When Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost crashed at Japan again in 1990 - with contrasting results

The 1990 Japanese GP was won by Nelson Piquet, but is forever remembered for the crash between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

The collision between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at Suzuka in 1990 mirrored their clash from a year earlier. (Image: Twitter)
By Shayne Dias | Oct 21, 2021 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

The rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost is one of the most defining feuds of Formula 1 in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The two drivers possessed contrasting styles and personalities. As such, it is little surprise that they could not stand each other for the most part.

It made for entertaining – if bordeline dangerous – racing on the tracks. It also created interesting dynamic when they were teammates at McLaren – a team where drivers are allowed to race each other.

One of the biggest moments of their rivalry came at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix. Going into that race, the title was finely in the balance – even though Senna had a nine-point lead.

However, that was a lead which two good results for Prost could, in theory, overturn. Yet it led to an incident that caused even more bad blood among the two rivals.

With 31 years having passed since the race, let us look back at an infamous moment in an infamous rivalry.

The background

Coming into the penultimate race in Japan, it was Senna who led the world championship standings. However, Prost and Ferrari teammate Nigel Mansell won the last two races before Japan.

Thus, there was a feeling that Prost could possibly take the fight to Senna in the final rounds – and maybe even win the title.

However, it was impossible to not think about the elephant in the room. Senna and Prost were involved in an accident in this same venue in 1989.

The clash would eventually lead to Prost winning the title – although the bad blood between him and teammate Senna reached an all-time high. As a result, Prost would leave McLaren to join Ferrari.

The Frenchman had done well to take the fight to Senna in a Ferrari that was inconsistent at best. However, the main question on everyone’s mind was this: would we see another clash?

It didn’t help matters that, although Senna took pole, he was unhappy about his starting position. He would begin the race from the ‘dirty’ side of the track, something that could negate his pole advantage.

He and teammate Gerhard Berger would approach the stewards for the race and have the position changed. However, Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) president Jean Marie Balestre reversed that decision.

In addition, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) stated that crossing the yellow pit line going into the first corner was not permitted. This left Senna seething even more.

Few at the time knew it, but a big storm was brewing.

Ayrton Senna extracts payback for 1989

The start of the race saw Prost get the better start and go into the lead. However, Ayrton Senna was not to be outdone so fast. He took the inside line going into the first corner at a decent speed.

There was just one issue with his strategy: there was nowhere near enough room to pull off that overtake. As soon as he dived down the inside, Prost rightfully shut the door.

The Frenchman probably believed that to be the end of the overtake move. Which would have made it all the more shocking when Senna clattered into him at full speed.

To be fair, Senna had said prior to the race that he would not lift off the throttle going into the first corner. But few if any believed he would go this far.

The incident saw both drivers pushed into retirement from the race – and secured the world title for Senna. It was a case of life coming full circle – the clash in 1989 saw Prost win the title.

Typically, the incident divided the world of F1. Some saw it as Senna being too rash for his own good; no matter how tough the machinery, human lives were still at stake every time a race took place.

Others saw it as poetic justice for 1989, a crash which many put down to Prost. Senna, they claimed, was merely taking revenge for last year’s incident.

The race would end with the Benetton’s of Nelson Piquet and Roberto Moreno finishing in a 1-2. But the only people anyone wanted to hear from were Senna and Prost.

The aftermath

Predictably, neither Ayrton Senna nor Alain Prost were in any mood to mince words after the race.

“What he did is disgusting,” Prost said afterwards. “I am not ready to fight against irresponsible people who are not afraid to die.”

Senna, however, was unapologetic and flippant. “I don’t give a damn what he says. He has tried to destroy me but he will not. Prost made the biggest mistake by closing the door as I came inside. He knows I always go for the gap.”

Their rivalry would continue right up until Prost’s retirement at the end of 1993. The Frenchman endured a poor 1991 and took a sabbtical in 1992, the year Nigel Mansell and Williams dominated the sport.

In 1993, he joined Williams in a move that saw Mansell quit the sport – he and Prost shared a frosty relationship due to their time together at Ferrari.

Senna too wanted to join Williams but was unable to due to a clause in Prost’s contract that prevented the two from being teammates. This famously led Senna to label Prost a ‘coward’.

Amazingly, the two would bury the hatchet in Prost’s last race, sharing a hug on the podium in Adelaide.

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