Motor Racing: Senna too slippery for his pursuers: Hill picks up burden for Prost and Williams with second place after Frenchman slips out of contention by stalling at pit stop

Click to follow
THE torrents of rain and tyre stops confused most of us, most of the time, yet one crystal clear fact did emerge from the mayhem of an extraordinary Grand Prix of Europe here yesterday: the unrivalled brilliance of Ayrton Senna.

His margin of victory - one minute 23 seconds - scarcely provides a gauge to his quality and superiority. For the second time in two races, the Brazilian has taken his racing to a new dimension.

For the second time also, Damon Hill accepted the burden of responsibility for Williams-Renault and came in second. His senior partner, Alain Prost, was still there at the end this time, though he may have wished he had been back on sabbatical. He was a meek third, more than a lap down on his old adversary. He was spared further embarrassment by the late retirement of another Brazilian, the 20-year- old Rubens Barrichello, who was running third when his Jordan- Hart was disabled by a fuel pressure problem.

Prost was left stranded after stalling at one of his seven pit stops, but blamed persistent clutch and gearbox problems for leaving him out of touch. A taunting Senna suggested: 'Maybe you should change cars with me.' Senna merely referred to the lap times in normal conditions to illustrate the gap between the Williams and his McLaren-Ford. He also vented his frustration, imploring Ford to supply his team with the best engines available but which are currently Benetton's by contractual right.

These were wholly abnormal circumstances, a day for wit and nerve, a day when Senna was able to display the full range of his sublime skills. He gambled on the changing conditions to go on changing and was always one move ahead of Prost. It was like a chess game for grand masters, except that Senna simply had no competition. He made four tyre changes, aborting one stop because his team were not ready for him. He has so far competed on a race-by-race basis and still declines to commit himself on the rest of the season. Yet here he is, three grands prix on, with two wins, a second place and a 12-point lead in the championship. 'It is like a dream,' he said, adding, somewhat incongruously, 'I am over the moon]'

Johnny Herbert is also entitled to be satisfied. He felt he could not afford the time to make a series of pit stops and banked on only one change. It paid off with a second consecutive fourth place in his Lotus- Ford. Riccardo Patrese was fifth in the Benetton-Ford and Fabrizio Barbazza sixth for Minardi-Ford.

Senna had an inauspicious start on a mainly wet track, finding himself in fifth place at the first corner and having to weave his way out of trouble. By the end of the first lap he was in the lead, accounting for a hesitant Prost at the Melbourne hairpin. 'I had to go for it and try to build up a lead,' he said.

Yet again, Senna was left alone to take on Williams. Michael Andretti tangled with Karl Wendlinger on that opening lap, which means he has managed to complete just four and a half laps from his first three races.

The inevitability of switching to slick tyres doubtless comforted Prost, but life was not to be so straightforward. The rain returned and Prost, mindful of his calamitous delay in Brazil, was soon back in the pits for wet- weather tyres. The mental contest was under way and Senna had that little bit of luck to go with his perception.

Prost led briefly again in the middle of the race after reverting to slicks, only to lose it again with another switch to wets. A further stop effectively removed Prost from the race proper. His engine stalled and he was down to fifth when he returned to the circuit, a lap down.

Senna's journey had its complications too. Mechanics struggled with his rear right at one stop and his crew failed to pick up his radio plea for wet tyres to be at the ready. Eventually he came in for the insurance policy of those treads for the final laps. Grappling with the obligatory Brazilian flag on his slowing- down lap proved more problematical than wrestling with the opposition.

On the podium, Senna embraced Tom Wheatcroft, the man who dreamed and campaigned for a championship race on his circuit for 22 years. For Senna, the setting of this stunning victory over Williams was poignant. He had his first test drive in a Formula One car here, in 1983. That car was a Williams.

Senna said: 'It was a tremendous race, not only for me but for Formula One and many of the drivers. I had to gamble and take risks with my tyres. I just wish I could go straight home and have a party, as I did in Brazil.'

His mood changed only when the subject of engines was raised. He said: 'Benetton may win a race if Williams have problems, but we are Ford's best chance. It's absurd. It's very frustrating. I hope someone at Ford does something about it.'

Benetton's day was not brightened by Michael Schumacher's early spin, but then the power of the Renault V10 was no protection for Williams in this race. Hill was both delighted and amazed to come out of it all with second place. The 32-year-old Englishman, who made six pit stops, said: 'It was a nightmare. I wanted to get out of it. It was driving me crazy. I didn't know I was second because most of the time I had no idea where I was. The weather kept changing all the time. At one point I was laughing on the radio, telling the team it was raining again.

'I didn't really notice the fans during the race because I didn't want to make a mistake, but I saw them clapping at the end so I thought maybe I'd done all right. I'm very pleased to come out of this with a second place. I'm backing off at the moment to make sure I don't spin. My job is to get results.'

Herbert's fourth place completed another productive day for the British, and Derek Warwick was on course to collect a point until the gearbox of his Footworkfailed him 10 laps from the end. Martin Brundle's early switch to slicks backfired and he spun off. Unfortunately his Ligier team-mate, Mark Blundell, also came to grief.


GRAND PRIX OF EUROPE (76 laps, 305.748km): 1 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Ford 1hr 50min 46.570sec (av speed 165.603kph); 2 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault +1min 23.199sec; 3 A Prost (Fr) Williams-Renault; 4 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford, both +1 lap; 5 R Patrese (It) Benetton-Ford; 6 F Barbazza (It) Minardi-Ford, both +2 laps; 7 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi- Ford, +3 laps; 8 A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Ford; 9 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini, both +4 laps; 10 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart; 11 M Alboreto (It) Lola BMS-Ferrari, both +6 laps. Did not finish: 12 D Warwick (GB) Footwork-Mugen Honda 66 laps; 13 T Boutsen (Bel) Jordan-Hart 61; 14 A de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Yamaha 55; 15 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 36; 16 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda 29; 17 P Alliot (Fr) Larrousse-Lamborghini 27; 18 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 22; 19 M Blundell (GB) Ligier-Renault 20; 20 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 19; 21 J J Lehto (Fin) Sauber 13; 22 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell 11; 23 M Brundle (GB) Ligier 7. Did not start (failed to complete one lap): K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber; M Andretti (US) McLaren-Ford. Fastest lap: Senna 1min 18.029sec, lap 57, 185.608.

WORLD DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Senna 26pts; 2 Prost 14; 3 Hill 12; 4= Blundell, Herbert 6; 6 Schumacher 4; 6 Fittipaldi 3; 8= Lehto, Patrese 2; 10= Berger, Zanardi, Barbazza 1.

CONSTRUCTORS' CHAMPIONSHIP: 1= Williams, McLaren 26; 3 Lotus 7; 4= Ligier, Benetton 6; 6 Minardi 4; 7 Sauber 2; 8 Ferrari 1.

(Photograph omitted)