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Suzuka Special 2004 - Emails to webmaster

Where were you when Senna nearly killed Prost?

I was watching Suzuka 1990 live on Swiss T.V. in the very early morning of October 21, 1990. Early morning because of the time difference. By the time I got up, I didn't know I could theoretically go back to bed a few minutes later, which I don't remember if I actually did or not. I guess I did not, because I was hoping for a miracle, for some good news... The only good news that day was that Alain Prost survived a horrible crash without injuries...

If you want to talk about Suzuka 1990 you do have to start at least one year earlier (in Suzuka 1989), there is no doubt about it. Before the race in Suzuka on October 22, 1989, Alain Prost knew exactly he had to win only one of the two remaining Grand Prix and he would be world champion 1989. Overall, Alain was better than Senna already in 1988, having gathered 105 points compared to Senna's 94. However, because the rules of F1 were complicated and unlogical, Alain didn't win the title because he got 18 points deducted from the total... In 1989 the rules were the same which didn't make the calculation easier.

Anyway, in 1989, Alain was leading the race and he was already leading the Championship by 16 points. Senna knew he had to win to still have a small chance to win the Championship, while Alain just had to finish in front of Senna in one of the two remaining races (Senna had to win both to win the championship). So, Alain was leading and controlling the race, keeping Senna in enough distance behind him, so Senna could not start an overtaking manoeuvre. But when they were getting close to the chicane about eight laps before the end, Senna completely stopped thinking and didn't slow down, going to the inside and crashing from behind into Alain Prost. Yes, in contrary of what some Senna fans might say, he was crashing into Alain from BEHIND, just because Senna was much too fast, it looks like they were almost on equal height at the time of the crash, which they were absolutely not. Niki Lauda would later say, that always the one coming up from behind is the one who is in fault, because the leader is deciding where he is driving. Alain's words: "As for the accident between us at the chicane, yes, I know everybody thinks I did it on purpose. What I say is that I did not open the door, and that's it. I didn't want to finish the race like that - I'd led from the start, and I wanted to win it. I didn't want him too close, obviously, but I wanted him close enough that he would hurt his tyres; my plan was then to push hard over the last few laps. As it was he tried to pass - and for me the way he did it was impossible, because he was going so much quicker than usual into the braking area. I couldn't believe he tried it on that lap, because, as we came up to the chicane, he was so far back. When you look in your mirrors, and a guy is 20 metres behind you, it's impossible to judge, and I didn't even realise he was trying to overtake me. But at the same time I thought, 'There's no way I'm going to leave him even a one-metre gap. No way'. I came off the throttle, braked - and turned in."

While Alain was getting out of his car (which was still in good condition compared to the one of Senna), Senna told the stewards to push his car, which they did and he was driving through the chicane. Of course he got disqualified for this, and he should have known the rules. Funny enough he did almost the same manoeuvre later on the new leader Alessandro Nannini. If he would have crashed again, then the Senna fans would have probably blamed it on Nannini, but so they could blame it on Prost.

October 21, 1990 - one year later the two were back at Suzuka, and this time it was Alain who had to win. Senna said before the race about Prost: "If he does go into the first corner in first position, he's not going to make it..." - That was known to the press and also known to me. But of course Alain was going for the first corner in first position and I just knew that Senna would crash into him again, which he did. I think everybody who saw the crash live on T.V. had a stopped heartbeat for some seconds... Everybody knows that a crash at almost full speed is dangerous and can be deadly, no matter when and where it happens. Luckily everything was O.K. and nobody was hurt. Although I somehow expected it, I still couldn't believe Senna actually did it... This was so unreal, only an suicidal idiot could do such a thing... Which proved to me again that Senna was putting his brain off when he was behind the wheel. He often said before that was like in trance when he drove through the streets of Monaco. Here is the reason: He was stopping to think and just followed the track in front of him. Everything else he forgot about, even the possibility that he could kill somebody with his acting. In Suzuka he could have killed not only Alain Prost, but even spectators and marshalls at the track. Because in a high speed crash, you never know where the wheels and other car pieces fly.

But it was completely out of question for me that they would red flag the race. Until today I cannot understand why they didn't stop the race. Back at that time (before they had the safety car in F1), if in any other race the two leaders crash into each other in the first corner of a race, it was ALWAYS red flagged... Always! It's funny how Senna fans go on about Alain's "friend" Balestre. But nobody ever talks about the "friends" in the background of Japanese company Honda. They built engines the way Senna wanted them and didn't listen to Alain Prost at most races in 1988/1989 and it is funny how Senna got pushed in 1989 and how the race did not get stopped in 1990 in Suzuka - was it because of the big Honda sponsorship there?

Alain said about Suzuka 1990: "Well, what can you say about that? After I'd retired we talked about it, and he admitted to me - as he did to the press - that he'd done it on purpose. He explained to me why he did it. He was furious with Balestre for not agreeing to change the grid, so that he could start on the left, and he told me he had decided that if I got to the first corner ahead of him, he'd push me off. What happened in Japan in '90 is something I will never forget, because it wasn't only Ayrton who was involved. Some of the people at McLaren, a lot of officials - and a lot of media - agreed with what he'd done, and that I couldn't accept. Honestly I almost retired after that race. As I always said, you know, he didn't want to beat me, metaphorically he wanted to destroy me - that was his motivation from the first day. Even in that Mercedes touring car race, back in '84, I realised that he wasn't interested in beating Alan Jones or Keke Rosberg or anyone else - it was me, just me, for some reason."

If Senna would have done the same thing as in Suzuka 1990 ten years later, there is absolutely no doubt he would have been disqualified (probably he would not only have been disqualified from the race but even from the Championship or lost all his points like Michael Schumacher did some years later for a far less ugly crash... But in Suzuka 1990 (and many times before) Senna was allowed to do anything without being penalised.

Fans and media were explaining that Senna wanted to win the championship 1990 in the same way he lost it in 1989. However, and many Senna-fans forget this: Alain had to only win ONE out of TWO races in 1989. So, whoever says that Senna lost the F1 World Championship in 1989 because of Balestre, is wrong! Because Senna didn't win the race in Australia 1989, so he wouldn't have won the Championship 1989 anyway. People who think that Senna was better than Prost just did not see the races or don't understand what it is all about: Formula 1 should be clean and fair racing and fighting for positions and claiming points to win the championship. What Senna did, was trying to win all the races no matter in which way, no matter if pushing or some crashing was involved. And if he couldn't win a championship or a race by driving well on the track he had always the option of crashing into the leader, like he did it to Alain in Suzuka 1989 and in Suzuka 1990, for example...

Even though Formula 1 races are far less exciting (or even very boring) nowadays than they were in the eighties: at least the regulating bodies make sure that there is no Senna-way-of-racing anymore in F1, because nowadays you would be disqualified in no time driving like Ayrton Senna...

Oskar Schuler, Switzerland
September 2004