The greatest win? Perhaps, but certainly the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington Park gave us the greatest single lap in F1 history.
Formula One cars reached a technological pinnacle in 1993, and many of the driver aids seen that year have since been banned – active suspension, ABS brakes and more. Williams’ FW15 was at the forefront of F1′s technological revolution, allowing Alain Prost and Damon Hill to regularly qualify some two seconds clear of the chasing pack.
By contrast, Ayrton Senna’s McLaren was handicapped by a Ford engine that was already slower than the Renault in the Williams, and in McLaren’s case, not at as highly specced as Benetton’s Ford engine. Nor were their electronic enhancements as refined as Williams’. As a result, Senna was driving for them on a strictly race-by-race basis.
Prost had led Senna home in the first round in South Africa, but Senna won in Brazil after Prost spun out in a rain storm. By this late stage in the Frenchman’s career his dislike of wet weather racing was well known. He had withdrawn from the soaking 1989 Australian Grand Prix, and spun out on the warm-up lap of the wet 1991 San Marino race.
It was no surpirse to anyone that it rained repeatedly during the course of the 1993 European Grand Prix, as it was being held in Britain in April. It had briefly stayed dry for qualifying, allowing Prost and Hill to annexe the front row for Williams ahead of Michael Schumacher, Senna and Karl Wendlinger. But race day dawned cloudy, wet and grey. It would prove the perfect showcase for what was possibly Senna’s greatest moment.
As the lights went green Schumacher faltered and instantly moved to protect his position, squeezing Senna onto the slippery kerbing at the pit exit. Wendlinger passed them both, but Senna clung to the inside of the first corner, Redgate, and was ahead of Schumacher as they began the drop down to the Old Hairpin. Incredibly, Senna then darted from beneath Wendlinger’s rear wing and swooped past him on the outside of the left-hand Craner Curve, slotting back into line before they began braking for Old Hairpin.
Out of Old Hairpin Senna visibly gained on Hill’s Williams and poked alongside him at Macleans. Now he was second. Down the back straight and through and out of the chicane, now Senna had Prost in his sights and cruised alongisde him as they turned into the Melbourne hairpin. In less than a lap Senna had seen off Hill (one driver’s championship), Prost (four driver’s championships) and Schumacher (seven driver’s championships and counting).
The story might as well end there, but Senna did not win the European Grand Prix in a single lap. Thereafter, despite the Williams drivers enjoying a traction advantage that should have been telling on a slippery British track that steadfastly refused to dry out, Senna maintained a consistent lead over Prost and Hill. He drew ever further ahead as they tried to second-guess his strategy by changing from wet to dry tyres and vice-versa. Through it all, Senna ran off the laps with metronomic consistency.
By the end Prost had made five pit stops and was lucky to scrape in third, a whole lap behind Senna. At the press conference he blamed his tyres, his clutch and his gearbox. Senna leant over and asked, “Would you like to swap cars with me?”