The 1993 Portuguese GP: Did Schumacher and Prost Go Head-to-Head?
1993 Portuguese Grand Prix
There wouldn’t be many who wouldn’t know about Alain Prost and his rivalry with the late Ayrton Senna. In that sense, Michael Schumacher came an era after the two legends and hence it was obvious to dismiss a possibility of Michael and Prost ever having a race encounter. But there were and there were many.
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 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 end up in an unexpected battle for the first place. Mind you, in the 1993 season Michael had five second place finish and few of them were behind Prost, however, the Portuguese Grand Prix was set to change that order.
Did You Know?
By the time Alain Prost was racing in the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix, he already had 51 wins. That became his total career wins when he retired by the end of 1993.
In other words, starting from the Portuguese Grand Prix, Alain did not win any more races in the 1993 season.
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 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 the 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 as 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.
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.
While there were diverging views on why Prost did not take on Schumacher, there were evidences supporting both. Talking of Prost, he 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 over 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. Interestingly, Schumacher was scheduled for a second pit stop for tire change which he declined considering the position he was in and hence was left with pushing the car yet nursing his tires. But the most important point was 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.
Did You Know?
When Alain retired in 1993, he had the most wins in F1 Grand Prix at 51 races. It was expected that Senna with 41 wins would break the record, but for his untimely heavenly departure.
As a result, Alain’s 51 wins record stood from 1993 to 2001 until Schumacher eventually broke it.
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. On 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 debutants winning in his first race itself. 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, who was 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 Garage
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 and wide that it does not even remain in the collective memories of the fans. But for the ardent fans, the Portuguese GP would 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!
© 2019 S K