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Many people know about Alain Prost and his rivalry with the late Ayrton Senna. Michael Schumacher came an era after the two legends. You might think it was unlikely that Schumacher and Prost would ever have a race encounter, but they did, many times.
Just by looking at their Formula 1 history, it isn’t difficult to figure that Michael and Prost did have a brief overlap between 1991 (when Schumi debuted) and 1993 (when Prost retired). Having figured out the overlap part, the next question would be if there was any encounter worth mentioning? There was one, indeed.
We will be looking at the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix where Michael Schumacher and Prost ended up in an unexpected battle for the first place. In the 1993 season, Michael had five second-place finishes, and few of them were behind Prost; however, the Portuguese Grand Prix was set to change that order.
1993 Portuguese Grand Prix – The Start
The Portuguese Grand Prix did not start as a Prost and Schumacher battle; in fact, it was far from that. Hill was at the pole position, followed by Prost, and then Mika Hakkinen in third position. The Portuguese Grand Prix also was the debut race of Mika Hakkinen, and he instantly put Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and everyone else behind.
The race did not start as Williams would have expected. Hill stalled his car and hence had to start at the back of the grid. At the second start, Alesi took the lead followed by Mika, Senna, Prost and Schumacher. Senna soon overtook his compatriot Mika and was in hot pursuit of Alesi.
Take a look at this brief race highlight.
But Senna’s onslaught was short-lived as he was one of the first top three runners to retire. Mika then took up the role of title racer for the McLaren. He kept attacking Alesi but eventually spun out. Later, Alesi had to retire with an engine failure. And that paved the way for a Schumacher-Prost duel.
The Schumacher-Prost Duel
The Benneton of Schumacher was on a one-stop strategy and had pitted quite early compared to the other cars. So, when Prost went for his stop later, Schumacher took the lead. And then the positions were Schumacher first, closely followed by Prost in second. Here is the video of the duel over the last few laps.
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Prost was in a technically superior Williams which could have easily munched on the Benneton for dessert. While Prost did attempt to overtake the Benneton, Schumacher kept his cool and covered the line.
There were at least two views on why Prost did not take on Schumacher, and there was evidence supporting both. Prost was called ‘the professor’ for a reason. Prost knew that a second position was good enough to earn him the world championship so long as he finished the race, hence he could have backed off. Though he did attempt some charges, they were not overly imposing. Besides, he had nothing to prove overtaking a rookie Schumacher, so Prost played the game well.
Talking about Schumacher, he ensured that he kept his line tight and, on the turns, opened up a lead that would make it difficult for Prost to catch up on the straights. Prior to the Portuguese GP, Michael had just one win in Spa in 1992, so he would have given it his all.
Schumacher was scheduled for a second pit stop for a tire change, which he declined considering the position he was in, and hence was left with pushing the car yet nursing his tires. It was important to remain cool despite the unrelenting onslaught from Prost, a tell-tale sign of Schumacher mastery to come. Any other rookie would have wilted under that kind of pressure. So, yes, even Schumacher played it well.
So, there it was, the Schumacher-Prost duel in which Schumacher came on top. It was a good head-to-head race, despite the top 3 retiring for the duel to be set up. In hindsight, if Mika had just stayed on course, and if Alesi’s engine did blow out as it did, he could have been one of the few novices winning in his first race. But then F1 is not about ifs and buts, so the outcome went in Schumacher’s favor.
The race had another spectacular run which was overshadowed by all the action in the front. It was Hill, relegated to the last place, driving the race of his life to end up in third position. Another deserving mention for the Brit!
Back to the Pits
The 1993 Portuguese GP was one of the few races where legends of two different eras had a direct duel. Such races are so far apart that they don't even remain in the collective memories of the fans. The Portuguese GP could have been dismissed as just another race in F1 history.
But we know that that race was one of those gems which proved why Prost will always be remembered for his strategic foresight while Schumacher for his ruthless brilliance!
And what was even more fulfilling was to see the battle between a retiring legend and a soon-to-be-crowned one!
The Next Win..
Want to know the story of Michael's third career win? Click here to find out:
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