Senna Vs Prost: Statistics show you would rather have Prost in your car if you were a F1 team principal


In Formula 1, pole positions are vanity, wins are sanity and points are king

In the history of Formula 1, Brazilian Ayrton Senna and Frenchman Alain Prost are two of the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen. They also participated in one of the most intense and acrimonious rivalries that became life-threateningly dangerous on the track. Their rivalry ended when Prost retired in 1993 and since then their reputations have travelled in different directions.

Their rivalry, particularly from 1988-1990, is infamous in F1 folklore and if you want to learn more about their rivalry then I can fully recommend Malcolm Folley’s excellent book ‘Senna versus Prost’ which includes detailed information of their backgrounds, careers and personalities which are essential to fully understand the reason, nature and intensity of their duel.

The respective fans of these two very different drivers, of course, argue and debate as to who was actually the best. Senna fans, like the great man himself, refuse to accept that Prost, or anyone else, could have been better. Whereas Prost fans take a quieter and more analytical approach, just like Prost did as a driver, and state he was the best overall.

There is no clear cut conclusion and they both were extraordinary drivers in different ways and both had their weaker points. Senna’s driving style and personality was far more vivacious than that of Prost and this drew in more fans. When Senna tragically died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, his already exceptional reputation rose even further into truly legendary proportions. Prost’s reputation, on the other hand, seemed to diminish after he retired as a F1 driver and dropped even further after his unsuccessful turn at running an all-French F1 Team (Prost Grand Prix).

These two great titans of F1 had such different approaches to driving, such different personalities and cultural backgrounds, but yet were evenly matched; it seems wrong and unfair somehow that their reputations in history are not evenly matched? Senna fans must at least accept that Prost was by far his greatest rival and pushed him harder and closer than any other driver.

Beating Prost became an obsession to Senna and their rivalry was so important to him that after Prost retired in 1993, he actually called Prost several times (to Alain’s great surprise) during late 1993 and early 1994 to try and persuade him not to retire and race again! You cannot be a true fan of Senna or Prost without recognising the brilliance of both drivers.

‘There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics’. In the Prost versus Senna debate, statistics have been used in different ways to support the belief of the respective fan. For example, Senna fans point to his 3 World Championships, 65 pole positions, 80 podiums and 41 wins from 161 starts to demonstrate his greatness and superiority. Prost fans state his 4 world championships (3rd highest in F1 history), his 51 wins, 106 podiums and a career total of 798.5pts (all 2nd highest in history) from 199 starts.

Rather than trying to find statistics that support either group of fans, I thought it would be interesting to take the view of a team principal and coldly analyse their relative performances to see which driver you would want to have in your car.

To make the analysis as fair as possible I used the two year period where they both drove for McLaren (1988 and 1989) as this is perhaps the best and only opportunity to really assess their relative performances:

Pole Positions Wins Fastest Laps Championships
Senna Prost Senna Prost Senna Prost Senna Prost
1988 13 2 8 7 3 6 1 0
1989 13 2 6 4 2 4 0 1
Total 26 4 14 11 5 10 1 1

The above statistics appear to be very interesting. Senna was clearly the better qualifier and won more races than Prost over the two year period. However, Prost produced double the number of fastest laps than Senna which suggests he had quicker race pace. They both won the world championship, but on the above information alone you would pick Senna over Prost to drive on your team.

However, if you were a team principal, the only statistic that really matters in the above table is the number of championships. Here are the statistics that are more telling:

Av. Qual Pos. Av. Finish Pos. Av. Pts Total Points
Senna Prost Senna Prost Senna Prost Senna Prost
1988 1.25 2.50 2.43 1.50 5.88 6.56 94 105
1989 1.19 2.56 2.89 2.15 3.75 5.06 60 81
Overall 1.22 2.53 2.61 1.81 4.81 5.81 154 186

(Averages are per race averages)

This table tells a different story doesn’t it? This does confirm Senna was a better qualifier (qualifying on average over a position higher than Prost) but it demonstrates that Prost on average per race finished over a position higher than Senna and scored, on average over the 2 years, a point per race more than Ayrton Senna did.  Not only that it shows that on average per race, Senna lost a position from his average starting position by the end of the race, whereas Prost gained a position from his average grid position.

Prost outscored Senna in both seasons. Ayrton Senna won the championship in 1988 as the rules stated then that only the best 11 finishes counted towards the championship. This was the first and only year that the championship winner had not scored the most points overall (counting all 16 finishes). They removed this rule from the 1991 season onwards.

Senna won the championship on the best 11 races rule, but otherwise Prost scored more points overall  for the season and was ahead of him for almost all of the season.

Text Not Needed

Prost won the championship in 1989 and was ahead of Senna on points for nearly the entire season

In Formula 1, pole positions are vanity, wins are sanity and points are king. If you were a team principal with the pressure it brings from sponsors and partners, you would pick Alain Prost over Ayrton Senna using the data above. If you expand the analysis to the whole careers then the critical statistics show Prost would be the best guy to drive your car as he would be more likely to help you win the drivers and constructors world title.

Career Achievements Ayrton Senna Alain Prost
Total Points 614 798.5
Championships 3 4
Win Percentage 25.47% 25.63%
Av. Pts per Race 3.81 4.01

From the statistics and analysing their careers, Senna would much rather go flat out to win the race whereas Prost thought more of the championship and points. Obviously it is not quite as black and white as that, but the distinction between the two drivers in this area is clear.

Senna fans often mention in this debate that Senna would have won the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix if they had not stopped this extremely wet race. Senna, in the Toleman, was catching Prost in the McLaren hand over fist but the officials stopped the race before Senna had a chance to challenge for the lead. It is argued that Senna could have had another race victory, but actually it would have been better for Prost if the race continued and to have let Senna by. If he scored 6pts for second place in a full race rather than the 4.5pts for winning a stopped race halfway through he would have won the championship that year rather losing it to Niki Lauda by half a point!

The statistics show you would definitely have Prost driving your car, but they also show you would want to have Senna driving your other car! These two drivers were so closely matched, so exceptional but unfortunately so different in so many ways.

Motorsport fans were very lucky to see these two legendary drivers go head to head as that does not happen very often. If Prost had not been around, just imagine how many race victories and championships Senna might have had? And if Senna had not been around, then Prost would have easily had another two world championships to his name (1988 and 1990).

The above statistics help to show that Prost’s achievements and reputation should be remembered in a way equal, if not perhaps greater, than that of the great Ayrton Senna.

Jake McMillan

Related Posts:
Button & Hamilton, the New Prost & Senna?
Button Vs Hamilton – the Battle of the Driving Styles
Button and Hamilton, McLaren’s Dream Team?

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57 responses to “Senna Vs Prost: Statistics show you would rather have Prost in your car if you were a F1 team principal

  1. Excellent article. You only forgot to detail how Alain Prost has beaten all his legendary teammates. Using that metric alone, Alain Prost is the best F1 driver of all time.

    • Very good point. Alain Prost’s teammates included 5 world champions and throughout his career he beat the driver on the other side of the garage with only two exceptions: (1) His F1 debut year, 1980, he scored 1pt less than John Watson; (2) in 1984 he lost to Niki Lauda by half a point (due to the wet Monaco race mentioned in the article above).

  2. What a great article! You could habe mentionned also that Prost was very close to win the championship or won it with different teams : Renault (beaten by Piquet in 1983 for 2 points), McLaren (3 titles and beaten by Senna in 1988), Ferrari (beaten by Senna by 7 points) and Williams (champion in 1993). In the contrary, Senna just won with McLaren. But we will never know what he could have achieved with Williams from 1994.

  3. Well… Prost was a great driver, but Senna was a hero. Senna wasn’t only a man, his bravery was unbelieveble. I think that’s why I personally prefer him.

    • Senna was an incredible, intense and charismatic man with a driving style and approach that clearly won the hearts of many fans. The adoration of this exceptional driver sometimes leads fans to have a view of belief that he was unbeatable and no one was quicker. I hope this little posting helps people realise there was also another exceptional driver who was very much his equal but went about his racing in an entirely different way and as this statistical analysis shows he actually did a bit better than Senna.

  4. I totally agree with the article. Anyone can say Senna was a demi-god and Prost an ordinary driver… but then they have to face stark reality: Prost outscored Senna two years in a row while they were teammates.
    Let’s not forget, also, that Prost 1990 loss of championship was due to his teammate (?!) astonishing manouver at the start of estoril gp and beacuse of Senna revolting manovuer (and yet the brazilian, as usual, got a free pass from federation!) at Suzuka.

  5. Senna and Prost, both had different style. In his career, Senna always run in limit, made more mistakes, and Prost was not so fast like Senna, but made less mistakes, he was more regular. These reasons that he had a famous nickname “teacher”.

    Of course Senna style had more fans, i can´t imagine prost doing things like Donington Park 1993, but if you look the history, i can´t imagine Prost doing things like Imola 1988, where Senna was all time in limit and a few mistake finished him in race.

  6. Great comparison, but I guess Senna’s more entertaining driving style is what gives him the edge from a fans point of view. He definitely “went for it” a lot more than Prost who was the cautious type. The Senna style was definitely more attractive to fans, coupled with his insane qualifying times. I definitely rate these two as my top 2 drivers as all time due to all the other fantastic drivers in that era (Mansell, Piquet etc.).
    What I also like about Senna is that he wasn’t intimidated by Prost in his first year at McLaren, Prost had already been a world champion and McLaren was his home turf. Senna came in and was incredibly competitive to his more experienced teammate. I loved that aggression and determination which he showed in ’88.

    All in all, Both are legendary drivers in their own right.

  7. Great article!

    To be honest, I love both drivers and it’s hard to look back and not remember one without the other. We’ll always remember the great contests. The sad reality for Schumacher is that 7 (?) titles counts for nothing when compared to F1 at its best. The solitary genius’s attempt to come out of retirement and re-establish himself is just sad. But then so is Hamilton’s attempt to hype up some kind of Prost Senna-type rivalry between himself and Alonso. (It’s like Oasis talking about the Beatles and the Stones.)

    I stopped watching F1 after Senna died. When I think about that period I think we sometimes forget the truly great drivers such as Piquet and Mansell (unless you’re a Brit) who were also around. Amazing talent … and the late great James Hunt commentating and helping Murray Walker out when he got it all wrong was just great.

    I am not nostalgic by nature but those were great days. I wonder if Ecclestone ever thinks to himself “Where did it all go wrong?”. Probably not. Too much money to be made in the Middle East and Asia with boring races that no longer have any edge in a competition no longer aimed at the real fans but at status conscious yuppies in the emerging markets!!!

    • About your comment on shumacher how his 7 titles mean nothing, wait till he dies then only he’ll become immortal and be named as the greatest driver in f1 history

  8. This it’s a lie, if you were a F1 team principal like Lotus you prefer Senna because your team it’s not capable to beat McLaren or Williams and sponsors join for pole positions or wins.
    But, if you were F1 team principal like McLaren only prefer Prost if you want to be constructor champion because driver championship doesn’t matter points.

    • An interesting view point! I think there is definitely an argument for a “lower” team to want a driver who is great at qualifying and is more controversial and charismatic. This may help in attracting sponsors.

      However, team principals are likely to take a more long term view and want to move from being a “lower” team to one of the “top” teams. Prost “the Professor” had far more experience and expertise in developing F1 cars. His intelligent driving meant he was able to consistently score points even when he was not in the best car, evidenced by him winning the 1986 Drivers Championship when McLaren was definitely not the quickest car.

      I think Lotus in the mid-1980s would have bitten their arm off if they could have got hold of Prost at that time.

      • Senna “Magic” don’t need the best car to win, he won races with any medium car like Lotus or McLaren 92.
        Prost are really good, a constant faster driver, but he’s very conservative.
        Prost was in the best cars McLarens 84, 85, 88 and 89, and Williams 93, but Senna was only in McLaren 88, 89 and 90.
        In 85, Senna had bad luck in San Marino, Monaco, Great Britain when he was first and retired for problems with the car. He could win that championship if he didn’t have many engines problems.
        And Senna never needed a contract team order like Prost in 93 with Hill.

      • I think you are falling into the common trap of over-playing Senna’s brilliance and under-valuing Prost’s. Ayrton was a brilliant driver and the point of the article is to emphasise that so was Prost, but in a very different way. His less flamboyant approach has meant that his excellence has somehow been lost or eroded over the years.

        It is important to remember both Senna and Prost won races when they didn’t have the fastest cars. When Senna won his championship’s in ’88 ’90 and ’91 he was arguably already in the fastest car. In 1990 he only just beat Prost and to achieve that he had to maliciously take him out of the first corner at the Japanese Grand Prix.

        I’m sure there are hundreds more little arguments and counter-arguments like these depending on where your allegiance lies. The point of the article is to remind people that Prost was every bit as amazing as Senna, but could not have been more different about his approach to racing.

      • Yes, Senna hit Prost in Japan in 90 like Prost in 89 did.
        And 91, McLaren was the best car in beginning, after Williams had the best car.
        Both were great drivers, but Senna for me won races magically like Brazil 91 or Donnigton 93. He made laps like Monaco 88 where Enzo Ferrari said he had seen the perfect lap. And he did amazing races in the rain.
        Sometimes numbers don’t say the truth, because there are factors that can’t see like cars problems.
        The number see you have more chance to win with Senna than Prost, but you have more points with Prost. But that years the championship decided for the 12 best results. So, I choose Senna

      • The Prost move on Senna in Japan in ’89 is quite different from the move Senna made on Prost in ’90. If you’ve not already read Malcolm Folley’s book ‘Senna Versus Prost’, then I would definitely recommend it as it gives a superb insight into both drivers and full background into incidents such as the ones at Suzuka. If you are a Prost fan, then it will give you a greater appreciation of Senna and if you are a Senna fan then it will give you a greater appreciation of Prost.

        Prost’s win ratio over his career, as highlighted in the article, is actually higher than Senna. So although it is a very close call, you would have a better chance of wins and scoring more points with Prost.

  9. Nice demonstration… but someone who would want to make the opposite point could make an as nice one too !
    For instance, you refer to Monaco 84, but forget to mention that Senna took the chequered flag in front of Prost ( but as the race was interrupted, you go back to the ranking of an earlier lap ), nor that Bellof was running third and also much faster than Prost and would also have overtaken him within a couple of laps, meaning that Prost could have scored 4 points at best and therefore lose the championship for a full point instead of a half one.
    And this is is just one simple example.
    Everybody remembers his side of the story. Prost fans will tell you that Senna only left a small gap with the pit wall in Portugal, while the others will remember that on the first lap Prost had forced Senna to put his left wheels in the grass.
    Prost fans will remember Suzuka 90… but forget to mention that in 89 he drove pruposefully into Senna ( the helicopter view clearly shows that he turns almost 20 m before the chicane, then immediately leaves his undamaged car, job done… and never admitted to any of that… but still needed some help from Ballestre ! )
    A French Engineer, Gerard Ducarouge, who worked with both pilots, said that in is eyes Senna was from far the best and most complete pilot he ever worked with…
    These 2 drivers were so different that it was nearly impossible not to take side for one of them… against the other ! But nobody can deny they both left their mark on F1, winning at a time when they had to share the track with pilots like Lauda, Piquet, Mansell,… and each other ! Which gives more price to their achievements than for some pilots who won later almost without any opposition ( combination of a good pilot on a fast and reliable car ) worth mentionning

    • Paulo Fernando

      Tyrell 1984= 50 kgs unless – disqulified

    • Monaco 1984 – Toleman mechanics confirmed that Senna’s constant running over the Nouvelle Chicane had damaged his suspension and would have seen him retire within 2-3 laps of when the red flag was shown. Senna would never have won had the race gone the full 2 hours, he wouldn’t have even finished. And while saying that Bellof was catching Prost, you neglect to mention that he was also catching Senna as fast as Senna was catching Prost. And BTW, the only reason Senna passed Prost at the red flag was because Prost had already been told over the radio that the race had been stopped and was slowing to a stop at the pit exit as a result.

      We can all debate who was better until the sun goes down, but for me the biggest thing is the opinions of their fellow drivers. The majority said that Prost was the better driver and for mine their opinion counts for more than any fans.

  10. I could even add that I remember seeing a similar analysis, made by an F1 insider, which was proving exactly the opposite, using the difference in fastest laps.
    He was explaining that Senna was able of such a consistency in performing perfect laps that he was pulling away from everybody in the beginning of the race, and could control the end of the race, but as a fastest lap is never made on the opening laps, he didn’t have many of them… nor did he need them.
    This just to show that you can always see what fits your opinion and use the numbers to make your point.
    A couple of years ago there has been some kind of poll amongst all the F1 pilots and former pilots still alive, asking them who in their eyes was the greatest of all, and Senna emerged clearly, in front of Fangio and Prost if I remember well…

  11. Thanks for the great article, I’ve been wondering about these two and their rivalry lately. I think both are great drivers and, rather than get wedded to worshipping one or the other, it’s interesting to see that very similar results can be achieved through very different methods. And to see how much of an effect style has on peoples perceptions.

  12. Malcolm Folley’s book ‘Senna Versus Prost’ book might as well been written by Prost himself, to get idea what really happened in 1989 and 1990 watch documentary Senna 2010, there you have people who actually were there and saw the injustice that Senna was subjected to by Balestre. Ill take Senna over Prost everyday all day (not saying Prost was bad driver but Ayrton was on another level), the guy could win with worst team, while Prost required a top team (and special “Prost rules”) and every team he left was on bad terms (McLaren, Ferrari, Williams).

    • Thanks for posting your comments. People are always free to make up your their own mind and opinions. You are clearly a Senna fan and I would not want to detract from your admiration of a truly exceptional driver, but I would very strongly dispute some of the things you stated. The recent Senna documentary is a fantastic film which I really enjoyed, but it is far from an objective account. I was fortunate enough to attend a special screening of it in London with the film-makers there and they do not in any way describe it as an objective account of what happened. It is a very Senna-centric view of his racing life and this is very appropriate for the film, but is definitely not a balanced account of events that occurred.

      Malcolm Folley’s book ‘Senna Versus Prost’ is a far more objective and very balanced view of events that took place. It goes into far more detail than the Senna documentary and gives an understanding of both drivers point of view without making any judgements of its own. You have included the infamous coming together of Senna and Prost as a video link. There is so much more to this incident to really understand what happened than this short clip. I think Folley’s book covers this well. It is critical of both drivers.

  13. fair enough, but i think if you going to be a team principal in f1, you need to also look at prost history driving for f-1 teams, and its not very good, he had problems and left f-1 teams on bad terms (team even suspended him). if you saw the senna documentary you could tell the guy was highly respected by his former f-1 team principals but also other f1 drivers.

    • In F1 circles, both Senna and Prost were extremely well respected by F1 Team Principals and drivers alike. But because they had such different talents and achieved amazing results in such different ways we are still debating it 20 years later.

      It is true Prost was fired from Ferrari, but this actually says more about Ferrari and where it was at that time than it does Prost. Although he was not as enigmatic a personality and had a less exciting driving style than Senna, he was the absolute best at setting up a F1 car (Senna often would copy Prost’s set ups) and even after he retired McLaren hired him as a consultant to help with their car. Prost also did the majority of the hard graft of winter testing as Senna didn’t want to do it (which is a real annoyance to a Team Principal). Prost was also willing to drive against any driver within his team whereas Senna would tell Team Principals he didn’t want to race against another driver (just ask Derek Warwick!). Prost’s teammates included many world champions (and other very talented drivers such as Arnoux and Alesi) whereas the only champion Senna was willing to race in a team with was Prost.

      The Senna documentary is a superb film but can’t be taken as historical fact without understanding the perspectives of all the other drivers that were racing at the time. It is openly biased film. I do really like the film but it furthers the unfair notion that Prost was not as good as Senna. As time goes by the film will be used to re-write the history and full facts of what happened. In fact, I think it is already happening.

      • talking about biased, your comments are at least as prejudiced in Prost’s favour than what you claim the movie to be
        It is true that in the beginning of his collaboration with Mc Laren it happened that Senna based his setting on Prost’s, but this lasted less than a season, and later on the same happened in the reverse direction
        Gerard Ducarouge, a French race engineer who worked with bosth Prost and Senna, has declared many times that the most impressive driver he ever worked with in terms of chassis unerstanding and set up was Senna ( still in his Lotus years ! )
        Senna didn’t do winter testing because these were happening in Europe. Should they have taken place in Brazil we would probably have seen the reverse situation. But yes, Senna was Brazilian, and the historical base for F1 is in Europe
        Prost’s only team mate who had already been world champion was Lauda ( Mansell would only be much later ), but he refused later on to be associated with another world champion ( Senna in 93 )
        Senna never refused to have a team mate who was world champion, he just avoided Brundle because of personal feuds coming from their F3 time, and Warvick in hist 1st season to avoid having a British team mate in a British team, fearing not to be on equal foot with him in the “poor” Toleman team
        Prost and Senna were the greatest champions of their time, and tey will stay in history also partly because they were fighting against each other, but I am not sure that presenting things in such a biased and prejudiced way will do any good to Prost’s reputation
        so much has been said about both these champions and their rivalry that anyone wanting to make a certain point can for sure find arguments to defend his position… or the opposite one
        but one thing remains : the fact that other F1 pilots ( and not viewers from their couch as most of us are ) generally agre to say that the greatest, fastet best driver ever was from Brazil… Even Brundle, a very good pilot not suspect of being Senna’s friend, said that he saw Senna do things with his car that he didn’t think possible and that no other driver could do !

      • Since Senna and Prost’s amazing rivalry ended, the historical reputation of each driver has gone in different directions. You are absolutely right to say there is so much bias in this debate and from both sides. I would argue strongly that the bias over time has been more and more in Senna’s direction and the recent Senna film has pushed it further. Some of my comments here may seem biased towards Prost, but are not done to argue or put forward that Prost was better than Senna, but to defend that Prost was as just good as Senna, but they were so different that it is impossible to give a definitive answer to who was best.

        If not already clear, then I would like to state that my view is that both drivers should be celebrated and remembered for being the two of the most amazing F1 drivers in history. Their intense rivalry pushed them to even higher limits and I love the fact that we can still argue so much time later about who was the best. Senna fans will always, and rightly so, defend and support Senna. Prost fans will do the same.

        This article is not about getting people to change their allegiances from one driver to the other. However, if you are true Senna fan, then knowing Prost was really that good, and as good as Senna, should only make your appreciation of his determination, intensity and his achievements even greater.

        To address some of the points you made:

        Although there is bias mostly towards Senna, you are absolutely correct to mention there is bias towards Prost too! Prost ‘The Professor’ does have a deserved reputation of being an expert at setting up a F1 car, whereas Senna’s reputation in this area is weak. However, this is unfair as there is actually lots of evidence and testimonials that Senna was brilliant at setting up a car and gave engineers extremely detailed and precise technical feedback of driving a F1 car.

        Gerard Ducarouge (for those who may be unaware) was a French F1 car designer who worked for Alfa Romeo, Ligier, Tyrell, Matra, Larousse and worked with Senna at Lotus for 3 years (1985-1987). Ducarouge and Prost never worked together in F1.

        Alain Prost drove with Niki Lauda who was a double world champion and he also drove with Keke Rosberg who was already a world champion. Prost was also the one to suggest Senna to Ron Dennis to come drive at McLaren. Senna refused to have another quick teammate (rather than just being a world champion) in his earlier career as he wanted to make sure he was the favoured driver (he admitted as much and was apologetic towards Warwick, for example, someone he was friends with previously).

        Senna not doing the testing as he was in Brazil and the tests were in Europe is absolutely true. However, the point is that he should have done them! All Formula 1 drivers are contracted to race all around the world and this includes testing. Are you suggesting that Barrichello or Bruno Senna do not have to do testing if it is not in Brazil? Of course not, he has to do it because all drivers have to do it. He had been contracted by McLaren to do the testing but persuaded Ron Dennis to get out of it and so Prost had to agree to do Senna’s share.

        Although some of the comments here are critical of Senna, I am only saying this out of balance as I’ve already mentioned. Senna was a truly amazing and awesome and if I was a F1 Team Principal I would have him in my one of my cars. It’s only because of the bias that exists towards Senna that a lot of the comment here has been to defend Prost, who I would also have in one my cars.

      • sorry, I forgot Rosberg, my mistake
        well, I would never say that Barrichello or Bruno are at the same level than Senna
        Senna was in a position to make almost any request and still be wanted by all team principals.
        he considered he needed a winter break to be at his best for the next season ( at that time there were no rules stipulating that testing should stop, and there were many of them ), and team ptincipals thought that his raw talent and the imputs he would give once back from holiday were enough to get a winning combination
        being a top racing pilot is a rare mix of qualities
        you can talk about driving talent, car control, braking and cornering,… but also physical condition, involvement, techincal abilities,… and such other things like ruthlesness and political manoeuvering
        no single pilot has ever been nor will ever be the best in all areas, even if a top pilot can have no real weak point
        but this means that different mixes will reach, at the end of a champinship, a similar result
        and everybody will be more responding to some qualities than others, for whatever reason, be it because you share them or to the contrary wonder about people with such qualities
        if somebody asks me who are the 5 best pilots ever, I wil give you 4 names ( Senna, G. Villeneuve, Clark and Rosemeyer )… because I want to let an open door to someone I would have forgotten or looked down at !
        these pilots share some qualities I admire more than others, like pure driving and racing talent, fearlessness,…
        some others would put Prost and Schumacher, but I don’t because their “political” side or ruthless side are too important for my own taste !… even if of course I know they are also amongst the greatest

  14. “Fastest laps” are not a good metric for race pace, because they depend on fuel load, tire wear etc. – the only meaningful one-lap metric is (or used to be) qualifying. Average lap is a better metric for race pace – consider a driver that has one great lap and three slow ones, and a driver that has four good laps and no slow ones – this is obvious. As for Senna and Prost, you have only 3 years of comparison (1988 – 1990). One could argue 1991, as the Ferrari and McLaren were close. You also have to examine mechanical DNFs etc. And recall in 1989 that Senna – despite stopping, getting a push from the marshals, hitting the pits and having his car repaired mid-race…won the race!

    There is this one more bit of evidence, probably the most important, and that’s that Prost refused Senna in 1993 because, in his own words “I wanted to win the Championship”. Which he did. Prost knew who was the better driver. And at the end of the year, it was clear that Senna was faster despite being down on power (non-factory Ford engine vs. Renault V10) and with a less sophisticated chassis.

    Senna is a romanticized figure for sure, but he really was amazing. There was semi-serious talk before 1994, from people who didn’t appreciate the catastrophe to Williams that the loss of active suspension created, that he would win literally every pole and every race – and it wasn’t that unreasonable, either. Recall in 1993 Senna took a few races off of Prost, and even a couple off of Mansell in 1992 when Williams’ advantage was marvelous to see. And even with a difficult car in 1994, he was 3-for-3 on pole, with one DNF his fault, one DNF due to being rammed at the Pacific GP and one DNF due to some mechanical problem (steering column, slow tire leak etc.). The guy could flat out fly.

    • I totally 100% agree with your comment that ‘Senna is a romanticized figure for sure, but he really was amazing’. However, the point of the article is to remind people that there was this other amazing driver called Prost who was just as good. Unfortunately to make this point, one must inevitably take some of the romance away from Senna which some people don’t like to read or accept.

      For the analysis in the article, I used just the two years (1988 & 1989) they drove together as it is very hard to truly compare different cars. Different tracks and conditions suit different cars better than others. In 1990, the Ferrari was not as good as McLaren but yet Prost ran Senna close and had Ayrton not deliberately taken out Prost at the first corner of Suzuka, he would have had a chance of beating him to the championship. In 1991, the Ferrari was never in contention compared to the much superior McLaren, it was a fight between Williams and McLaren that year. The 1993 Williams was a dominant car, but it was not an easy car to drive or set up. Senna and Prost actually had a few phone calls together about this during the winter of 93/94.

      In 1993, Prost’s final year, he did not want to be in the same team as Senna as he never wanted to be in the same team again with him after his experience at McLaren. Senna was far too intense to have as a team-mate and simply could not accept that Prost was sometimes faster than he was. Why would Prost want to be a colleague to someone who drove him off the road at 150mph that potentially could have had fatal consequences? I do recommend, again, reading Folley’s book to get a background to both driver’s mentalities. In particular, Prost’s early F1 career and the effect of seeing what happened with the rivalry/feud between his friends Pironi and Villeneuve.

  15. Bla bla bla… Senna was faster. Ok. Prost was more complete. It’s so easy to say that Prost was a chicken in the rain when you’ve never been in these conditions as a racing driver. What Senna did was amazing. But what Prost did in other circumstances was truly epic and perfect. He never had to push to much to bring the best out of Senna. He was the most complete and the perfect test driver. Senna was the most enjoyable to watch. He’s now a martyr and that makes him look greater. Prost is still there. They both amazing. But Senna was ruthless and sometimes crazily so. Murray Walker never said he was the best. Like Gilles Villeneuve, he was the fastest of his time. Like Stewart and Lauda, Prost was the best overall of his time. Intelligent, smooth and so naturally fast, he never had to push. Why risking your life in the rain for the audience? I’m impressed by the fact that Prost never got hurt (except in 1980) and won so many races against mighty opposition (Senna, Mansell, Piquet, Rosberg, Lauda, Arnoux, Berger, etc).

  16. These stats only show the end results. It does not he show the true picture of the races druing those seasons. It is common knowledge that Senna held the record for the most laps lead until Schumacher bested this in later years. Senna did lead a lot of laps during this period, always ahead of Prost. Granted there were times when mistakes forced him off yet, your stats do not show the times when mechanical faileure robbed Senna of certain wins or collisions with backmarkers (Monza 88).

    Formula 1 cars were not so reliably in those days. Look at 1985. Prost won the champjonship in 1985 but Senna lead more laps. Which of course does not register points.

    • Hi Sean,

      Thanks for you comment.

      I hope you don’t mind me disagreeing a little with you. The post does take a very statistical approach and I would whole-heartedly agree that statistics don’t show the whole picture, but I would argue that these statistics do actually show a true picture, whereas the emotion and adrenaline of racing can cloud the true picture.

      The calculations above, in particular in relation to averages, do not include DNFs and so this should not distort the picture the statistics portray. It must also be said that Prost had his fair share of mechanical problems, e.g. the reason Senna was able to pass him in Japan in 1988 was due to a gearbox issue. I think mechanical problems-wise they were fairly even.

      Senna did have the record of most laps lead, but I think this is another example of a statistic that has been used to argue Senna’s greatness, but in actual fact it brings up questions and doubts about his overall ability. Don’t get me wrong, any driver leading the most laps must indicate that he (or she) is good and has a lot of talent. However, if I was a team boss and my driver was leading all these laps but hadn’t turned them proportionately into points and wins I would be concerned.

      • About your concern for the laps led without leading to a victory, an explanation, at least partial, can easily be found during Senna’s Lotus-Renault years.
        As Gérard Ducarouge testified about, they had a problem with the fuel pump and fuel metering unit, which caused Senna to run out of fuel several times while leading the race, even if he had not applied any excessive turbo nor throttle pressure, simply because of some technical defect the team took a very long time to become aware of…
        in my memory ( and I agre this is not some god given truth ), during their 2 years as team mates I don’t recall of many instances when Prost would have overtaken Senna on the track without a technical problem on Senna’s car

      • Just from my memory in 1988, the famous passes were the French GP and also Monaco where Senna was pressured into making a mistake.

  17. Nice article.

    I was a fan of Senna. He was trully the most spectacular driver of his era.

    Was, thats it. Then he declared that he ran into Prost intentionally. I have huge respect for pilots who take risk, but i despise those who put others at risk in a deliberate fashion (its the right expression? Sorry, my english is bad.)
    I became a Prost fan.

    And Senna was also favored by Honda a great deal when they were both in the same team. Senna had a very privilegied relationship with Honda (even helping them with the nsx chassis setup if i remember right), too privilegied. That was one of the reason of the “no-Senna” clause in his contract later on.

    And for the breakdowns that somme Senna fans put foward, dont forget that the way you drive affect reliability. Senna was not know for being gentle with his cars.

    It should also be noted that Prost declared that he changed his driving style after witnessing two big accident at the beginning of his carreer. He was more impetuous when he was younger. A good move, in hindsight.

    If your carrer stats are true(sorry, i should verify by myself but i am little lazy ^^), Prost had more points,more wins, better average both when it come to point and win, more championships. And what is important for a pilot, what is his goal? For me,in order of importance: Scoring points, winning races, winning championships. Prost was better in these three categories. How can people say that Senna was better? It baffle me.

    Dont get me wrong tough: Senna was trully an amazing driver. He had better car control, was the best at qualifications and he was so spectacular… You need a great rival to be considered the greatest, and each other had the best one you can get. And his philantropic works show that he had a big heart.

    Its just sadden me that Prost is totally overshadowed by Senna in mainstream medias. Its unjust for the frenchman.

    Ps: sorry for the numerous error in my text, english is not my first language and i have learned it by myself.

    • Hi
      And no worry about the mistakes, as I am myself a native French speaker… but nevertheless never got to become a Prost’s fan, even though I supported many other French drivers
      Prost was at first nicknamed “Prostichon” in France, which can be seen as a cute ending to his name… then it quite quickly became “Pleurnichon” ( pleurnicher is a verb which describes what kids do when they regularly, repeatedly cry or pretend crying in order to coerce their parents into doing what they want, sorry but I don’t know any proper translation for it ), and it started after his team mate Arnoux won the GP de France without giving his 1st place to Prost who was asking for it ( kind of old time “Fernando is faster than you”, except that he wasn’t that day ! )
      And personally it initiated my dislike for the character, much too political for my liking, even though it seems to have become one of the standards for “greatness” in modern F1
      I would have much higher regard for a pilot like Gilles Villeneuve, or for the young ones like Montoya or Raikkonnen
      This was to give a context in what I am saying, because I do think there a 2 major “errors” in what you just said
      First about Honda favouring Senna.
      this is a rumour that has been spread by Prost, and widely repeated afterwards, but totally untrue
      And this irritated the bosses of Honda so much that, in this secretive world of F1, they made public the engine telemetry of both Senna’s and Prost’s cars after a qualifying session in Monza during which Senna had beaten Prost by about 2 ( TWO !!! ) seconds ( and of course whined as usual… )
      And thhis clearly showed that between the braking zone of the 1st double chicane, at the end of the pits’s straight, till the braking for the next chicane, Senna was gaining 1.5 second, on pure driving skills, not on engine performance
      the second point is what made you turn away from Senna
      yes Senna admitted that after Ballestre’s decision concerning the pole in Suzuka 89 he decided he would not get out of his trajectory nor brak to let Prost go
      no I don’t think this is good
      but I do think that pilots who drive intentionally into an opponent ( like Prost in Suzuka 88, or Schumacher repeatedly ) are doing even worse,
      and I do have respect for people who do admit their wrongdoings
      it looks to me that Prost and Schumacher could be great pilots in your eyes because when they hit intentionally an opponent to gain a world title, they never admit to it…
      sorry, but this goes against my principles, and to the contrary it makes them fall in my esteem

      • Hey, a french speaker! Weird to speak to someone who speak the same first language in another.

        First, didnt you messs up the dates? 89 and 90, not 88 and 89 i think. My memeory is fuzzy, i was young.

        And sorry but i never tought that prost what at fault. Sure, he closed the door. Perhaps a little bit early. But, in my humble opinion, legaly. And i was fan of Senna at the time. Its not the same than what Senna did the next year. Beside, its was not the style of Prost to do things like that. Senna, however,was know to put his concurent in situation where if they didnt back down, they would have crashed. He had already pulled some dangerous manoever against Prost, like squeezing him against the pit wall… Senna was far more dangerous for others than Prost. Steward put it well in a interview with Senna, pointing out that he had more collisions in 3 years than any world champion in their entire career.

        And in 89, it was at slow speed. Not in 90, where it was a far more fast and dangerous one, where car where going near fullspeed. It was unconscious, and cannot be excused.

        And i really dont like Schumi for what he did to Villeneuve (and other things). But i dont think it was premedited. Thats a big difference in my book. Its one thing to have a bad reaction (and this was an awfull one, that had to be punished), it is another to have decided even before the race to have a accident. Its much worse in my books.

        And sorry, but do i read you impliying that Senna did not drive intentionally into Prost? seriously? Man, you are “de mauvaise foi”. The leader is entitled to keep his line. Senna just drove into him. That was what he intended to do from the start. Because a leader dont have and never will give away his line. Senna knew Prost will be first, he knew it was going to be a crash, he knew it was going to be a very dangerous one, and he did it anyway.

        For the fact that Prost complained often, this is true, but Senna was not devoid of complaint either. To a lesser extent i admit, but still…

        For the honda thing: i dont have proof, yes, just the word of Prost. But neither do you. Because the data published by Honda (never heard of that by the way, do you have a link?) was from….Honda. You follow me?
        A little link (in french) about the point of view of Prost: http://www.prostfan.com/senna2f.htm

      • you are totally right about 88/89/90, my mistake ( and I was not so young at the time ! )
        for Suzuka 89, if you look at the action from the heliborne cam, you clearly see that Prost turns so early that without Senna’s car he would have been with 4 wheels on the grass, even before the kerb, so I can not imagine that he was keeping his trajectory like he tries to convince people
        moreover, once he has done that he immediately unbuckles and gets out of his undamaged car, mission completed… while Senna had to get his engine restarted, take the slow way through the chicane, drive 1 lap without front wing, pit for a wing change, and still managed to win the race… to be disqualified by Ballestre after Prost went to complain to him !
        but of course nobody can deny it was a low speed “incident”, unike 1 year later
        in 90, once again if you look at the helicopter pictures, very seldom shown, you see that Senna at one point had gotten his nose nearly as far as to Prost’s cockipt’s level, then arriving at the curve Senna reduced his speed, and the schock between the 2 cars was a sideway one, proven by the fact that you can clearly see Prost’s rear wing being projected to the left
        OK, Prost stayed on the trajectory ( unlike the previous year ), but he could have avoided the contact too
        ok, the leader can keep his line, but it doesn’t mean that an opponent having a go at an overtaking, or trying to, can vanish instantly from that line
        there is a very good saying about that, that Prost forgot on that day : live to fight another day !
        And please remember that after having been treated, if not “like a criminal”, at least totally unfairly the previous year by Ballestre, once again the FISA boss was trying to influence the result of the championship by changing the agreement concerning the side of the pole position in favour of Prost !
        People can disagree with Senna or not share the same values ( I am myself an atheist, e.g. ), but nobody can put his integrity in doubt, and for such a person such blatant manipulations can be totally unbearable
        Concerning the “pit wall” incident ( also mentionned in the article you talk about ), watch the video from the start on, and you will see that at the start Prost forces Senna to put 2 wheels in the grass, so why should the Brazilian make it easy for the French to overtake ? And you also clearly see that the distance left between Senna’s car and the wall is about a car width + 1 metre, not at all 15 cm like Prost said ( Or Schumli did to Barrichello ), even if I can understand that from Prost’s point of view it might have looked like that at the moment
        sorry, but no link about Honda’s telemetry, just my very vivid souvenirs from the time…
        of course you can imagine that Honda could have provided tampered evidence, but I don’t think it very likely, at least much less that Prost’s opinion being subjective and biased
        I am always extremely interested in hearing the opinion of the likes of Prost and Schumacher, who have a great technical understanding and a huge experience… except when it comes to their own (wrong)doings, because they are blatant examples of pilots who never show any objectivity about themselves, and never ever recognize having done something wrong, a mistake

      • Thanks for the comments, it’s always good to have a nice debate … keep them coming!

        Senna was a great man and a great driver, but I agree with Vander about him deliberately taking off Prost in Suzuka at around 180mph in 1990. This was a truly horrific act that really does cast a dark shadow on Senna’s character. Both drivers were unharmed and because of this people tend to downplay it and say he was just rebelling against Ballestre, etc. But they way he reacted to his injustice is not the way a grown man of integrity and good moral character does. What if Prost had died in that accident? His death would have been because of Senna’s deliberate act and so would be a highly criminal.

        This is not the same as the Schumacher/Villeneuve incident or Prost/Senna in 1989, which were controversial incidents but were not dangerous. I think Schumacher’s greatness has been diminished because of what he did, regardless of whether he chooses to admit he did it deliberately or not. In Prost’s case I think you are wrong to say he didn’t admit he was responsible for causing the accident, because he has but not in the way you want him to as you see it differently I suspect.

        Before the race he made it very clear to Ron Dennis that he had been tired of Senna throwing himself up the inside with moves that say “let me through or we’re going to have an accident”. He made it known to the team that if Senna tried this again he would shut the door. So, when Senna made his desperate lunge up the inside near the end of the race, Prost stuck to his word and turned in and the rather predictable accident happened. I don’t blame Senna for having a go and I don’t blame Prost for doing what he did.

        With regards to Prost’s claim of Honda favouritism, this was borne out of senior Honda engineer telling him that they liked Senna more, as in they way he drove and his charisma warmed himself very well to the Japanese. This paranoia clearly came to the fore when trying to explain such a big gap in qualifying performance at Monza in 1989? He could accept Senna being quicker, but not by that much? This paranoia was also greater as he had let the team know he was moving to Ferrari at the end of the year and felt he wasn’t getting the same level attention (he wasn’t). I’ve not seen the Honda telemetry you refer to? I didn’t realise it had been made public? I did a quick search but could not find it online, do you know where we might find it? In any case, Ron Dennis did years later assure Prost there was not a technical bias towards Senna, but from Monza onwards in 1989, there were always more engineers on Senna’s side of the garage than Prost’s.

      • Sorry Jake, but as I said earlier to Vander I can’t recall where I got that information over 20 years ago
        I developped a passion for F1 in the early 70’s, and by the time of the “clash of the Titans” we are referring to I was reading all I could and watching all the broadcast about F1 in French, English and Dutch…
        moreover I could get privileged information, even sometimes coverd by the “embargo”, from a cousin who was the TV director for a regular F1 GP…
        But I do remember for sure having gotten that information, possibly even 1 or 2 years aftter the events took place if it was through my personal source and had been covered by the embargo !

        I also read Dick’s article, which is indeed interesting… even if in my eyes biased, as I never really appreciated Prost as I explained earlier ( talking of Prost’s greatness about the 93 season when he had that computerized Williams, but still got several times ridiculed by Senna in a vastly inferior McLaren with a customer Ford engine, most notably in Donnington, for me is just a joke ! )
        but I do realize Prost and Senna participated in each other’s greatness ( part of what prevents Schumacher to be seen as a “true great” by many long time F1 followers is that most of his palmares was built without real opposition – I mean by this another outstanding pilot with a car up to the task at hand – … and his countless unfair and/or dangerous manoeuvers ! )
        the 1st pilots I “supported” were Stewart and Ickx
        Later on I also appreciated, among those whose name appears in the article, Belloff, Alesi and Berger, but also Lauda ( the most clinical or intellectual pilot in my eyes ) and Piquet
        I do consider that Moss is one of the best all rounders of all times, and in my “GP Pantheon” I place 4 pilots above the others : Senna, Gilles Villeneuve, Clark ( even if I was too young during his career to really appreciate him ) and Rosemeyer, so you see that I can appreciate all kinds of pilots ! ( but also that my “heroes” all died at the wheel of their car… )
        but from Dick’s article it also appears to me that the greatest pilots are those who can combine the “best of both schools”… which brings us back to Senna over Prost !

  18. I’ve just been directed Peter Dick’s article (http://formula1history.com/ramble5.htm) about appreciating Prost which is a well-written piece highlighting the greatness of Prost that so many of us seem to forget. It doesn’t criticise Senna, it just examines the more subtle genius that Prost displayed in his driving.

  19. This article that for two years is still generating so much passion is getting as amazing as the subject of the article itself! well done Jake! just recently ESPN broadcasted a documentary about Prost which is great to watch. The main point of the article is commendable and I hope more and more people will grow to appreciate what a wonderful and talented driver Alain Prost was. And still is by the way…

  20. If Prost wouldn’t of had that marvelous engineered Williams car, later outlawed, his last year he won his fourth title. Cheated by protesting Senna going through barriers, no one else was ever fined or disqualified. Those numbers would be way different. They were great for each other, but statistics do not tell the whole story. Sadly politics played a great part and Prost was Clinton to Senna was to Mondale. Having the commissioner on your side as much to change the position on the starting grid to favor the second fastest and uphold a ruling that was arbitrarily invented to favor Prost after a historic come from behind new wing setup and then fined. Gotta love a commissioner in your pocket. Your stats would be different. Politically they prove your point. But like any outcome one favors a formula Will be there to prove it. It’s like CNBC and FOXNEWS, who speaks the truth depends on a given point of view.

    • Sorry no insult to Prost my dumb spell-check automatically used prostate for Mr. Prost. I didnt catch it till posted. Forgive me.

    • If there’s anything about Senna fans that p***** me of is their ignorace.
      When will you people at least check the some of “the facts” you are talking about? Nobody moved anything in 1990 in Suzuka! The pole was on the same side as in 1987,1988, 1989! Fact! Everybody’s talkin’ about Prost being political, there’s your Senna politics for you.
      Second “fact” that frequently comes up is the famous Monaco 1984. Most of Senna fans (not u eugene) claim that it was Balestre who stopped the race which he did not. It was Jackie Ickxx.
      Thirdly everybody says that Prost was a coward by vetoing Senna as his teammate at Williams. Wouldn’t you? As G.W. said :Fool me once…shame on..shame on you… fool me, can’t get fooled again :)”
      Let’s say that was a political move. But does that even compare to Senna being scared of having a certain Derek Warwick as a co-driver at Lotus?
      I for one don’t hold it against Senna for doing that, it was a smart move. Which makes Prost’s vetoe on Senna equally smart. Don’t you agree?
      My point in all of this is that Senna was as political as Prost was. Not less not more. Everybody is political in F1.
      The danger of myths is that they just don’t go away, because truth is being destorted with every mouth to mouth passing, without people checking the facts. Senna’s death (may he R.I.P.) certainly added to those myths, and the movie… Well, if you want to see Senna propaganda that’s fine, but it doesn’t even nearly tell the whole story. Which I understand, it’s Hollywood. It has to sell. Seeing Bisignano making his oscar performace is priceless. I laughed my ass off. Really. What a drama queen.! Worst acting I’ve ever seen.Hillarious.
      And the strangest thing happened, after the movie suddenly there are many people coming out and stand in defece of Alain! Rightly so.
      His reputation being sent into oblivion by the myths, being slowly restored and gaining momentum.
      In the history of F1, his place must be as at least as equal to Senna’s, perhaps even higher.

      Excellent piece of writting Jake.

      Regards.

  21. Prost would have won against anybody. A similarly talented driver today is Alonso. When they don’t win, the score points..

  22. The important point that nobody mentioned is that Prost is still alive and this should be the most important point when you judge a driver specially if one is always pushing the envelop

  23. Pingback: The 8 Greatest Formula 1 Cars - Gear Heads

  24. I cannot believe how many people say that Senna could win with worst team, while Prost required a top team to win. I think they forgot that Alain even won the 1986 Championship in a car that was very clearly not the best car in the field. The Williams was very dominant that year, but Prost won the Championship…

  25. For those few who think that Senna did NOT deliberately crash into Prost in Suzuka 1990, here is the link, where he admits crashing into Prost deliberately: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCMnn1tHRJA

  26. I would rather have Senna in my team. Because that Senna not died he would have more championship 2 more atlest. Prost have better Win Percentage for + 0.16% thats like one win that Senna give to Berger or one Monaco in 1984 or 1988. Prost also has more wins and more points because he has more races logical.

  27. Not a Prost fan at all but i enjoyed reading your article. If the Monaco race had continued Bellof would also have passed Prost so he would probably scored 4 points for 3rd and still lost his title to Lauda.

  28. The most accurate proxy measure for best driver is a vote from the experts themselves.

    Senna is voted #1 by 217 Formula One championship heroes (including Schumacher): http://f1greatestdrivers.autosport.com/?driver=1

  29. They are my 2 favorite drivers of all time. But, you know, Mclaren chose Senna over Prost, i’m not talking about statistics, but if you watch the races you can see that Senna was the best racer of his era.

  30. Prost was a very good driver but Senna was an exceptional one, one thing the article forgets and I think’d change the conclusion is how many years was Prost an F1 driver and how many was Senna? If Senna ‘d have lived longer and haven’t retired and with the experience he was gaining, I think there’d be no match… he was already a legend.

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