Ayrton Senna


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Staff member
I saw that a day or two ago Olivier and was going to post about it but then realised I couldn't be bothered :D

I'm no fan of Senna (just to state my position clearly) and I am struggling to understand how he can be regarded as the greatest ever driver. I suspect there's more than a bit of dead-sportsman-who-didn't-fulfil-his-potential wishful thinking going on.


World Champion
I think it's too hard to say who the greatest drivers is.

Jim Clark, Ayrton Senna - unfulfilled potential.
Schumacher - most titles, wins, questionable antics.
Prost - Could have had 8 world titles, bit of controversy.
Fangio - Can't much find information about him, but team orders were around then and he definitely benefitted, then there's the argument of great drivers killed in the war.
Stewart - Ultra clean, and retired earlier than he should have.

If I had to give it to someone, it would probably be Prost, as he went up against several good drivers before Senna came along, and was in contention for 8 world titles in his career, and beat two drivers who were considered the best of their generation (Lauda and Senna).

Or Stewart.

The Artist.....

Champion Elect
People make a lot of the fact that Prost out-scored Senna across both 88 and 89....

However, let's look at 89 in a little more detail.

16 races
Brazil - Hit by Berger on first lap, lost a lap changing front wing
San Marino - Mexico, 3 wins
USA - retires from the lead
Canada - retires whilst leading
France - Differential failed whilst second on the grid
GB - spun out of the lead due to Gearbox selection problems
Germany - Won
Hungary - second (Prost was fourth)
Belgium - 1st
Italy - Retired from the lead
Portugal - Hit by Mansell whilst in 2nd
Spain - won
Japan - Disqualified (After winning the race)
Australia - Retired after hitting Brundle whilst in the lead.

So, of all his retirements, he was in the lead or second at the time of the retirement, and only on 1 occasion was he behind Prost when he retired (France) - With a little better luck and reliability, Senna could have won 13 of the races in 1989! - Certainly the first 6 races were all "Senna" races, then he should also have probably won Italy, GB and Japan - and could easily have won Australia...

I would actually strongly argue that Senna drove much better, and was FAR more dominant in 1989 when he didn't win the championship than in 1988, when he did!


Rooters Reporter
So let's look at the 1989 F1 WDC, Senna vs Prost all time head to head battle in detail ... another way ...

Round 1 – Jacarepagua, Brazil

In the early laps of his home GP, Ayrton Senna crowds Gerhard Berger into retirement, pits for a front wing change and finishes 11th, two laps down. Prost was on a two stop strategy but a dodgy clutch meant that ended up running the whole race on one set of tyres. Despite that he finished 2nd behind Nigel Mansell. A good example of his smooth style and tyre management that lies behind his nick-name, The Professor.

Round 2 – Imola, San Marino

McLaren lock out the grid with Senna’s second pole of the season. Prost is P2. It’s the scene of Berger’s horrifying crash at Tamburello and a “team orders” dispute in the McLaren garage. Senna’s win. Prost comes home second and has the hump. Prost and Senna’s antipathy towards each other intensifies.

Round 3 - Monaco

McLaren lock out the grid again - Senna on pole and Prost in P2. Typically processional Monaco race only shaken up by lot’s of retirements (most races in ’89 had half the field retiring anyway!). Senna wins with Prost coming home nearly a minute behind as he wasn’t in a hurry.

Round 4 – Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico

Senna scores a hat-trick. Prost choses to start with a different tyre strategy which gets messed up because he’s given the wrong set of tyres at a pit stop. He ends up in 5th.

Round 5 – Phoenix, USA

Senna on pole for 4th time and Prost again in second spot. Senna’s electrics go duff when in the lead and he retires the car. Prost’s win.

Round 6 – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada

Prost on pole for a change but he DNF’d whilst Senna continued to lead a miserably wet race. An engine full of nails scotched his race but although he DNF’d he was classified 7th having completed 90% of the race distance.

Round 7 – Paul Ricard, France

Prost was on pole for his home race, Senna in second slot. Gugelmin’s first lap aerobatics when he piled his March onto Mansell's rear end meant the race had to be restarted. Senna was forced to pull out more or less immediately with a dodgy differential. Prost takes his 2nd win of the season.

Round 8 – Silverstone, Great Britain

Going into the second half of the season Prost leads Senna by 20 points. McLaren front row lock out again but Senna has another DNF and Prost gets his 3rd win of the year. The race was more memorable for Mansell’s podium finish (2nd) in his home race in a Ferrari, That drove the home fans and visitiing Tifosi totally nuts. Marvellous.

Round 9 – Hockenheim, Germany

Senna's on pole yet again but it’s their fiercest punch up to date with Prost giving him a truly hard time. Some poor McLaren pit-work mid-race had Prost taking the lead. A couple of laps from the finish he loses top gear and Senna goes on to complete the triple with pole, fastest lap and the win.

Round 10 – Hungaroring, Hungary

A race of upsets this one. For the first time in the season a McLaren isn’t on pole as Riccardo Patrese has it for Williams 0.31 sec’s ahead of Senna. Alex Caffi in a Dallara steals third spot. Nigel Mansell qualified 12th over two seconds off Patrese's pole time but goes on to win with Senna 30 sec’s down the road in 2nd. Meanwhile Prost is in his bad-luck-of –the-season-period woes ending up fourth.

Round 11 – Spa, Belgium

Senna’s on pole again at a soggy Spa. Prost and Senna both have engine trouble throughout the race but their skills in the wet secure yet another one-two finish for McLaren. Senna on the top step of the podium again, much to Prost’s chagrin. Mansell’s third place is his last podium for Ferrari in 1989 and the last race he actually finishes for the Scuderia that year.

Round 12 – Monza, Italy

Senna’s on pole again as storm clouds of a different kind loomed over the Italian Grand Prix. More precisely they developed in the McLaren camp and culminated with Ron Dennis chucking his toys out of his pram. Um, more precisely still, chucking the constructors’ trophy at Prost's pumps and storming off after the podium celebrations. Prost had had the temerity to announce that he was buggering off to Ferrari next season and ceremoniously donated his winners’ trophy to the Tifosi. As we all know Ron keeps all the trophies, so that was, like, sacrilege, man. Oh, and Senna had DNF’d late into the race, from the lead, again.

Round 13 – Estoril, Portugal

Yet another pole position for Ayrton Senna. If championships were decided in qualifying the Fat Lady would have been in full song by now. But they aren’t and Prost leads Senna by 24 points as the effects of the “dropped points” scoring system kick in.

Senna falls victim of bizarre circumstance as he has a collision with Nigel Mansell. Bizarre because Mansell shouldn’t have been there. Our Nige had reversed in pit lane, which was illegal, and went on to ignore the black flags that were trying to tell him that he was disqualified. Some say Senna was being impatient and didn’t need to get caught up in a squabble with Mansell, whatever. Senna DNF’d and Mansell got banned from the next round.

Anyhow, Gerhard Berger took one of his few F1 wins - who would argue with that – and Prost finished up second.

Round 14 – Jerez, Spain

Senna breathes life back into the title chase having secured his umpteenth pole and leading all the way. Berger comes home second having started back in 7th on the grid and Prost who drove a quiet, conservative race takes the third step of the podium. More dropped points but Senna needs to win the last two races, with Prost having a bad time, to win the championship.

Round 15 - Suzuka, Japan

Yeah, Suzuka 1989, is etched into the minds of anyone old enough to remember it. More like the gunfight at The OK Corral we have Prost stating publicly that he isn’t going to leave an open door for Senna but with Senna on pole peep’s don’t think he’ll need an open door.

Funny thing though, Prost gets the better start builds a lead of 1.4 seconds in the first lap meanwhile Senna loses places and has to fight his way through the field. Pit stops shuffle things and Senna has fight like a loon to take it to Prost.

Then it happens. Senna attacks Prost on the entry to that awful chicane between 130R and the main straight. Prost has left a barn door open thinking that Senna is too far back to make one of his customary risky moves. Senna charges in as the gap is closed and both Mclaren’s go straight on into the short cut. Prost gets out of his car and storms off but Senna gesticulates furiously to the marshals who obligingly give him a push start.

Senna pits for a new wing and enthrals the crowd as he drives back up the field, again, to win. He thought. Unfortunately, his push start by the marshals meant he had missed out the chicane and therefore, technically, had not completed lap 46. He was disqualified. Appeals notwithstanding, Prost was WDC elect.

Round 16 – Adelaide, Australia

More high jinx as torrential rain pummelled Adelaide. Senna wanted to boycott this race in protest at being disqualified in Japan but Ron and his mates persuaded him to take the start.. Another pole position was in Senna’s handbag. Prost pulled out at the end of lap one. Senna carried on to build a 30 second lead over the nearest rival, pushing too hard for comfort. 13 laps in, he rear-ended Martin Brundle's Brabham and crashed out. There endeth a classic season in F1 with everyone on tenter-hooks until all of the courtroom drama was sorted out off track, before Alain Prost would finally receive his third WDC title.


So what can we learn from all this? There can be no dispute that in the same car, in the same team Ayrton Senna was a faster driver than Alain Prost. His qualifying proved that. But was he better? Throughout the season they both had mechanical set backs and other common issues but in the end Prost took the title., so that year he was the better of the two. All the if’s but’s and maybe’s don’t change the fact that he had a significant points advantage by round 13. Senna’s aggressive style probably didn’t help his cause in trying to wrest points back. Indeed, it could be argued that those few occasions during the season when he tried stuff that didn’t work mark him out as the less complete driver of the two, at the time. It's ll subjective, like them or loathe them, they're twp sides of a coin. how could either of them have been so good without the other?


A fine chap if ever there was one.
Unfortunately, his push start by the marshals meant he had missed out the chicane and therefore, technically, had not completed lap 46. He was disqualified. Appeals notwithstanding, Prost was WDC elect.
Let's face it, it could have been argued that the push start was illegal (just as it could have been argued it was in an unsafe place so the push was OK a la Patrese at Monaco in 82), but the suggestion that there was any gain made by cutting the chicane having sat still fo several seconds is just complete nonsense. Balestre's affection for Prost was very well known and hardly hidden, Senna was taken for a ride by a guy who thought F1 was his toy to play with and this incident IMO played a role in Balestre's eventual ousting. Unfortunately Max then caught the "F1 is my toy" bug, but that's another story. I, for one, thought Senna was great long before he died, he did things I've seen very few since then pull off.


Rooters Reporter
Indeed Mezzer , and all of those permutations were discussed endlessly by the commentators, in the motorsport press and no doubt during the hearings. The FIA made a ruling, appeals were rejected and the rest is part of the colourful weave of history.

I have done nothing more than relate the events as they have been recorded and make no personal judgement on the rights and wrongs of any particular incident. My conclusion is simply that both Prost and Senna were great drivers of their era.

Pick away at the bones of that season if you like but my appetite was satiated at the time and I have enjoyed the odd nostalgic nibble since so, with the greatest of respect to all, I'll leave others to argue over the minutiae.


A fine chap if ever there was one.
I hear you Fenderman, both Senna and Prost were the clear talents of the time, IMO. Senna was my clear favourite of the two, but that doesn't diminish the fact that Prost was also an extraordinary driver. If he had been a Brit rather than French, who knows how much more he would have been loved. :moustache:
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