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[Finished] Case #1: The 1989 Collision between Prost and Senna at Suzuka


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#51 nordschleife

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Posted 04 February 2001 - 17:00

First let me address the red herring of "whose corner was it?" The question is speculative because the corner hasn't been reached yet. Entanglement has occurred well before anything resembling a turn-in point. I ask the Court to strike from the record all reference to this issue.

Commentators not held to the rigors of this Court have used the expression "Senna's optimistic move." Yes, Prost was likely to react to an attempted pass defensively but it is demonstrably wrong to imply that he would not have accomplished sufficient braking to make the corner. This is borne out by the fact that his speed was reduced to zero kph within the racing surface and is stationary with all four wheels on the pavement that makes up the chicane. Therefore the tightest of turning radii could be executed at as low a speed as necessary.

Hereforth I shall address the question of intent by examining Prost's movements beginning with his first right-turning motion.
Prost is on the fast line when, after looking in his mirror, he saw Senna make his move. Aerial footage proves that the turning point had certainly not been reached. The defence would have us believe that Prost turns into the corner here yet the result would be to cross Senna's path and bounce over across the grass, completely and illegally cutting the corner. That is absurd. Prost's first right-turning movement was either (1) a desperate wish to postion his car where he now realizes it should be - on the defensive line or (2) a feint he hopes will stop Senna's approach instantly or (3) a deliberate attempt to end Senna's passing move by damaging his car or causing it to spin or forcing it onto the grass or be made to stall due to entangled wheels.

Next Prost straightens the steering wheel. Why? Possibility (1): contact is so foreign to Prost's on-track nature that he involuntarily follows his survivor instinct to avoid the contact that his conscious mind is intending. Possibility (2): he is surprised to find Senna's front wing endplate beside his sidepod whereupon he takes time (0.2 -0.5 seconds) to assess the option of going wheel-within-wheel.

After the straightening interlude Prost's hands are seen to unequivocally turn the steering wheel to the right. Can one doubt that turning with purpose after straightening betrays awareness? In the next instant contact is made. Will the defence concede that he is at last aware of the car beside him? What follows, your Honour, the prosecution presents as the smoking gun of intent. Prost holds his car against his teammate's car accurately and continually insuring that his wheels impede Senna's wheels' forward movement. This state is maintained until their cars come to a stop, their engines stalled. What driving school recommends this technique? If Prost's intent is other than mutual destruction then he must turn left at some point in order to complete the lap. This choice he has emphatically refused.

Others have mentioned that Prost's immediate exit and the fact that he left the car in gear evinces an unhesitant and convenient acceptance of the title chase being over. It should be noted that his car's position could hardly be more dangerous since a brakeless or out-of-control car approaching the chicane would certainly strike the McLarens. That is the criteria for a legal pushstart yet he abandons the car lengthening the removal process. But of course his interests are well-served by his choice. The championship is settled but his methods have been obvious. Especially when held to the light this Court provides.

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#52 Billy

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Posted 04 February 2001 - 22:26

This case is now closed. Thanks to all that have given evidence. We will post a decision within 7 days.

#53 Rainstorm

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Posted 15 February 2001 - 17:40

Herein is a unanimour decision by all three judges of this case - Billy, Marcel Schot and myself.

* * *

The collision between McLaren teammates Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at the Japanese Grand Prix of 1989 marked one of the heights of a bitter rivalry, perhaps the most bitter in Formula One history. In trying this case, however, we must primarily isolate the specific incident of the 1989 collision at Suzuka from any other incident that took place before or after. And, we must first and foremost establish whether this incident was inevitable, a result of an error, or whether it was caused deliberately.

Cause and Action - the Action

The most important evidence brought to the court are the two video clips provided by Drifter.

The video clip 'suzuka2' shows Senna approximately half a second behind Prost through 130R. This can be estimated by counting video frames (25 frames per second) from a fixed point of reference, such as the end of the kerb on the exit to 130R.

Before the braking area, Prost takes the racing line, then moves to a defensive line, edging to the right under the Shell Bridge, putting his right-hand wheels near to the line on the road marking the pitlane entrance.

Senna moves completely inside this line, which by definition is painted at least the width of an F1 car from the edge of the track. Senna takes the piece of track that is delineated for entry into the pits. However, this is still part of the racing track. He closes in on Prost with alarming speed under braking. To get ahead of Prost, he must make up half a second in this braking manoeuvre, virtually impossible if Prost brakes on the limit.

However, Prost clearly turns in early -- this can be established by video evidence -- and then he backs off. At this point, Senna's front wheel is alongside Prost's cockpit. Prost turns in again and initial contact is made between Prost's front wheel and Senna's front wing, so at this point the cars were nearly alongside each other. Prost is ahead, but only by the width of a tyre. After Prost's steering wheel violently reacts to the impact, he turns in again and holds it until the cars come to a halt.

Prost's hand movements after his initial defensive move to the right (which was followed by a move back to a central steering position, very likely being the force feedback caused by the impact), do indicate he deliberately drove into Senna's car.

Hence, we find Alain Prost guilty of deliberately colliding with Ayrton Senna.

Cause and Action - the Cause

Having found Prost guilty of deliberately ramming into an opponent, there is little to be said in favour of his sporting behaviour in that incident.

Formula One drivers are expected to fight and not make it easy on their rivals to pass them. However, ramming into an opponent is dangerous and unacceptable no matter what are the stakes at hand, or who is the driver in the second cockpit. And, as established before, this accident was by no means a negligent or unavoidable error, and cannot be merely put down to a 'driving incident'.

What was the cause for Alain Prost's actions?

Both drivers had had differences of opinion before, and their relationship, as was evident from anecdotal stories brought to the court, was bitter and unfriendly. This was heightened at Imola earlier in the season, where Prost believed that Senna had broken a gentlemen's agreement by passing him in the first corner at the restart. With this in mind, revenge could have been Prost's motive at Suzuka.

Prost's second possible motive could be to secure the World Championship by eliminating Senna (with two races to go in the Championship season, Senna had to win the Japanese GP to stay in contention for the WC).

Either way, we cannot see the latter reason nor the former, to offer compelling or mitigating circumstances for any driver to act in an unsporting way. And, while no clear evidence could be provided as to the private reasons and thoughts behind a person's action, we find enough circumstantial evidence to believe that Prost's cause of actions were unsporting - no matter what the motive behind them.

We therefore find Prost's action at Suzuka 1989 to be unsporting.


Conclusion

When this trial began, we have included three stipulations in the preamble of this case:

1. Did Alain Prost deliberately collide with Ayrton Senna?
2. Did Alain Prost act unsportingly?
3. Did Alain Prost do this in order to secure the championship?

We believe that the first element was proven beyond doubt. We therefore believe that the second element was proven as well. We do not believe, however, that enough evidence was brought to prove the motive (element 3) beyond doubt, however the result remains the same regardless of its cause - Ayrton Senna lost any chance of contending the World Championship title of 1989 due to the unsporting behaviour of his main rival.

This court does not include punishments in its verdict, nor can it presume to pronounce a verdict that has any effect in real life. In the case of Alain Prost and the 1989 Japanese GP collision, we can only state that to the best of our judgement, he was guilty of the sport's worst crime: he acted unsportingly, and in doing so had settled the highest prize - the World Championship title - unfairly.

No evidence was brought to the court of similar incidents happening before this occasion, and we can only assume that this incident had, in its own way, set a precedent in the sport. It was by no means, however, the last time such an incident had happened and therefore, with the benefit of hindsight, we can only be sorry that this phenomenon was not nipped in the bud by the governing bodies of Formula One.

As for Alain Prost himself? - He remains one of the greatest drivers to ever live. His four World Championships stand intact. Seven years after the Frenchman retired from active Formula One driving, his records stand for all to see and admire. No other but him is the bigger loser, then, for the 1989 Japanese GP leaving a stain on what would have otherwise been an impeccable record of success.