Motor Racing: Prost pleads for 'good and fair fight' with Senna: France's former world champion set for confrontation on Brazilian rival's home soil

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The Independent Online
IT IS just another race, another event on the sporting calendar. But try telling that to Ayrton Senna, an 80,000 crowd and millions more outside the Interlagos circuit here on Sunday. For that matter, try telling Alain Prost. He, more than anyone, is aware of the physical and emotional forces conspiring to disrupt his Formula One world championship course.

The Brazilian Grand Prix will have all the fervour of a Glasgow football derby. Senna, the moody home-town boy, on a mission of vengeance, against the technical, precise Prost, who is intent on ending their feud.

Between them they hold six championships and have 81 grand prix victories, but their struggle for pre-eminence has, for the past four years, generated acrimony and open conflict. Senna's contempt for Prost deepened when the Frenchman barred him from joining Williams-Renault, the strongest team in Formula One.

Senna is still reluctant to commit himself to a full season with McLaren-Ford, though the car has more potential than he anticipated, and this was a race he could not refuse.

Prost accepts the prospect of confronting Senna and his devoted fans with the calm assurance of a man who has six wins from a dozen previous trips to this country. He has the security of a bodyguard permanently by his side but he pleads for an amnesty.

'Ayrton and I are very different and, for sure, we have had our problems. But I think we have respect for each other. I don't know why we can't be friends and whether we can talk again, but we can still have a good and fair fight,' Prost said.

McLaren's new MP4/8, in Senna's hands, led early on in the opening grand prix, in South Africa, and gave ground because of an electronic fault which, according to the Brazilian, rendered the car undrivable and he finished a distant second to Prost.

Prost is mindful that, given reliability, Senna could be an even more dangerous oppenent here and beyond. 'I think Ayrton will continue for the full season, as I have always thought,' he said. 'I expect him to be my biggest rival. But also I think we can be better here than we were in South Africa. We had a few problems at Kyalami and for us it was good that we came away with such a good result.'

Formula One will hope their rivalry is as positive and compelling as Prost craves. If Michael Schumacher, in the Benetton-Ford, Damon Hill, in the other Williams, and Michael Andretti, in the second McLaren, can pitch in, too, so much the better.

In the wake of Nigel Mansell's triumphal defection to IndyCars, Formula One is under still more intense pressure to justify its standing as the world's premier racing category. To achieve that it must entertain, as well as flaunt its hi-tech sophistication.