Round 3, 1993 European Grand Prix, Donington Park
SENNA SURREAL AT DAMP DONINGTON
1 Ayrton Senna McLaren Ford
2 Damon Hill Williams Renault
3 Alain Prost Williams Renault
4 Johnny Herbert Lotus Ford
5 Riccardo Patrese Benetton Ford
6 Fabrizio Barbazza Minardi Ford
DUE to contractual problems with race organisers in Mexico, the Formula One promoters decided to stage a European Grand Prix for the first time at a neutral venue. Sir Tom Wheatcroft got his wish of seeing the top premier class of motorsport arrive atDoningtonPark. Unfortunately, the Derbyshire weather made the 1993 Easter weekend look damp and murky. However, everyone who witnessed the race was about to see something truly special.
With 16 points from the opening two events, Ayrton Senna was the surprise leader of the championship, but in the dry, his McLaren Ford was eclipsed into fourth on the starting grid. The returning championship favourite Alain Prost was on pole position, ahead of semi-rookie Damon Hill and the prodigal Michael Schumacher. Saturday’s sunshine was replaced by Sunday’s stormy outlook. Although it wasn’t raining at the start, this would be a rain-affected race and would see some of the best exhibition driving anyone is likely to see in history.
Prost made a careful start to the 73 lap distance, with Hill tucking in behind and Schumacher squeezing Senna out on the approach to Redgate. This allowed the Austrian Karl Wendlinger to slide into third place in his Sauber. Exiting Redgate, Senna passed Schumacher, then challenged and past Wendlinger around the outside of the Craner Curves. It had been a stunning response from the Brazilian, but he wasn’t done with yet, diving inside Hill at McInnes to take second, then charging onto Prost’s tail. By the end of the lap, he brushed his great enemy aside at the Melbourne Hairpin, making it look like taking candy from a baby. Elsewhere, Senna’s careless team-mate Michael Andretti was out already. Like in Brazil, he had made a mess of an overtaking attempt and took the luckless Wendlinger into the gravel trap with him.
Senna quickly pulled out an early lead, but the two Williams cars were keeping up with him, despite the clear advantage the Grove’s team favour normally having been wiped out by the difficult conditions. Others were struggling though in the midfield. Soon after exiting the pits on the wrong tyres, Martin Brundle spun off, Gerhard Berger abandoned his Ferrari in the garage and whilst trying to overtake Fabrizio Barbazza and let Senna through, Mark Blundell chucked the second Ligier Renault into the gravel. Just when everyone thought slick territory was the way to go, the unpredictable British weather changed hands again. The rain began once more and with it, Schumacher beached his Benetton into the gravel at Coppice. On lap 26, Senna led Prost, Hill, the amazing Rubens Barrichello in a Jordan Hart, Jean Alesi’s evil handling Ferrari and the Lotus of Johnny Herbert.
Now the weather gods were playing silly beggars with the teams and drivers still in participation as the track dried out, then rained again in quick succession. As long as drivers were on the right tyres, things were looking up, no matter how many trips to the pits were required. With no pitlane speed limit in force in those days, Senna managed to getaway with setting the fastest lap of the race in the pits. He made seven visits to the pits; the Williams drivers were just as frequent in stops. At one routine change, Prost, in desperation to stay in contention, promptly stalled his engine. It took an eternity for the Renault motor to fire up again and by that time, the Professor rejoined to face the indignity of Senna lapping him. It got worse for the Frenchman, when Hill also lapped his much more experienced team-mate.
Damon was under attack from the surprise of the race in Barrichello. The rookie Brazilian was only driving in his third ever event, but made it look like he had been driving for decades. He was catching Hill for second and the fairytale rostrum looked on. Unfortunately, the Hart engine was starved of petrol and the luckless Rubens pulled out four laps from the end, due to fuel pressure problems.
Senna was peerless, as he won by a minute, from Hill, who was the only other man to complete the full distance. Prost was a bewildered third , followed home by Herbert, the Benetton Ford of veteran Riccardo Patrese and Barbazza. The latter clinching his first F1 championship point in the process.
Undoubtedly, this was one of the best performances ever seen by a single individual in a Grand Prix. For many, Ayrton Senna had just produced his finest hour. Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be many more triumphs for the Brazilian to bask in.