Prost dominated, but when the rains came it was Senna who stole the show to rack up McLaren’s 100th victory
For its first 29 laps the Brazilian GP ran according to the script that had been written the moment that Alain Prost and Damon Hill in their Williams FW15Cs began to decimate their opposition in qualifying. The Frenchman had been on pole – his 22nd – with the Englishman a fraction under one second behind. Ayrton Senna was only third, nearly two seconds off Prost’s pace. That said it all.
During those opening laps the South African GP victor simply eased into a lead that he extended at will. And when Hill let Senna take second place off the grid, but then overtook him with insouciant ease on lap 11, the die seemed cast. The Williams duo was away, and Senna was left to fend off the advances of Michael Schumacher in the Benetton. 1993 style, it seemed situation normal.
Then it began to rain.
Such weather had been forecast the day before by local hotshoe Christian Fittipaldi, and from the 17th lap the skies had indeed been darkening ominously. By lap 26 spots were falling on windscreens and visors, and by lap 27 the monsoon arrived.
By then Senna was down to fourth, having pitted just at the wrong moment to observe a 10s stop-‘n’-go penalty that was but one of several meted out to drivers alleged to have passed under yellow flags. Most of them did so simply because slower cars backed off to allow them to do so, giving them little option but to disobey flag indications.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Senna. “I think it was Comas” – himself also a victim – “and the guy lifted off to let me go through. The people who make these decisions should have a different way of implementing them, because I think it was a big mistake.”
He was thus running fourth, having rejoined just ahead of Lehto’s very well conducted Sauber, and a raging battle between Alesi’s Ferrari and the other Sauber of Wendlinger, when the rain was at its worst. Immediately, he ducked in again on lap 27 for wets. He dropped momentarily to fifth, but as others called pitward the number eight McLaren was soon back to fourth. That became second within a lap, that fateful lap 29. Over in America, the reigning World Champion sat happily telling all who would listen how he would play over and again his video tape of what happened next, although one now wonders if he will be playing his own, more serious, faux pas at Phoenix with quite the same relish.
Hill, 11.2s adrift of Prost on lap 27, called in for wets at the end of lap 28, dropping to third behind Prost and Schumacher. In the Williams pit there was a misunderstanding as Prost tried to decipher the radio information he was receiving from engineer David Brown.
When Hill had accelerated out of the pits, the surface had been very slippery. Brown was trying to warn Prost to beware of this, but all Prost heard was the broken message ‘Damon… pits… problem’ as he prepared to come in at the end of lap 29. Mistakenly believing that Damon’s car was still in the pits, he decided to do one more lap before coming in. It proved his undoing. The pit straight was certainly the worst area affected by the rain, and the first corner was totally awash where a river was running across the track. The situation was made worse when the lapped Suzuki, having already made a very early stop for replacement slicks and thus determined to stay out as long as possible, lost control of his Footwork on the straight on his 28th lap. The FA 13B hit the concrete walls very hard, ripping off its rear wing and coming to rest with its rear wheels well out of line. Meanwhile, fellow Japanese Katayama had already spun his Tyrrell and been in for a fresh set of slick tyres after flat spotting his originals. In the time it took him to stop and resume the weather had deteriorated and he aquaplaned into the outside wall on the straight just after Suzuki’s shunt.
The organisers took prompt action as they took in the appalling weather and the dangerous track conditions, and for the first time since it was introduced at last year’s British GP, decided to deploy the safety pace car. While it was forming up the field in its wake, everything went wrong for Prost.
Going into that unscheduled 29th lap he came across Fittipaldi, who had hit the turn one river and spun his Minardi backwards. He kept it on the track, facing the wrong way, but Prost saw it in the gloom and backed off, and as he did so the Williams slithered sideways before spinning into the stationary M193. He had been going very slowly, but not slowly enough. “I caught some debris,” he said, “and spun sideways.” Whether he did, or he just lost it, the result was the same. The World Championship leader was out. This was when the Brazilian race really began to develop into something special. The pace car had come out on lap 30, and for a first effort it seemed to work well enough, picking up Hill as the new leader. Senna was now second, and as the bedraggled field pootled round Schumacher, Alesi, Herbert, Lehto, Zanardi, Alliot and Blundell were lined up in its wake, with some lapped cars between them. Everyone was on wets. Herbert had come in on lap 27, with Senna, Alliot, de Cesaris and Alboreto, while on lap 28 in had come Hill, Lehto, Zanardi, Blundell, Warwick, Badoer and Comas. Schumacher and Alesi came in on lap 30 itself.
At this stage the emergency helicopter was taking off for the Unicor Hospital in Sao Paulo with Michael Andretti and his wife Sandra aboard, after the American had been eliminated at the start in a hefty accident with Berger. Andretti had done very well to qualify fifth, less than a full second off Senna, but made a relatively poor start, just as row-mate Lehto made a good one. As they began to funnel down to the first corner, the corkscrew known as the ‘S’ do Senna, Wendlinger began to edge over on the McLaren as Karl moved up on a sluggish Patrese. Critics say the American over-reacted, but still photos show that he was obliged to move to the right in avoiding action. He thus inadvertently squeezed Berger, who was making ground on the high line. The Austrian had already been the victim of one very nasty accident in qualifying, when he was caught out by the Ferrari’s reaction to a change in active suspension set-up, and was unwilling to move on to the rumble strips on the very edge of the track. Had he moved that vital two feet contact might just have been avoided, but instead the Ferrari’s left front tyre hit the McLaren’s right rear and turned it ninety degrees into its own path. The MP4/8 smacked hard into the bank and spun round over the F93A. Both drivers were immediate retirements, and after a spell in the track’s medical centre, where he complained of pains in his back and right arm, Michael made that helicopter trip for closer examination. Later he emerged, bruised but otherwise okay, and in fit state to celebrate father Mario’s major triumph at Phoenix the following weekend.
It was lap 37 before the racing resumed, and during that time Hill had plenty of opportunity to fret about the restart. When it came though, he leaped ahead of Senna and stretched his lead again, and victory in only his fourth GP began to look a distinct possibility. The gap was 2.9s by lap 39, but the track was drying rapidly again except for the pit straight and further tyre stops were inevitable. Senna made his at the end of lap 40 and Hill at the end of 41, the Englishman resuming in the lead but with Senna up to full racing speed on tyres that had a lap’s worth greater temperature. It was a difficult situation for Damon, who was mindful of his Kyalami drama. Going into the Bico de Pato right-hand hairpin, Senna screwed himself up, committed himself totally, and dived down the inside as if Damon was standing still. It was the man at his most brilliant, and from that moment the race was his.
Hill began a counter attack that took him to a tantalising 0.199s on lap 47, but then traffic broke up the rhythm. “Then I went wide one lap on the water in turn one, and for a moment I thought, ‘Oh God, this is it, the moment I go off into the boonies, but luckily I got away with it,’ he said. He lost three seconds and after that some problems with a lazy upchange and an occasionally baulky downchange prevented him making further impression. Second place, however, was no disgrace on a day when he might easily have screwed up in very difficult circumstances.
Further back in this extraordinary race, Lotus’ excellent pit stop tactics with Herbert on lap 37 had resulted in a very fast tyre stop as the Lotus slid to a halt over its special toboggan and then used its active suspension to lift its own wheels to avoid the need for jacks. He got away very quickly, in ninth place, but then by his own admission messed it all up by pushing too hard before the tyres were fully up to temperature, and spinning. By lap 43, nevertheless, he had climbed to an excellent and genuine third as his rivals made their slick stops and Alesi received one 20s stop-‘n’-go penalty for passing he and Lehto under the yellows and another 10s for passing Comas before a green flag. Johnny was slowly but steadily being reeled in by Blundell, however, who had unobtrusively but impressively climbed to fourth, and Schumacher. The German was pounding along in fifth place, setting fastest laps, having also received a 10s stop-‘n’-go on lap 41 . That compounded his first pit stop on lap 30, which had been a disaster. The B193A fell off its jack, and the mechanics had to hoist it up to replace the wheel. Then the nut on the right front had stuck.
He had been helped, however, when the Saubers, which had again impressed, dropped out. Lehto had been going really well and looked set for fourth place until his engine cut out on lap 53, while Wendlinger was recovering after a spin but retired with rising engine temperatures on lap 62.
Schumacher’s chase of Herbert enlivened those last laps. By lap 55, with 16 to go, he was 10s adrift of Blundell who was 20s behind Herbert. The latter’s teammate, Alessandro Zanardi, continued in sixth place, driving in some discomfort after Schumacher had thrown up a stone which struck his neck. In the end, power told as Schumacher sliced neatly past an unresisting Blundell on lap 65 and then Herbert, halfway down the straight, on lap 69. As he passed, however, Michael crowded the Lotus and promptly ran wide into the left-hand Descida do Lago curve. To huge applause Herbert ducked back inside to regain his place. They went side by side past the pits, but Johnny was on the inner line for turn one and had to concede again at the entry. It was, nevertheless, a bit of stirring stuff from a couple of the best young lions in the sport.
This, of course, was the same Johnny Herbert whom Benetton’s Flavio Briatore had sacked – sorry, ‘rested’ – four years earlier, and now at last he had equalled his best ever F1 result after taking fourth on his Brazilian debut back in 1989…
Others were less fortunate, as usual. Brundle had spun his Ligier on the first lap and later had another pit lane altercation with Fabrizio Barbazza, who had subsequently struck the JS39 and whom Martin accused of initiating the rotation. Patrese retired from seventh place on lap three with a split oil cooler in his Benetton’s active suspension, while Rubens Barrichello’s impressive second F1 race came to a halt after only 13 laps when his gearbox hydraulics or electronics robbed him of any gears as he was part of the mighty scrap for eighth place between Phillipe Alliot, Herbert, Blundell and Zanardi. Alliot was as feisty as usual but was fighting badly worn dampers on a circuit which favoured the active cars, and brought his Larrousse home seventh well ahead of the aggressive Alesi who deserved much better and Warwick, who had greatly enjoyed a dice with former Footwork pilot Alboreto even though Michele was a lap further in arrears. For Senna it was another brilliant win made all the sweeter by virtue of being on his home ground. For the moment, all his qualifying lobbying for engine parity with Benetton could temporarily be suspended. For McLaren it was a milestone race, for it was the marque’s 100th victory, which puts it a mere three behind Ferrari’s all-time record of 103. On current form it would be a brave man indeed who put any lire on Ferrari’s chances of defending that leadership before the season ends. DJT