GREAT DRIVES – AYRTON SENNA 1993 EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX
Today we launch the first in a regular series of features focusing on some of the great drives in Formula 1. It seems fitting as we restart the 2020 season that we focus on arguably the greatest ever driver to sit in a modern formula 1 car, Ayrton Senna.
In 1993 Donnington Park played host to a European Grand Prix that replaced the cancelled Asian Grand Prix planned to take place in Japan that year. Being the third race of the season, it took place in April, a lot earlier in the year than the scheduled British Grand Prix. As a result, the British weather was typically unforgiving with persistent rain throughout the weekend.
The Williams team were at the peak of their powers with Prost and Hill dominating qualifying. As they lined up on the grid, Senna was on the second row in fourth behind Prost, Hill, and Michael Schumacher. It was a wet start with a lot of standing water still on the circuit. As the lights went out and the drivers headed off to the first corner Schumacher and Senna tussled for third place, giving Karl Wendlinger in fifth the moment to sneak through and approach the first corner in third behind Prost and Hill, with Senna now down to fifth place.
Senna took Schumacher into the entry to the Craner Curves and was passed Wendlinger by the time they hit the Old Hairpin (turn 4). The Williams’ had managed to open up a gap with the others behind them busy fighting it out for third, but it didn’t take Senna long to be on the tail of Hill, in second and passed him at McLean’s (turn 7).
The Prost/Senna rivalry was undiminished, but Prost lacked confidence in the wet and it was clear Senna was on a mission. Prost made it difficult for Senna who was relentlessly hounding him through Coppice, down Starkey’s Straight, and through The Esses. With just 2 corners left on the first lap Senna made a dive down the inside as the two cars approached the Melbourne Hairpin. Prost tried to defend but Senna was not to be denied and exited the corner in the lead.
With a drying track the teams pitted their cars for slicks but following retirements from JJ Lehto and Gerhard Berger, the rain returned, and the drivers frantically pitted for wet tyres.
Schumacher gambled and stayed out on the slick tyres hoping the rain was nothing more than a quick shower. He led the race into lap 23 but his tyre choice backfired, and he span out of the race. If he had managed to stay on the track it could have paid off as the track again began to dry. The teams pitted their drivers again but a slow stop from Senna left him in second behind Prost and ahead of Hill in third, and rookie Ruebens Barrichello fourth.
More rain followed and Williams brought their drivers in for a fresh set of wet tyres. Senna having had the previous slow stop decided to throw caution to the wind and stay out on his slick tyres. It proved the right decision as the rain quickly stopped and the track started to dry.
Williams pitted again for fresh slick tyres. This time it was Prost’s turn to have pit problems as he stalled the car in his haste to get back on to the circuit. With Prost rejoining the race a lap down in fourth, Senna now had a pit stop in his back pocket and had opened up a significant lead. Barrichello couldn’t believe his luck now sitting in second, but more rain came down and with another round of pit stops he was demoted to third place with Hill in second a lap down on the dominant Senna.
Barrichello’s luck took a further turn for the worst as he suffered fuel pressure issues and had to retire. This promoted the still unconvincing Prost to third place with Senna further underlining his superiority by setting the fastest lap of the race 20 laps from home, taking a short cut through the pits (pit lane speed limits would come into force in 1994).
By this stage in the race Senna had secured his position and baring a mechanical failure it was his for the taking. The failure never surfaced, and he came home to win with over a minute to spare ahead of Hill, the only other driver to finish the race on the same lap. Prost was third a lap down.
The race not only underlined Senna’s almost peerless driving in the wet, it also demonstrated his “all or nothing” approach to racing choosing to stay out on slicks at the key moment. As the race played out to the finish Senna had taken four pit stops compared to Prost’s seven.
This victory proved to be not only one of Senna’s finest drives but also one of the greatest in Formula 1 history, the first lap of which has gone down in motorsport folklore. He finished the season as runner up to Prost sadly gracing the top step of the podium only 3 further times before his untimely death a year later at Imola.