In a recent post, I spoke of using prompts as inspiration for posts. I am going off this list, though I am not going to follow it religiously. The first three categories (Practical, Educational, Roundup) do not interest me. I am starting with the Entertaining category, and that starts with ‘1,000 Words about a Picture’.
The full text of the prompt is :
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” People can look at one photo and be inspired to tell a whole story behind the image. This type of blog post takes that common saying and puts it in action.
Find a picture that you can write 1,000 words as a story or explanation. It’s a literal way of making that saying real.
So, with that in mind, I need a picture.
So, a thousand words. I could probably give you several thousand on this picture, and the history behind it. It was the penultimate race of the 1990 Formula 1 season. Ayrton Senna, in the yellow helmet and white and red McLaren, had qualified on pole position the day before, but the FIA had decided the pole sitter would start the race from the dirtier, less grippy side of the start/finish straight. This granted Alain Prost, racing for Ferrari, and Senna’s chief title rival, an advantage, despite qualifying behind the Brazilian. Senna was told that he would get his wish to start on the grippier, cleaner section of the track, only for the FIA to go back on their word, and he was furious.
There was more to this than one decision at one race. Senna and Frenchman Prost had become epic, acrimonious rivals, over the course of two intense, challenging seasons as McLaren teammates, in 1988 and 1989. 89 is where things boiled over, with a bitter war of words being matched by ferocious on-track action, between two men oft regarded as the greatest to grace Formula 1. A collision between the two had settled the 1989 championship in Prost’s favour, at that year’s Japanese Grand Prix, and between that incident, and off-track politics surrounding Senna’s subsequent disqualification from that race, Senna carried a lot of anger.
At the 1990 race, Prost had to finish ahead of Senna, to stand a chance of winning the title. Senna had made it clear that he absolutely would not yield at the start, no matter what happened. Between what he saw as FIA betrayal, and the injustice of the previous season, Senna was adamant. There would no backing down.
So it proved. At the start, Prost get away better, and was sweeping around the outside of Senna, as the pair headed around the fast first corner. Senna, instead of lifting, or slotting into second, kept his foot down as the space between Prost and the kerb closed. As sure as the Moon follows the sun, the two came together, at speed, and both went careening off the track, and over the gravel traps, kicking up huge plumes of dust. When that dust settled, Ayrton Senna was world champion for the second time, and Alain Prost was utterly, thoroughly disgusted with his rival. Prost is on record as saying he wanted to punch Senna in the face, but in the end, he walked away, whilst a contrite Senna headed back to the pits, surrounded by microphones, as people tried to get word as to what happened.
Senna originally claimed he had gone for a gap he believed was there. ‘If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you’re no longer a racing driver.’ A year later, with Senna on the brink of his third title, at Japan once more, he admitted the truth. For his admission, he received a one year suspended ban.
For many, Ayrton Senna is the best ever Formula 1 driver, and he transcended the sport. Brazil is a nation that lives and breathes football, but Senna was as beloved as any football star. His skills and talent behind the wheel are regarded as unrivalled, yet there is no denying his ruthless side. Senna wanted to win, and he did not take kindly to what he regarded as unfairness. This led him to make a choice that cannot be justified, even if it can be understood. Deliberately crashing into another car when both are hitting over a hundred miles per hour is to place both lives at risk, yet Senna thought, as he so often did, only in terms of winning and losing. That fire that burned within him made him extremely hard to beat, for he would leave the door open to an accident, and if his opponent backed out, he knew he had the measure of that particular driver. He’d exploit that.
For many, the man Senna punted off the track is the best ever. Alain Prost was the thinker, the Professor, a master of setting up the car, and I dare say, very good at the political games. Prost could preserve his tyres and fuel better than anyone else, and would be unbelievably quick. The two were chalk and cheese, raw, incredible talent against a masterful tactical brain, and both had a hunger to be the best. That drew them into conflict, more than once. What happened in Suzuka, on that fateful day in 1990, was the culmination of three years of that heated rivalry. They reached boiling point, and from there, the trajectory of their careers kept them from true on-track battles. Ferrari went backwards in 1991, and Prost took a sabbatical in 1992. When he returned in 1993 with Williams, Prost had the best car, and the car Senna wanted, but Prost had provisions in his contract to forbid Williams from signing Senna in 93.
Needless to say, that triggered another war of words, but on-track, Senna had a poor car in 93, and could not truly compete with Prost. Nonetheless, he fought hard, as he always did, producing an incredible win at a rain-soaked European Grand Prix at Doddington, and his defensive driving in South Africa was textbook brilliance. Prost was champion, Senna was runner-up, and 93 concluded Prost’s career. The two embraced at Prost’s final race, as though the tremendous rivalry was at an end. A short time later, in that ill-fated 1994 season, Prost helped carry Senna’s coffin to rest. It was the untimely, tragic end, to one of Formula 1’s most electrifying eras.