The year is 1993 and the Williams team is at the peak of its powers. A string of groundbreaking Adrian Newey penned cars have turned F1 on its head sending the world’s best drivers into a scramble to win the much coveted Williams #1 drive and the success likely to accompany it.
Alain Prost joined Williams at the end of 1992, ousting newly crowned World Champion Nigel Mansell, prompting the Englishman’s defection to Indycar.
Prost, upon winning the 1993 title, was told that Ayrton Senna had been recruited by Sir Frank for 1994, and he too announced he would be leaving Williams, opting to retire rather than reignite his fiery intra-team relationship with the super-quick and super-competitive Brazilian.
As a consequence, the 1993 Australian Grand Prix – the last of the season – had something of an end of an era feel to it.
Prost was leaving Formula 1 after a career spanning 15 years, during which time he’d become one of the sport’s heavyweights, winning over a quarter of the races he started in that time, earning him four world titles.
Not only was it Prost’s swansong, but it was also Senna’s final race with McLaren – the team with whom he’d forged his reputation as the world’s best driver and a triple Formula 1 world champion – before joining Williams.
It was impossible to know then that it would be the last time a Formula 1 podium would feature either of the men whose relationship had come to define the sport for a decade.
The championship was long since won – the combination of the wily old Frenchman and Adrian Newey’s irrepressible FW15C without equal in a season where only scintillating drives by Senna in an unusually sub-par McLaren (notably in the European & Monaco Grands Prix), and impressive form by Prost’s team-mate Damon Hill in his first full season of F1 prevented it from being a complete no-contest.
Both men would be keen to sign off their respective journeys with a win: Senna as a thank you to his former employer, mentor & #1 advocate Ron Dennis, whilst giving his long-time adversary Prost one final slap-down as he sailed off into retirement; Prost, mellowing with age and slightly less keen to continue their feud as was the Brazilian, dearly wished to sign off from his Grand Prix career with a victory, but with one eye on retirement was more inclined to employ a tactic he’d used to such great effect throughout his career and let the win come to him or be content with second.
Come qualifying, Senna struck the first blow with his first pole position of 1993, and in doing so, prevented Williams taking their – and the sport’s – first ever qualifying clean sweep.
Prost would start his last Grand Prix, fittingly, alongside Senna on the front row.
After a stuttering start where missed grid slots and stalled cars prompted three attempts to get the race underway, Senna – one stopping – pulled out a lead from a gaggle behind that included Prost, Hill and Schumacher – all planning on two stops.
Senna maintained his lead throughout, his scheduled pit stop taking place after the Williams pair’s second, and as a consequence was able to continue to the flag unchallenged, crossing the line nine seconds ahead of his great rival Prost who finished in runner up spot.
So, aptly, both men left Australia as victors. Senna with his 41st Grand Prix win and his last for McLaren and Prost bringing the season and his Formula 1 career to a close with his fourth world championship.
Their rivalry was finally over.
On the podium Senna gestured to Prost to join him on the top step and the two embraced, as if, with the dropping of that final chequered flag, they could, for the first time, see each other as men and not as adversaries.
Formula 1 would never be the same again.