteri Bottas and the lap one clash between Formula 1's 2021 title protagonists gave Charles Leclerc a surprise lead in the British Grand Prix that he almost held to the end. Here's how the Ferrari driver came close to a famous victory, ultimately denied by a recovering Lewis Hamilton three laps from home

Formula 1
Jul 19, 2021
The signs that suggest Mercedes can win at Silverstone Prime

The signs that suggest Mercedes can win at Silverstone

Red Bull and Max Verstappen scored an early blow against Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes at Silverstone, with sprint qualifying race victory. But that doesn’t mean Sunday’s grand prix is a foregone conclusion. Although Verstappen starts as the favourite, here’s why Mercedes still holds hope of winning

Formula 1
Jul 18, 2021