I have been following your writing for many years and know how you feel about Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna’s collisions at Suzuka.
I know that while Prost has discussed them with you, I have yet to come across any words from you on discussions between yourself and Senna on those incidents.
I recently saw the Senna movie and the footage on both collisions. To my eyes at least, I observed the following:
1. Prost took an earlier line into the chicane when Senna drew alongside that would not have allowed Alain to make it cleanly through if Ayrton were not there.
2. On the straight leading to the first corner after the race started Prost, now in a Ferrari, got a better start but jinked left for a second before coming back to take his line into the first corner.
Both of these were the gaps Senna referred to in the Stewart interview.
Do you agree with my observations, and if you do, does it change your take on both incidents and views on each driver insofar only as both incidents were concerned?
Both of them are among the very best drivers we will see in our lifetimes and their battles among the most captivating. We are so lucky to have seen them in their prime.
Yes, I agree with both your observations, and no, it does not change my opinion on either of the Suzuka incidents…
First, in the 1989 race Prost indeed took an earlier line into the chicane – he was leading the race and quite entitled to protect his position as far as I’m concerned. You say that, if Senna were not there, Prost would not have been able to make it cleanly through the chicane, and that’s true insofar as he would not have been on the ideal line. He would, though, have been able to make it through – albeit with a slower exit speed than normal.
I was on the spot when the coming-together occurred and it seemed to me – and colleagues standing with me – that Ayrton was literally trying to bundle Alain out of the way. Given the line he was on, and how late he braked, there’s no way – had Prost not been there – he could have got through the chicane. Once Alain had hopped out of his car, I walked back down to the pits with him, and the first thing he said was, “I couldn’t believe he tried it on that lap – he was so far back. On some previous laps he’d been a lot closer…”
As for the ’90 race, when Prost’s Ferrari was punched off the road at the first corner by Senna’s McLaren, it’s undeniable that Alain did jink left for a split-second, so as to give himself the best line into the corner. That hardly, though, constituted ‘a gap’, as Ayrton disingenuously claimed, and a year on, of course, he publicly admitted that he had simply taken Prost out – like most people, I thought that had been obvious from the start.
What said everything about that accident was the attitude of the McLaren personnel afterwards. Senna and Ron Dennis may have been celebrating this new World Championship, but some of their colleagues were, at best, embarrassed. When we got to Adelaide Senna did his famous angry interview with Jackie Stewart, and later that day one of the McLaren engineers whispered to me that the telemetry showed that Ayrton had never lifted for the corner at all – he simply took aim…
All that said, you’re quite right that both Prost and Senna stand among the very greatest Formula 1 has known. As Jo Ramirez, a man close to both of them, said: “For all their rivalry, they had huge respect for each other – they both knew they didn’t have to worry about anyone else…”