Senna versus Schumacher chapter excerpt

Ahead of the next race, in Brazil, Ferrari formally lodged a complaint against McLaren, Jordan and Williams, accusing the three teams of using illegal braking systems, such a system effectively operating as a four-wheel steering system. The Scuderia were joined by Arrows, Tyrrell and Minardi, while Sauber only identified Jordan in their complaint. The race stewards told the accused teams to disable the system during Friday’s free practice, while they worked on the issue. On Saturday morning the stewards confirmed that the braking systems were indeed illegal. But McLaren wasn’t bothered. They went on to qualify a full second ahead of the competition, while Senna was only fourth, and in the race they finished one-two again, a full minute ahead of the competition, Schumacher again beating Häkkinen.

The Argentine Grand Prix was a different story, however. Although Häkkinen started from pole position, Senna was second, ahead of Schumacher. The latter two scrapped for the first two laps, but the Brazilian prevailed. Three laps later, leader Häkkinen made a mistake going into turn 7. Senna saw a small gap open up and went for it. The cars touched, Häkkinen spun and dropped several places, but Senna was through. Senna made the most of his two-stop strategy, and, once in the lead, used his light fuel load to create a gap. By the time the Ferrari driver stopped for fuel and fresh tyres, he held eleven seconds over Schumacher. The German took the lead for a number of laps, but when he also pitted, Senna was back in front. Again, Senna made use of his lighter car, and over the next dozen laps he increased the gap to more than twenty seconds. At his second pit stop, Senna had a large enough lead to stay in front. Even an off due to a late rain shower couldn’t keep Senna from winning the race, ahead of Schumacher, and his Ferrari team-mate Salo.

After three flyaway races, the Formula One circus returned to its European heartland for the San Marino Grand Prix. It was now four years since that dreadful weekend, and after Senna and Schumacher had attended the drivers’ briefing, the German addressed the fact.

– “Formula One has come a long way since ‘94, hasn’t it?” Schumacher said.
– “It has, and I’m happy for it”, Senna replied. “Maybe Roland didn’t die in vain after all.”
– “I don’t think he did.”
Senna was quiet.
– “What are you thinking about?” Schumacher queried.
– “I was thinking about that weekend. About Rubens, Roland, those spectators and mechanics, as well as my own accident, and what it has come to mean to me.”
– “What does it mean?”
– “Well, about a year ago I talked to Alain about it. And he explained to me his own experience, which is similar.”
– “Which is?”
– “It was about Pironi’s crash at Hockenheim in ‘82.”
– “What did that have to do with Prost?”
– “It was Prost’s car that Pironi crashed into. He was one of the first to arrive at the scene, even before Sid was there. He saw everything. He heard the doctors talk about amputating Pironi’s legs. He pleaded against it, which saved them.”
– “Wow, I didn’t know that. And how did Prost take it?”
– “The experience changed him. It changed the way he raced.”

Schumacher stopped. Senna stopped, too. He turned to his rival, who asked: “Has your experience changed you?”

Senna stared at Schumacher, surprised by the straightforwardness of the question, and by the fact that, of all people, it was Schumacher who had asked it. “I’m not sure”, he said.

The conversation was cut short by the Ferrari press officer, who needed Senna to attend a team meeting. When they walked off, Senna looked over his shoulder, to Schumacher. He felt awkward about their talk. About Schumacher’s last question. About the fact that he had had no answer. Senna had been preoccupied by his racing, the past few years, but he was sure that he would find out whether that weekend, that season had changed him, and how.

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