Motor Racing: Senna's talent supreme during flat season: Prost's fourth championship is overshadowed by a Brazilian driving force. Derick Allsop reports

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The Independent Online
IT WAS never really in doubt, even through the mayhem he sometimes left in his wake, but the reminder was beaten out louder than an entire grid of Formula One cars exploding into life. As Ayrton Senna began to party, Tina Turner was into her 'Simply The Best' routine at an open-air concert near the Adelaide circuit.

In a world championship won by Alain Prost with races to spare, Senna has demonstrated, emphatically and majestically, that he is the sport's pre-eminent talent, the unrivalled No 1.

The season, which ended in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix with victory for Senna over Prost, was flat as a contest once the early rains had abated and the Frenchman stepped out of his portable shelter of self-preservation. The Williams- Renault carried Prost down the road to inevitable success and Senna, in a McLaren-Ford, accepted it was futile to chase him.

These final two races, however, have given him the incentive and he has responded. Williams have, in relative terms, stood still while McLaren have continued to develop and the tracks at Suzuka, and on the streets of Adelaide, have further fuelled Senna's motivation.

Prost, as ever, has won his races with calm control and precision. Senna has had to dig deeper for his five victories, and, in the process, has excited the senses. His drive through the rain at Donington Park was a masterpiece. Senna, and to a lesser extent Michael Schumacher, in a Benetton-Ford, have sustained interest when terminal boredom might have set in.

Senna's move to Williams next season could prove a severe blow to the campaign for equality. The others have caught up, yet with Senna at the helm the good ship Williams might again disappear in the distance. Senna must already be contemplating a fourth championship and Damon Hill, his new team-mate, does not pretend he expects to disrupt the plans.

Hill, still a relative novice in Formula One, has accomplished more than many anticipated: three wins, consistent results and third place in the championship. Jackie Stewart, three times a world champion, believes that record deserves acknowledgement.

Stewart said: 'For me, Damon is the driver of the year. When you consider it is his first full season and the calibre of the people he is up against at the front, he has been outstanding. Even with the best car. I don't think Prost and Senna have done anything sensational. Schumacher, perhaps, you might consider. But Damon has done a tremendous job.'

That job has, of course, been carried out alongside Prost. Senna may, and probably will, prove an entirely different proposition.

Schumacher has spearheaded Benetton's challenge but ultimately they did not have quite the reliability to relegate McLaren to third place. Next season, they hope, will take them another step forward. They will have a new Ford engine while McLaren join up with Peugeot. The marriage is likely to need time to work, and by then Schumacher and Benetton should be into their stride.

McLaren will undeniably miss Senna, hence the suggestion by Ron Dennis, the team's managing director, that their No 1 driver could still reconsider his move. Dennis has also approached Prost, but he is insistent he is retiring from racing. Dennis intends to assemble a three- man driver squad, as he did for this season. Michael Andretti did not make the grade but Mika Hakkinen has come off the bench hungry and ready for the job. An experienced driver and perhaps another promising youngster would fit the bill for McLaren.

Benetton are seeking a new partner for Schumacher but are struggling to come up with an answer. They, and indeed McLaren, would do well to consider the claims of Martin Brundle, who has had a splendid season for Ligier-Renault. Benetton, having unloaded him at the end of last season, appear reluctant to go back to him.

The other British drivers have had distinctly mixed experiences this season. Johnny Herbert has scored in four races and spent most of the rest cursing his luck. In Adelaide, a suspension problem forced him and his Lotus-Ford into early retirement.

Mark Blundell's season has been even more erratic. He has made two appearances on the podium and only one other finish in the points with his Ligier. Derek Warwick had to wait half a season to deliver his first point in the Footwork- Mugen, but at least his performance in the later stages of the campaign have reinforced his prospects of staying in Formula One. Eddie Irvine has had only two races, in a Jordan-Hart, and that point at Suzuka may not be enough to book him the competitive drive he would demand to leave Japanese Formula 3000 racing.

If there is another note of optimism at the end of this season it has surely been struck by Ferrari. They have nudged themselves back in to business and next year, with John Barnard's car, just might be a force again. Now wouldn't that be something?

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