On what would have been Ayrton Senna’s 60th birthday, the Brazilian’s McLaren teammate Alain Prost has reflected on their relationship — a rivalry he feels Formula 1 is unlikely to see ever again.
One of the greatest rivalries in not just F1, but sporting, history, Senna and Prost’s clashes in the late 80’s and early 90’s have made each inextricably linked with the other. And while it certainly had its low points, it is a relationship Prost continues to cherish.
“There isn’t a day when someone I know doesn’t talk about Ayrton and me: it means that we have done something, that something has endured,” he told La Repubblica.
“But in those years, live, you didn’t realize it. I don’t know how to say it: it was quite incredible.”
Winning seven world titles between them — including alternating titles in 1988 and ’89 when the two shared a garage at McLaren — Senna and Prost’s battles dominated headlines and have continued to capture the imagination, something the Frenchman feels would be difficult for any modern or future driver pairing to achieve.
“I don’t know if rivalries like mine and Ayrton’s are the same: they are different times, the racing world today is more sophisticated, the environment has changed and relations, even those with the press, are no longer the same. And finally we have to consider the charisma, the styles and characters of the drivers,” he explained.
For many onlookers the high-point (or low-point, depending on your perspective) came in their championship-deciding collisions in 1989 and ’90 at Suzuka, with Prost causing a collision at the former, and Senna returning the favour at the latter. In the aftermath, there was no love lost between the drivers, but Prost maintains that by the time of his final career race in 1993 in Australia, all had been forgiven.
“I triumphed in the  World Championship by taking the podium [in Adelaide], but Ayrton who had won the race took my arm and wanted to share the top step with me. That moment actually changed our relationship, and today I can say that ours was a magnificent story.”
Making the move to Prost’s old seat at Williams for 1994, Senna’s fateful last season in the sport was also his first where the Frenchman did not share the grid with him.
“There was a before and after: Senna, before, looked at me as the driver to beat and shoot down, a total war. There are the facts that confirm it. Then, when I stopped, there was a complete rapprochement. He no longer had the same motivation. Without me, it was like he’d lost his target a little bit.”
Enduring a difficult start in the ’94 season, Senna was looking for his first win of the season when he was killed in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix. Like many, Senna’s sudden death hit Prost hard, especially as they had become closer throughout the preceding months.
“We even became friends. He told me intimate things about his life. He was no longer the same Ayrton Senna who challenged me on the track. I remember he wanted me to take care of the drivers’ association: he called me several times a week to ask me for advice.
“I also remember that message on the radio in Imola ’94, before he died (‘We all miss you, Alain’). He was interviewed by TF1, French TV and, knowing that I was a commentator, he said those words. But I wasn’t in the studio. It wasn’t until after his death that they showed it to me, and I had tears in my eyes.
“In retrospect, I knew something was wrong. The world was either with Senna, or with Prost. But how did it end? That our stories were completely connected. Not only my career, but my life too. I’ve lived with this rivalry/friendship forever”.