1989 Japanese Grand Prix - Senna versus Prost at Suzuka 10 Oct 2008
This weekends Japanese Grand Prix takes place at the Fuji Speedway, but back in 1989 it was Suzuka that had the privilege of hosting a race which saw the culmination of one of the most hotly-contested inter-team rivalries in Formula One history - and a surprising victory for one of that seasons lesser-known drivers.
If were talking 1989, the duelling team mates have to be McLarens Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The pair had already banged knuckles the previous season, with Senna ultimately victorious, his eight wins to Prosts seven bringing him the drivers crown. And with the McLaren enjoying similar performance levels in 89, the duo was just as dominant and the antagonism between them just as potent.
Senna had won the previous round in Spain in convincing fashion, but as they arrived in Japan Prost still had the advantage, with a 16-point lead over his team mate. If the Brazilian were to keep his championship hopes alive, hed have to win again at Suzuka.
He certainly started on the right footing on Saturday by scooping his 41st pole position with one of the best qualifying laps of his career. So good was Sennas time that Prost finished over 1.7 seconds off his team mates pace. Nonetheless, it was enough for second on the grid, ahead of the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Nigel Mansell, the Williams of Riccardo Patrese and the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini.
On Sunday, however, a slip of concentration from Senna saw Prost streak away at the start. With clean air in front of him, the Frenchman was able to build up a lead of five seconds over the first half of the race. But a determined Senna wasnt that easily beaten, and after taking on new rubber at his pit stop gradually started to eat into Prosts advantage.
By Lap 40 of 73, Senna had Prost in his sights. But with his team mate quicker on the straights, despite Sennas superior speed in corners, it was difficult to find a way past. Six frustrating laps later, though, he made a move, diving down the inside as they got to the chicane. It was a characteristically aggressive manoeuvre from Senna, but this time Prost was not prepared to back down and promptly shut the door on his encroaching team mate.
The subsequent collision was not serious, but brought both to a standstill. Prost jumped out of his car believing the race over, but Senna remained in the cockpit as marshals pushed him out of danger up an escape road. As they did so Senna was able to restart his McLaren, and - crucially - then cut across the chicane to return to the fray. As his rival revived his title hopes, a stunned Prost could only watch from sidelines.
The entire incident had taken just seconds, but it was enough for Nannini, who had been running third, to take the lead. But even after pitting to replace his cars damaged nose, Senna was just five seconds behind the Italian. Bearing in mind just how much speed Senna had enjoyed before the collision, it came as little surprise when he proceeded to catch and overtake the Benetton to clinch victory.
But even though he crossed the finish line first, the Brazilian would not celebrate victory that day - nor keep his title hopes alive. Disqualified for missing the chicane, a furious Senna instead saw Nannini appear on the top step of the podium for the first and only time in his Formula One career. More importantly, back at the McLaren garage, Prost was celebrating his third drivers championship.
The Frenchman would move to Ferrari for 1990. While he remained Sennas main rival for that years title, in a reversal of 1989 it was Prost who went to Japan needing points. As in 89 Senna took pole, but - as in 89 - Prost made the better start. At Turn One, the Brazilian predictably refused to give way and they crashed. This time neither driver was able to restart, handing Senna the second world crown that had eluded him the year before.