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Donington Park 1993

Ayrton Senna: © Rainer Nyberg
It was a cold afternoon in Donington park, which was hosting its first Grand Prix after 55 years. The rain had dropped heavily before the race, making the track very wet. In these wet conditions we were about to see the finest display of skill in Formula 1 for the last two decades, if not the finest ever.

It was back in 1993, when the duo of the Williams Renault with Prost and Hill was dominating the field. Thanks to traction control, active suspension and Renault ‘s superior engine the two Williams seemed unbeatable. Schumacher ‘s Benetton was the second fastest car in the grid, using the latest spec of the Ford Cosworth engine. Senna was struggling in an underpowered Mclaren, powered by the 92 spec Ford engine and lacking the state of the art technology developed by the Williams team. The qualifying proved once again the great advantage of the Williams cars, Alain Prost and Damon Hill taking the front row in the starting grid. More than two seconds behind were Schumacher third and Senna in fourth place. But the rain would change the odds unexpectedly….

The green lights were on, the Williams duo making a nice start retaining first and second place as they turned around in the first corner. Karl Wendlinger in Sauber was the one who made a blistering start from 5th place, grabbing 3rd just as he approached the first turn. Schumacher closed Senna on the outside, but the Brazilian made a swift and aggressive move, taking the inside line before the corner and gaining 4th place from Schumacher. A pair of a left-hander, then a right-hander followed. The track was extremely wet, forcing all drivers to take the left-hander moving in the inside, so that they didn’t risk overshooting the turn, while maintaining a correct "racing line" for the right-hander.

However, this was not the case for Senna. The Brazilian moved in the outside, taking a line completely different from all the other drivers and, seemingly, completely wrong. However, Senna taking the outside overtook Wendlinger easily, while placing his car in time in the correct position for the right-hander that was coming. It seems that the outside line had much more grip than the inside line; how Senna was the only driver to realise it remains a mystery.

Hill and Prost were ahead, in the extremely fast Williams. But the heavy rain was all Senna needed. Driving courageously, he was coming out of the corners much faster than Hill and Prost. Driving "as if the track surface was dry", he passed Hill aggressively, then Prost after an S-bend, Ayrton moving so much faster and smoother through the S, as if the Frenchman was driving an F3. So before lap 1 the Brazilian had grabbed 1st place, in what remains the best opening race lap I have seen. But the show wasn’t over, not for seventy more laps.

Video

Highlights of 1993 European GP
[8.0Mb MPEG]

Senna started building a gap on the following Williams, dominating in the wet conditions. The Brazilian was in a race of his own, gaining about 1 second per lap on second Prost. However, the odds changed dramatically when the sun started appearing over the wet track. The track started drying out, and by lap 20 Senna ‘s advantage had been reduced to 5 seconds. Then the rain started again, and all drivers started pitting for wet tyres, Prost being the first to make to do so. Senna decided to gamble, driving in slicks for a few more laps before pitting, a tactic that payed out well, as the advantage over Prost increased to 15 seconds. Lap 30, the track started drying again and Prost, being in the superior Williams, started his attack on Senna. The two drivers pitted for slicks, and a problem with Senna’s pit stop handed the lead to Prost. Lap 35, the weather was changing continuously that afternoon, and the rain started once more. Prost pitted for wets, Senna stayed on slicks and managed to record fastest lap in the partly wet track. Senna was pushing hard with slicks, extending continuously his lead over Prost and passing one backmarker after the other, leaving only himself, Prost, Hill and Barichello on the lead lap. Meanwhile, the advantage over Prost continued to extend, so the Frenchman decided to pit for slicks. It proved to be a disastrous pit stop, the car stalled and re-entered the track one lap behind Senna. The show continued, Hill and Barrichello were lapped also and Senna was the only driver on the lead lap. At some time he pit stopped, waved to the pit crew and left. The race ended after 71 laps, Hill being the only driver finishing barely in the lead lap, more than 80 seconds behind Senna.

A stunning performance by Ayrton Senna, driving for many rounds in slicks under wet conditions and finishing so much ahead of the tremendously overpowered Williams. Stirling Moss once said that Senna was "the greatest 'racer' of all time". And that race at Donnington (plus his 66 pole positions) is probably the best proof of the above statement….

 
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