The 1990 Formula One season will always bring to mind what happened at the penultimate round in Suzuka. After barely nine seconds the race was all over for Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost after the former’s McLaren collided with the latter’s Ferrari at an estimated 130mph. The net result was that, with the race not being restarted, Senna was crowned champion and the world of F1 fans would forever be able to debate at great length whether what Senna did was bang-out-of-order or merely fitting revenge for what had happened the previous year where Prost was considered by some to have not exactly done all he could to avoid a collision which resulted with the Frenchman bagging the ’89 championship.
But that’s all been talked about for 25 years now and will probably be the focus point of many a debate for decades to come. What we want to take a look at today is the race before that fateful round in Japan, which may give us an interesting insight into Senna’s state of mind in the run up to Suzuka and all that …
The 14th round of the championship that year was the Spanish Grand Prix, which took place at Jerez. Before we look at what Senna and Prost were up to though it’s worth noting that this was the last ever F1 race for Alessandro Nannini, the talented Italian Benetton driver suffering terrible injuries (from which he was ultimately to recover) just days later in a helicopter accident. Also, after Jerez the final two races of the 1990 season were won by Nelson Piquet in his Benetton-Ford, his first taste of the champagne since Italy in 1987. Senna didn’t finish another race that year after the preceding round at Portugal where Mansell famously passed him for the lead and the win.
At Jerez though, the race was all about Prost and Senna. In qualifying, Senna had performed his usual trick of claiming pole position by a healthy margin, with Prost alongside him at the head of the field. However, those who reckon that the Frenchman was one to set his car up more for race pace than qualifying performance will have felt vindicated to see Senna fail to pull out an advantage in the race itself. In fact, might it be fair to say that at certain points that Prost was all over Senna’s McLaren?
‘Might it be reasonable to speculate that all of this was playing somewhat on Senna’s mind when he made his move on Prost at [Suzuka] turn one?’
This clip starts at the end of lap one, with the pair already pulling clear of the field, with Mansell showing early signs that he might be able to keep up with them. On lap six we’re treated to some in-car footage from Prost’s screaming Ferrari and it’s evident that Senna wasn’t managing to pull away. Of course, as the commentator points out, Senna at that time was still having to shift gears manually with an ‘H-pattern’ lever next to his right leg, whereas Prost had merely to pull on a lever behind the steering wheel, but still.
By the time Senna was forced to retire due to a radiator failure, both Prost and Mansell had found a way past. So, when the whole circus moved on to Suzuka and that fateful first corner, Senna had lost the previous race to two Ferraris which looked to have – at the very least – as much race pace as his McLaren and he’d been beaten fair and square by Mansell’s Ferrari in the race before that. Add to this the controversy of Senna being ‘awarded’ pole position on the dirty side of the track (having inferred from officials that he’d be given the clean side) and then seeing your arch rival’s Ferrari pulling away off the line with another race to go and a not-insurmountable lead …
Might it be reasonable to speculate that all of this was playing somewhat on Senna’s mind when he made his move on Prost in turn one? Of course we’ll never know for sure, but after this performance at Jerez Prost must have fancied his chances?