Senna versus Prost by Malcolm Folley

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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​.skys​ports​.com/​f​o​r​m​u​l​a​-​1​/​n​e​w​s​/​1​2​4​3​3​/​7​3​6​2​4​0​1​/​V​e​r​s​t​a​p​p​e​n​-​S​c​h​u​e​y​-​s​-​c​a​r​-​d​i​f​f​e​r​ent–

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.

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