Setting the Scene – Prost and Senna in 1988

Prost and Senna at McLaren – THE pairing of 1988


Alan Fearnley Alain Prost Motor Racing Car Grand Prix
publisher: old-print
price: $447.75 (new)

Long established at McLaren, Prost saw himself very much as a ‘team’ driver, and was recognized as the most complete and accomplished of Grand Prix drivers in 1988.  The fierce dedication and self-belief of Ayrton Senna, probably the fastest driver for sheer pace but less of a team player, was in stark contrast.  All the attention at the start of the season was focused on how these two philosophies would mesh.

Prost was comfortable at ‘his’ team, already a double World Champion, and happy to share technical information.  Senna, with a burning ambition, was the new boy.  Harmony was not a priority.

Senna acknowledged Prost’s greater experience at setting up the car, and made use of Prost’s car settings for the races, and initially Alain was happy to help Senna find his feet.

In the middle part of the season Senna got the upper hand, being a faster qualifier and more adept at lapping slower cars.  Senna’s ability to drive a ‘perfect’ lap in qualifying was partly due to his experience with the Honda engine at Lotus the previous year. Jabbing the throttle to keep the engine within its power band paid off in the corners, whereas Prost was more used to the TAG/Porsche engine which had suited his smoother use of the throttle.  After four straight Senna victories Prost’s began to lose faith in his cars, the MP4/4-4 and the MP4/4-2, and it is true that when his new car arrived, the MP4/4-6 he proceeded to win three of the season’s final four races. It is notable that the one he didn’t win, at Japan’s Suzuka circuit, was the one that cost him the Championship, and Senna’s decisiveness in lapping back markers in contrast to Prost’s more cautious approach was the decisive Championship moment.

From Prost’s point of view, there were suspicions of favouritism at McLaren.  Why was an old engine fitted to his car in Germany in qualifying? Why did his engine fail in Italy? Why did his gearbox cause trouble in Japan? Or was it the clutch?  More to the point, why did Senna not have these problems?

Career stats to date: Prost and Senna at the start of the 1988 season

Alain Prost
Start of 1988
GPs: 121
Wins: 28
Podiums: 55
Total Points: 406.5
Average points/race: 3.36
Pole Positions: 16
Fastest Laps: 20
GP debut: 1980
World Championships: 2

Ayrton Senna
Start of 1988
GPs: 62
Wins: 6
Podiums: 25
Total Points: 163
Average points/race: 2.63
Pole Positions: 16
Fastest Laps: 7
GP debut: 1984
World Championships: 0

Senna Versus Prost: The Story of the Most Deadly Rivalry in Formula One
by: Malcolm Folley
publisher: Random House UK, published: 2010-05-26
ASIN: 0099528096
EAN: 9780099528098
sales rank: 67783
price: $9.81 (new), $9.23 (used)

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Formula One was at its most explosive, with thrilling races, charismatic drivers, nail-biting climaxes—and one of the most dangerous rivalries ever witnessed in sports. Two of F1’s most honored champions and iconic figures drove together for McLaren for two seasons, and their acrimonious and hostile relationship extended even after one of them had left the team. Alain Prost was France’s only F1 world champion, an intelligent, smooth driver with the epithet “Le Professeur,” while Ayrton Senna was the mercurial kid from a privileged background in Sao Paolo who would become the most intense and ruthless racing driver the world has ever seen. As the great rivals raced to victory, their relationship deteriorated badly, culminating in Prost accusing Senna of deliberately trying to ride him off the circuit, and fearful that the Brazilian would get someone killed with his daring overtaking feats. The final, sad act of this drama happened at the San Marino Grand prix at Imola in May 1994, when Senna was killed. Insights from Martin Brundle, Damon Hill, Sir Frank Williams, Bernie Ecclestone, Derek Warwick, Johnny Herbert, Gerhard Berger, plus McLaren insiders and other F1 figures provide a breathtaking account of one of the all-time classic sporting rivalries.
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2 thoughts on “Setting the Scene – Prost and Senna in 1988

  1. Senna, he did it without most of the eicrtconles & in cars that needed out right skill to control. Never saw Schumacher drive a 1000 1200 bhp turbo F1 car & the way he bitched about traction control & driver aids being removed took me by surprise, maybe he was just too old to deal with it

  2. This Adelaide track was that great in my opinion becusae it made drivers really have a hard work to do. Those mid-speed 90 degree turns along with the low grip tarmac resulted in some great pieces of car control, also seen in onboards of Jean Alesi, Gerhard Berger and Nigel Mansell.

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