Senna vs Prost: Champions in conflict

Ayrton Senna’s career was punctuated by its fierce rivalry with Alain Prost — a feud driven by ambition and personality that at its peak reached an intensity rarely seen in a sporting arena.

As Sunday’s 10th anniversary of the Brazilian’s death approaches Prost has spoken candidly about his rocky relationship with Senna — a tale of two egos that had the capacity to enthral and appall formula-one fans in equal measure.

How F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone must yearn for a similarly fiery double act to emerge today to add some much needed spice to a sport that has been virtually turned into a one-man show through the exploits of Michael Schumacher.

What made the Prost/Senna show so mesmerising was that for much of its shelf life the two drivers were at loggerheads despite supposedly singing from the same hymn sheet at McLaren.

Prost, as McLaren’s number one, suggested to team director Ron Dennis that Senna be brought on board in 1988.

”I wanted to create a dream team,” the Frenchman remembered — nightmares were what he got.

”I never imagined what would happen, but I don’t want to have regrets,” Prost told L’Equipe.

In their first season as teammates — the term is used loosely — tension spilled on to the track at Estoril when Senna attempted to force Prost into the pit wall as he tried to slip past on the opening lap.

The pair had a heated confrontation after the race but the argument was won by Prost.

The next season the marriage between motor racing’s biggest draws went into terminal decline as proud Prost felt Senna encroaching more and more on his territory as McLaren’s main man.

”I suffered a lot in 1989 — it had become a little difficult to take.

”I remember at Monza — I had my three or four mechanics around me while there were up to 30 people around Ayrton’s car. That was hard to accept.”

Prost described the situation as stifling, and midway through the season told Dennis he wanted to leave.

”I’d had no contact with any other team, not even the slightest discussion. But I said: I’m stopping, I can’t put up with another season like this!”

The bitterness between Senna and Prost erupted at the season-closing Japan Grand Prix at Suzuka.

With the title in the balance Senna attempted to squeeze past Prost with six laps to go. Prost shut the door, both McLarens slithering to a halt on the track, their wheels joined in unhappy wedlock.

Senna rejoined the race, believing the championship was his, but he’d restarted from the wrong place and was disqualified, resulting in Prost claiming his third title.

Despite Prost’s move to Ferrari the all-too-public spat continued in 1990, with Suzuka once again the stage for fireworks when Senna rammed Prost off the track at the first bend.

Both cars were out of the race, but Senna wasn’t worried — he was crowned champion.

Senna won his third championship in 1991, with Prost then taking a year out before coming back for his swansong in 1993 with Williams, carefully inserting a clause in his contract forbidding his new team to hire Senna — quite a shift from his keenness to secure the Brazilian’s services back in 1988.

Prost has an explanation for what went wrong.

”One of his main motivating forces was to beat me — I was the target.”

But Senna’s ultra-complex character had the ability to surprise, as Prost found out after his final Grand Prix in Australia.

”He won, I was second. Just before climbing on to the podium he asked me to join him. It wasn’t planned, that was the nicest thing about it.

”After that everything changed. For him, everything was over.”

That winter Prost found himself picking up the phone time and time again and finding Senna on the other end of the line.

”Over the 1993/94 winter he didn’t stop calling me. I felt there was someone completely different there, someone I’d only caught glimpses of before.”

Then came Senna’s conversation on air with Prost on French television the morning of his death at the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1 1994.

Prost recalled: ”He said ‘I miss you’ — it wasn’t a joke, it came from within.”

Sadly Senna’s burying of the hatchet with his old sparring partner was to prove all too short — that afternoon at 2.18pm he suffered his fatal crash on lap seven of the San Marino Grand Prix.

Prost was a pall bearer at his funeral. — Sapa-AFP

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