Motor Racing: Senna leaves Prost to sign off in second - World champion denied final glory by greatest rival who waves triumphant farewell to McLaren

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THEY buried their differences beneath smiles and handshakes here yesterday, but the last word was Ayrton Senna's and Alain Prost departed to start the rest of his life still pursued by the spectre of his greatest adversary.

Senna, leaving McLaren after six years of phenomenal success, controversy and unending incident, won an Australian Grand Prix which brought down the curtain on Prost's motor racing career. The Frenchman retired with a distant second place, ahead of his Williams- Renault team-mate, Damon Hill.

Prost takes away a fourth world championship and a record 51 grand prix wins, and yet, one senses, the frustration of being overshadowed on his farewell performance. Senna, no doubt driven on by that very prospect, had an iron grip on the race from start to finish and delivered McLaren their record 104th victory. It also secured him, and McLaren-Ford, second place in this year's title standings.

Senna and Prost had wrestled with their emotions as well as the challenge of this torturous street circuit, and as they climbed from their cockpits the enmity of the past five years melted. On the podium, Senna hauled Prost up alongside and draped a conciliatory arm around him. Then they showered each other in champagne.

The words did not gush so freely, but the gesture had been made. Senna, who next season joins Hill at Williams, said: 'Our attitude on the podium speaks for itself. There is not much point in words. The action means more. It reflects my feeling and, I believe, his too.'

Prost said: 'Now I am retiring it is better to remember the good times such as 1988, when he won the championship and I was second. Time will tell if we become good friends. We don't want to talk about the past and it is better not to talk of the future.'

Ron Dennis, McLaren's managing director, has already attempted to re-employ Prost and may not be shaken from his tail just yet. Dennis greeted and congratulated both Senna and Prost at the end. 'He told me it's never too late to change my mind,' Senna said. Prost chipped in: 'That's what he said to me, too]'

Prost is adamant there will be no comeback and has the means to enjoy his retirement. He said: 'When I started racing I had no money and I know how that feels. Now I have absolutely no problem with this.'

There were, though, acute anxieties for the two principals here. Prost talked of the mental fatigue. 'It was difficult for me,' he said. 'I was thinking it was the last time I will put on my gloves and helmet, and get into the car. I wanted to do well, not make a mistake, so although I wanted to win I'm happy to be on the podium. That's the end of the story.'

Senna said: 'It was very emotional. Before the race I had to keep my feelings under control but it was difficult. I could not cope. I felt very uneasy. These have been very special years with McLaren and it ended the best way. Tonight we can have some celebration and enjoyment.'

Once Michael Schumacher had parked his Benetton-Ford with a broken engine and Mika Hakkinen had withdrawn his McLaren with a brake pipe failure, the contest for podium positions was over. Jean Alesi edged out Gerhard Berger for fourth place as both Ferrari drivers finished in the points for the first time this season, some consolation, perhaps, for being overtaken by McLaren in the all-time winners' list. Martin Brundle wrapped up another excellent season with sixth place in the Ligier-Renault.

Senna, having made a clean break after two aborted starts, held his advantage through the chicane, gradually pulled away from Prost and yielded his lead only between pit stops. Hill, relieved of Schumacher's attentions and clear of the combative Hakkinen, set about his partner. They traded fastest laps and Prost used back markers as buffers whenever possible. Hill, making his first appearance here, responded stoutly and eventually summoned the courage to 'have a go'.

Prost went wide and braked late to avoid a collision at the end of Brabham Straight and the British driver aimed for the gap inside. He was, however, unable to hold the Williams on course and went into a 180-degree spin. He managed to resume his race but the chance of second place was gone.

Hill said: 'The cars are so evenly matched round here it is very, very difficult to find a way past. I thought I had a bit of an opening, I stuck my car in and I just lost it on the exit to the corner. But all the time I'm learning and I can't complain with third place in the championship in my first full season.'

Brundle completed the season with his 13th point and seventh place in the championship table, ahead of Berger and the rest of the British drivers. His team-mate, Mark Blundell, was ninth here and Derek Warwick a heroic 10th in the Footwork-Mugen. He had toiled all weekend to fight off a bout of flu and feared he would not be fit enough to go the distance. Johnny Herbert retired his Lotus-Ford early in the day with a suspension problem, and Eddie Irvine, the sensation of Suzuka a fortnight earlier, had to pull out after ramming his Jordan-Hart into a tyre barrier.

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX (Adelaide): 1 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Ford 1hr 43min 27.476sec (107.611mph); 2 A Prost (Fr) Williams-Renault 9.259sec behind; 3 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault +33.902sec; 4 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari +1 lap; 5 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +1; 6 M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Renault +1; 7 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda +1; 8 R Patrese (It) Benetton-Ford +2; 9 M Blundell (GB) Ligier-Renault +2; 10 D Warwick (GB) Footwork- Mugen Honda +2; 11 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart +3; 12 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini +3; 13 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Yamaha +4; 14 T Suzuki (Japan) Larrousse-Lamborghini +5; 15 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber +6. Not classified: 16 J J Lehto (Fin) Sauber 56 laps completed; 17 J-M Gounon (Fr) Minardi-Ford 34 laps; 18 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Ford 28; 19 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 19; 20 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 11; 21 E Irvine (GB) Jordan- Hart 10; 22 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 9; 23 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 5; 24 P Lamy (Por) Lotus-Ford did not complete first lap.

World Drivers' Championship final standings: 1 Prost 99pts; 2 Senna 73; 3 Hill 69; 4 Schumacher 52; 5 Patrese 20; 6 Alesi 16; 7 Brundle 13; 8 Berger 12; 9 Herbert 11; 10 Blundell 10; 11= M Andretti (US), Wendlinger 7; 13= Lehto, C Fittipaldi (Bra) 5; 15= Hakkinen, Warwick 4; 17= P Alliot (Fr), F Barbazza (It), Barrichello 2; 20= A Zanardi (It), Comas, Irvine 1.

Constructors' championship: 1 Williams 168pts; 2 McLaren 84; 3 Benetton 72; 4 Ferrari 28; 5 Ligier 23; 6= Lotus, Sauber 12; 8 Minardi 7; 9 Footwork 4; 10= Larrousse, Jordan 3.