LAT Archive: Was this the greatest lap in Formula 1 history?
It's 25 years since Formula 1's most iconic opening lap. Senna's superlative rise from fifth to first around a soaked Donington Park is just as exciting today as it was in 1993
A quarter of a century later, it's still heralded by many as the greatest lap in Formula 1 history.
Donington Park may have only ever hosted the one grand prix, but the 1993 European round lives strong in the memory thanks to the wet weather genius of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna.
In his final season at McLaren, the MP4/8 paled in comparison to the dominant Williams FW15Cs of Damon Hill and eventual four-time champion Alain Prost. But with the rain helping to equalise conditions, Senna climbed from fifth to first and was in a class of one 25 years ago.
Thanks to the LAT Archive, AutoClassics looks back at the iconic race.
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Having publicly criticised Ferrari, Prost was sacked by the team and for 1992 he took a sabbatical from F1. But in 1993 he returned with reigning champions Williams and vetoed Senna joining the team following their turbulent time together at McLaren. Senna decided to stay at McLaren for a reported £1million race-by-race deal. Despite the Ford V8 that powered the McLaren MP4/8 being well behind the Renault V10 used by Williams, Senna headed the championship as F1 docked in the UK's East Midlands – a hasty replacement for the failed Asian Grand Prix bid.
1993 European Grand Prix
Donington Park, England. April 11, 1993.
Qualifying was held in the dry, allowing the Williams to show their true place and they claimed a one-two on the grid – Prost ahead of Hill. Senna would start fourth with Benetton's Michael Schumacher sharing the second row.
Race day brought with it the best of the British wet weather. At the start, Senna bogged down. He tried to pull across but was pegged back by Schumacher. That allowed Sauber's Karl Wendlinger through and demoted Senna to fifth on the approach to Turn 1, Redgate Corner.
Rather than stick to the conventional racing line, Senna took to the inside of the track on corner exit and drew alongside Schumacher to pass him for fourth. Wendlinger defended and momentarily halted Senna's progress. Then, descending through the Craner Curves Senna carried immense speed around the outside to sweep by into third.
Senna soon dispatched of Hill, passing up the inside of the Williams driver into Macleans. Just seven corners into the race and he was up to second with only Prost ahead. Under the bridge sparks fly from the undertray of Prost and Senna closes up massively through the braking zone into the tight Esses. He makes his move while braking for the Melbourne Hairpin. The track descends into the apex, and Senna plants his McLaren on the inside for optimum track position. Prost, also renowned for his skill in the rain, concedes the lead.
The circuit dried, the rain then returned before drying again. Senna pitted for slick tyres but a pitstop error cost him 20 seconds and he returned to the circuit behind Prost. Yet another flurry of rain arrived and Williams responded by pitting both their drivers but Senna remained out on slicks. It proved the right call as the track began to dry once more. What's more, Prost stalled in the pits and emerged a lap down in fourth.
A quirk of the old Donington Park layout meant the pit entry was before the start of the final hairpin. That meant, despite Senna heading for an aborted pitstop, on lap 57 out of 76 he set the race's fastest lap.
The constantly changing conditions resulted in Prost pitting seven times during the race. Senna only stopped four times and subsequently lapped everyone bar Hill, who was still a minute behind. Having taken the chequered flag, Senna waved a Brazilian flag from the cockpit of his McLaren on his in-lap.
Due to the race's title sponsor being computer game developers Sega, Senna was awarded a trophy that depicted Sonic the Hedgehog. Although the trophy was only for a photo opportunity, not the winner's prize as is frequently believed.
Images courtesy of LAT Archive
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