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The iconic Senna-Prost Suzuka 1989 battle

Written by Isabel Jane Caporaso, Edited by Meghana Sree

Two teammates, one dream: to become the 1989 Formula One World Champion.

Considered one of the most controversial yet memorable races of all time, the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix took place on the Suzuka track in Japan, where Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna rewrote the pages of history.

Alain Prost leading the 1989 Japanese GP; Credit - Getty Images/ Pascal Rondeau

  Ahead of the weekend the standings were led by Prost, followed by Senna, who was 17 points off. This meant that Senna had to win both the Japanese Grand Prix and the upcoming Australian round, the last race of that season, in order to become the titleholder. However, if Senna did not win these two races, Prost would be crowned champion.


 The tension was palpable on the Sunday of the race. Both drivers had openly admitted that they would have no mercy towards one another, so the race began as a battle not only for the Championship, but also for the pride of the men sitting in the cars. Senna was on pole, but Prost’s start was better as he managed to gain the lead of the race.

During the first 39 laps, the Frenchman led with a good advantage on the rest of the drivers. But lap 40 was when the chaos began. Up till that moment the thousands of Senna fans in the grandstands had been rooting for their driver to gain time, so when they saw how close the Brazilian had gotten to the lead they all stood up in awe and anticipation. 

  For the following seven laps everyone held their breath, as they thought they were about to witness the first step towards Senna’s second championship title, but what was about to happen would be much more memorable.

The drivers arrived at the last chicane where the two collided before the apex of the turn. Both cars slid onto the chicane escape road. The title seemed to have been settled, as if both cars remained out, Prost would be the champion.

Prost began to climb out of his car, convinced that the Championship had been declared in his favor, but when he turned his head he saw Senna being pushed by the marshalls and restarting his race. After a speedy pitstop, Senna won the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, but he would never get on the podium.

Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna after the collision; Credit - Getty Images/ TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP

Soon after the race, Senna got disqualified for receiving a push-start from the marshalls, and for cutting the chicane while rejoining the race. This meant that, although Senna had won the race, Prost was champion.

The atmosphere on track was uneasy. Senna was labelled as a dangerous driver, while Prost was accused of favouritism. To top things off, Senna’s super licence got suspended for six months which made the driver consider giving up racing. 

The rivalry between the two did not end in Suzuka, but rather went on for another four seasons, which ended with two more titles credited to Senna and one more for Prost. 

Ayrton Senna at Suzuka 1989; Credit - Getty Images/ Paul-Henri Cahier

Suzuka, the home of a million wonders. Where all drivers, modern and historic, give us thrill and excitement. Only time will tell what other memorable moments the Japanese Grand Prix will bring, but until then we can only relive the best ones yet. 


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