SPORT / Forget the rest, who were the best in '93?: Motor Racing: Master of mischief and magic - Ayrton Senna

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THE rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna provided sport with one of the great duels of modern times: an ongoing conflict infused by acrimony and controversy as well as skill and pride, writes Derick Allsop.

To the very end they were head to head at the front of the field. Their final World Championship campaign was won by Prost, and yet, as their last two races so vividly symbolised, the ultimate triumph was indisputably Senna's.

It can be argued that Prost achieved his objective by the simplest, safest means, pushing himself and his machinery no more than he had to, as was his wont. His performance in Canada, throughout practice and in the race, was masterful.

On a number of other occasions, however, he was not the master: in Brazil, where he spun off; at Donington, where he squirmed in the rain, and squirmed still more in the torrent of Senna's contempt; in Belgium, where he was outpaced by Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher; in Portugal, where he succumbed to Schumacher's deeper desire; and then in Japan and Australia, where the real master re-emerged.

Whatever the views of Senna the man (someone who should know recently said: 'He is even less nice when you work with him') there can be little doubt he was again the supreme Formula One driver of 1993.

His hunger mid-season, when Schumacher and the Benetton-Ford outstripped him, was rightly queried. But he has the ability to drive a car to its outer limits and when close to the edge, as in several races last season, the Brazilian is a breathtaking sight.

His first lap at Donington, parting the waves and the opposition with absolute assurance, was one of the classic demonstrations of car control and nerve. His first-lap fight with Jean Alesi in Canada, side by side, wheel to wheel, until the Frenchman yielded, produced perhaps the most memorable image of the year.

There have been many other, honourable contributions: Hill's hat-trick of wins in his first full season; Schumacher's pace; Alesi's unflinching commitment; Martin Brundle's consistency. There can, however, be only one No 1, and in 1993 that distinction was the preserve of Ayrton Senna.

(Photograph omitted)