Editorial, May 2004

There will be those among you who, quite understandably hold the unswerving belief that Ayrton Senna was robbed of his first GP win when the 1984 Monaco race was controversially curtailed because of heavy rain. I would contend, however, that the man he passed for the lead, a lap too late as it turned out, would still have won the race had it gone the full distance. Here’s why:

Senna passes the McLaren of Alain Prost. But Stefan Bellof’s non-turbo Tyrrell is catching both of them. Prost, in that calculating way of his, lets Bellof past. Now, can you imagine Senna and Bellof not colliding as they battled for the lead a handful of laps later? Me neither. And so Prost does a Fangio, weaves in between the young bucks’ wreckage, and splashes to the chequer.

I love the imponderables of motorsport I know there are lots of definitives to consider too, key moments carved in stone, but my mind can’t help wandering. Join me.

For instance, imagine that Bellof had pulled off his outrageous move around the outside of Jacky Ickx at Eau Rouge and won the 1985 Spa 1,000km for Porsche. Might he then have landed the McLaren-TAG Fl drive? I realise that Keke Rosberg was quite a catch to replace Niki Lauda, but Bellof was fast enough for Ron to take a punt.

I’m not saying that the German possessed the focus required to take the team away from Prost But I’m reasonably sure he had the speed to take the qualifying fight to Senna’s Lotus-Renault. Being fastest was so important to the Brazilian it makes you wonder how he might have reacted had another hotshoe started stealing his pole positions, his thunder, in years that offered him few opportunities for outright wins? Not well, I’m guessing.

So McLaren already has its ideal duo in place by 1988: Prost, the thinking man’s racer, and Bellof, the new Jochen Rindt, to whom Honda is in thrall. Williams already has the latter’s turbo and so Senna, Honda’s other protégé , can’t use that lever to guarantee a drive there; Frank and Patrick are big fans of his, but Mansell is as hungry — and a darn sight cheaper. So Senna joins Ferrari.

See, it’s lovely once you’re in.

Paul FearnIey