This past season of Formula One has been the best since 1993. The next season, I think, will be the first where no one on the grid has driven against Senna. Depending on how you feel about Schumacher, it’s possible Senna was the last great driver in Formula One. He wasn’t the most successful, but Senna raced in era when other drivers had access to potentially race-winning cars. His biggest rival, Prost, was in the same car for a couple of seasons.
It’s easy to fixate on one of the drivers, but the book covers the development both of the. Prost’s tale starts with his first spell with McLaren of that rivalry from Prost’s arrival at McLaren in 1980. Folley doesn’t simply take Prost’s recollections. He also draws on other people around at the time, such as Tony Jardine. Senna’s early career is covered with his time in Formula Ford in the UK. Martin Brundle gives an honest view of how it was like to race Senna at the time.
Jo Ramirez, who worked at McLaren during the Senna/Prost era is another source of material for their time in the team. Other drivers gave brief accounts to fill out the story. There are interviews with Hill and Williams too. Senna’s time before his death at Williams was brief, but it was Williams who gave Senna his first F1 drive as a part of a test session.
Obviously the two title characters dominate the book, but it is a taste of what Formula One was like in the 1980s. The extra background adds more context to what was going on. For example, the classic clip of Senna first coming to threaten Prost is from Monaco 1984 where an irresistible Senna in a poor car chased down Alain Prost in almost undriveable conditions. Prost’s hand waving in the downpour is easily mistaken for someone appealing to be given the win (1984 Monaco Grand Prix — part 7). However it is clear from the book that Prost was deeply affected his accident in practice for the 1982 German Grand Prix where Didier Pironi came out of heavy rainspray to smash into the back of Prost’s Renault. Pironi never raced in Formula One again. (Didier Pironi — Hockenheim ’82, crash and recovery)
1982 was a black year for Formula One. Along with Pironi’s career-ending accident, Villeneuve and Paletti died in races. Paletti’s death would be the last at a Formula One race till the weekend in 1994 when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna died. Prost was aware that F1 was a dangerous career. Ayrton Senna didn’t start in F1 till 1984. His faith was a worry for some other drivers, especially in his later years, when some thought Senna believed he had divine protection.
There is a problem with any book like this. Prost is alive to give his side of the story. Senna is not. It’s hard to judge now if Senna really thought he was invulnerable. If you’re already a fan of one over the other I don’t think you’ll find anything here to change your mind. But the other drivers come well out of this. Derek Warwick in particular could have been bitter after Senna effectively ended Warwick’s hopes of getting in a race-winning car.
The close of the book is inevitable, but even here Folley is able to add something, like the pressure Senna felt from Schumacher. Everything Senna had thrown at Prost was now coming back at him from Schumacher. A surprise in the book is how is seems Senna appreciated what a rival he had lost after Prost’s retirement. It also emphasises the shadow left by claims over the Benetton team using traction control. Did Senna die chasing an illegal car? http://www1.skysports.com/formula-1/news/12433/7362401/Verstappen-Schuey-s-car-different–
With no Schumacher or Barrichello on the grid for 2013, this will be the first season in a long while where none of the drivers will have known a death at Grand Prix weekend. The massive advances in safety are due in part to the death of Senna. No other event could have shocked the sport into improving safety by so much.