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Historic race in Japan | The titanic fight between Senna and Prost

Historic race in Japan | The titanic fight between Senna and Prost

19 September - 16:28

Ludo van Denderen

With the Japanese Grand Prix usually at the end of the season, the Suzuka circuit has regularly been the scene of world championship decisions. Just think of the 2022 season, where Max Verstappen captured his second world title. Japan's most iconic (and controversial) Grand Prix was undoubtedly the 1989 edition when teammates Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna more than made life difficult for each other.

That Alessandro Nannini took his first and only victory in Formula 1 on the 22nd of October 1989, most people have probably forgotten. Undoubtedly on the retina, though, is that battle between Senna and Prost. The latter was on the verge of becoming world champion, a title he would only forfeit if McLaren colleague Senna won in both Japan and Australia. However, by capturing pole at Suzuka, reigning champion Senna took an important step towards making that a reality.

Prost was better off than Senna

But it was Prost, who started next to him, who got off much better and passed Senna immediately. Gerhard Berger also initially shot past the Brazilian. The Austrian was soon overtaken again by Senna, but the gap to Prost was now huge: six seconds. A poor pit stop also increased the margin in the Frenchman's favour. Still, on his new set of tyres, Senna managed to catch up with Prost. On lap 47, Senna then thought it was time to pass Prost.

The Brazilian got alongside him in the super-fast section called Spoon and then braked later for the chicane. Prost saw Senna coming in his mirrors and did not hesitate for a moment: he immediately slammed the door, resulting in a collision between the two bantams. Both cars stalled in the gravel, which would immediately make Prost the new champion. At the time, however, the driver was able to restart the engine himself, although he needed some help from marshals who pushed Senna out of the gravel pit.

McLaren and Senna on appeal

Senna continued on his way, passing Nannini in the absolute closing stages and crossing the line first. The immense joy was short-lived. Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre, the president of FISA, decided to disqualify Senna himself. The victory thus became Nannini's, the world title Prost's. Eventually, McLaren and Senna appealed the decision; not to bully Prost, but because McLaren thought a legitimate win had been taken away. They were not vindicated in their appeal: Senna remained disqualified, Prost the world champion.

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