Prost’s winning comeback at Kyalami

1993 South African Grand Prix flashback

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You might have noticed a certain international football tournament is starting in South Africa today.

Formula 1 has a long and somewhat controversial history of racing in South Africa. The first world championship race was held there in 1962 and, after 23 races (plus one which was stripped of its championship status), visited the country for the final time in 1993.

F1 emerged from an unusually turbulent off-season – even by its own standards – into the first race of the 1993 season at Kyalami.

Much of the arguments were centred on Alain Prost’s return from sabbatical to drive for Williams. As well as sending reigning world champion Nigel Mansell in a huff and off to IndyCars, Prost held a veto which prevented Ayrton Senna from occupying the second car.

A furious Senna considered not competing in 1993, and decided at the last minute to drive for McLaren on a race-by-race basis.

Senna almost didn’t drive in 1993

Prost was also in hot water with the governing body, facing a FISA World Council meeting in the days after the race having been accused of making damaging comments about F1.

This was the second and, as it would turn out, final time the race would be held at the revised version of the track.

The new track had proved something of a disappointment when the teams first raced on it the year before. Although it retained a couple of corners from the original circuit, much of the classic track was gone.

Despite that on Sunday the racing drowned out the politics. The South African Grand Prix saw a gripping, three-way battle for the lead and a sudden rainstorm in the dying laps.

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Prost takes pole

Qualifying showed Williams had lost little of their performance advantage over the winter. Prost gave the FW15C the first of 15 consecutive pole positions.

Lola started as they went on

Senna joined him on the front row, less than a tenth of a second behind. This was the first time the pair had shared the front row of the grid since their notorious collision at Suzuka in 1990, and there was much speculation over what might happen at the start.

Michael Schumacher, third, was one-and-a-half seconds slower than Prost. Damon Hill, starting his first full season of F1 for Williams, was 1.8 seconds slower than Prost.

The gap between Senna and his rookie team mate Michael Andretti was even greater. The American was three seconds slower than Senna and lined up ninth on the grid.

With 26 cars entering – the Marches of Jean-Marc Gounon and Jan Lammers failed to appear – the grid was filled with no non-qualifiers.

The back row was occupied by the two Lola Ferraris, as it would be for most of 1993. Michele Alboreto and newcomer Luca Badoer were 6.1 and 9.0 seconds off pole position respectively.

1993 South African Grand Prix grid

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Row 11. Alain Prost 1’15.696
2. Ayrton Senna 1’15.784
Row 23. Michael Schumacher 1’17.261
4. Damon Hill 1’17.592
Row 35. Jean Alesi 1’18.234
6. JJ Lehto 1’18.664
Row 47. Riccardo Patrese 1’18.676
8. Mark Blundell 1’18.687
Row 59. Michael Andretti 1’18.786
10. Karl Wendlinger 1’18.950
Row 611. Philippe Alliot 1’19.034
12. Martin Brundle 1’19.138
Row 713. Christian Fittipaldi 1’19.285
14. Rubens Barrichello 1’19.305
Row 815. Gerhard Berger 1’19.386
16. Alessandro Zanardi 1’19.396
Row 917. Johnny Herbert 1’19.498
18. Ivan Capelli 1’19.759
Row 1019. Erik Comas 1’20.081
20. Aguri Suzuki 1’20.237
Footwork-Mugen Honda
Row 1121. Ukyo Katayama 1’20.401
22. Derek Warwick 1’20.402
Footwork-Mugen Honda
Row 1223. Andrea de Cesaris 1’20.660
24. Fabrizio Barbazza 1’20.994
Row 1325. Michele Alboreto 1’21.893
26. Luca Badoer 1’24.737

Senna, Prost and Schumacher do battle

Had Prost made a clean start it would have been a processional race. But Senna beat him into turn one and Hill and Schumacher passed the French driver as well.

Schumacher and Senna fought hard

Hill’s grasp on second place lasted only a few moments. As they rounded the fast second turn his Williams snapped away from him and he spun alarmingly in front of the pack.

Fortunately he spun the car the right way around without hitting anyone and resumed, having slipped to 12th place. His disastrous start was compounded when, having spent 16 laps trying to find a way around Philippe Alliot, he was rammed out of the race by Alessandro Zanardi.

The other Williams driver was having a difficult time overtaking as well. Although Prost had made light work of Schumacher, passing the Benetton on lap 13, his nemesis Senna proved much tougher.

For lap after dogged lap Senna clung on, protecting his line carefully to keep Prost at bay. Schumacher was treated to a grandstand view of Senna’s defensive tactics.

On more than one occasion Prost got alongside going into the fast turn one but Senna stuck to his line and forced his old rival to back down.

Finally, on lap 24, Prost drew past around the outside of Senna at the first corner, giving him the inside line for the second.

But Senna wasn’t about to give up and prepared to duck into the pits, hoping to jump Prost by taking on a set of fresh tyres sooner.

But he reckoned without Schumacher. The Benetton dived past him on Senna’s in-lap, costing the pair vital time.

The two of them pitted together at the end of the lap and, although McLaren turned Senna around quickly enough for him to get out in front of Schumacher again, Prost retained his lead when he pitted the next time by.

Now Schumacher had to find a way past Senna and, on lap 39, a risky lunge backfired as he spun and stalled, ending his race.

A climactic conclusion

Benetton’s misery was complete when his team mate Riccardo Patrese, who had inherited third place, spun off seven laps later.

Hill spun out early on his Williams debut
This meant just ten cars were left running with 26 of the 72 laps remaining. Among the retirements was Rubens Barrichello, who’d been running as high as seventh in his first F1 start before his gearbox seized.

This was nonetheless a far more impressive performance than Jordan team mate Ivan Capelli, who qualified behind Barrichello then spun off on the third lap. He would last just one more race before being replaced.

With ten laps to go, dark clouds gathered above the track and the first spots of rain began to fall, causing Gerhard Berger to spin his Ferrari in the fast corner before the pit lane entrance.

By the start of the penultimate lap the rain was falling heavily and Prost was feeling grateful of the huge gap he’d built up over Senna. He backed off so much cars began to unlap themselves – including the Derek Warwick-JJ Lehto battle for sixth.

Thalt became a battle for fifth when Berger’s Ferrari V12 cried enough. As the storm worsened Lehto squeezed past Warwick who then spun off, his Footwork becoming stuck in a gravel trap. Unable to finish his 69th lap he was classified behind Berger and out of the points.

While one Frenchman tiptoed home to victory another was feeling similarly jubilant – and vindicated. Cyril de Rouvre had bought Guy Ligier’s team over the winter and invested a huge amount of money buying a supply of Renault engines and Williams’ semi-automatic gearbox.

To this package he added – controversially – a pair of British drivers, Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell, despite the team still enjoying the backing of French state-owned companies. But Blundell clung on to bring the car home in third place – the team’s first podium since Jacques Laffite finished second at Detroit seven years earlier.

Brundle, meanwhile, had a miserable end to his 100th Grand Prix start. He spun into retirement when he hit a patch of oil dropped by Erik Comas’s Larrousse, which had circulated for three laps with a thick black cloud spewing from its tail.

It wasn’t just the Ligier camp celebrating. Christian Fittipaldi brought his Minardi home fourth, equalling the team’s best ever result. And JJ Lehto’s fifth place meant the Sauber team had scored points on their F1 debut.

1993 South African Grand Prix result

12Alain ProstWilliams-Renault721hr38’45.082
28Ayrton SennaMcLaren-Ford721’19.824
326Mark BlundellLigierRenault711 Lap
423Christian FittipaldiMinardi-Ford711 Lap
530JJ LehtoSauber-Ilmor702 Laps
628Gerhard BergerFerrari693 Laps / Engine
79Derek WarwickFootwork-Mugen Honda693 Laps / Accident
Not classified
25Martin BrundleLigier-Renault57Accident
21Michele AlboretoLola-Ferrari55Engine
20Erik ComasLarrousse-Lamobrghini51Engine
6Riccardo PatreseBenetton-Ford46Accident
5Michael SchumacherBenetton-Ford39Accident
12Johnny HerbertLotus-Ford38Fuel pressure
29Karl WendlingerSauber-Ilmor33Electronics
14Rubens BarrichelloJordan-Hart31Gearbox
27Jean AlesiFerrari30Hydraulics
19Philippe AlliotLarrousse-Lamborghini27Accident
24Fabrizio BarbazzaMinardi-Ford21Damage
10Aguri SuzukiFootwork-Mugen Honda21Damage
22Luca BadoerLola-Ferrari20Gearbox
0Damon HillWilliams-Renault16Accident
11Alessandro ZanardiLotus-Ford16Accident
7Michael AndrettiMcLaren-Ford4Accident
15Ivan CapelliJordan-Hart2Accident
3Ukyo KatayamaTyrrell-Yamaha1Transmission
4Andrea de CesarisTyrrell-Yamaha0Transmission

No return to Kyalami

During the seventies many other international sports cut their ties with South Africa in the face of international criticism of the abuses of the racist apartheid regime – particularly after the government’s bloody suppression of a peaceful uprising in Soweto in 1976.

Formula 1 was one of the last sports to leave South Africa, still racing there as late as 1985 despite growing international criticism and boycotts by several teams and sponsors (read more about that here).

Its return to the country in 1992 came after the dismantling of the apartheid regime had begun, but before the country’s first elections with full representation of black people were held in 1994.

On the day after the 1993 race its promoter Mervyn Key was arrested. The parent company which owned the circuit, Tollgate, had collapsed several months earlier and the liquidators had only stayed their hand to allow the race to go ahead. The prosecution against Key on charges of fraud and forgery later collapsed.

Although F1 never returned for a race teams continued to use the track for testing until comparatively recently. The Gauteng Motorsport Company pursued the possibility of bringing an F1 race back to the circuit, but the company folded at the end of last year.

Read more: 1985 South African Grand Prix flashback

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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44 comments on “Prost’s winning comeback at Kyalami”

  1. Those early 1990s Williams really were things of beauty.

    1. Those early 1990s Williams really were state of the art, active suspension, traction control, ABS, drive-by-wire and at some point even a CVT gearbox…

      1. Prost described his car as ‘a little airbus’! The degree of technology was crazy! also the microchips and all the rest of it that kept it functioning were fairly basic back then! but I suppose the same could be said about the apollo missions. It was amazing what williams created. So far ahead of the competition and their time.

  2. 19 not classified and only 2 on the lead lap. I kind of miss that in F1, with so many retirments it allows the smaller teams to pick up points if they can make it to the end.

    Also why was one race stripped of its championship status?

    1. That was in 1981 during one of the sport’s periodic ‘wars’ between the governing body and the teams – FISA versus FOCA, as it was then.

      In short, the manufacturer teams (Ferrari, Renault etc…) who were aligned to FISA refused to attend. The FOCA-aligned teams, led by Bernie Ecclestone, went ahead with the race anyway. FISA refused to give the race championship status.

  3. I really wish Prost and Senna could have been in the same car again, and Senna could have been in the more competitive williams.

  4. Super article Keeith, fantastic footage as well, really enjoyed watching that

  5. Thats incredible Keith, drivers being moved on, veto’s being held against others. I was born in 1989 so I’m to young to remember any of this but it makes for captivating reading.

    Can I suggest that you make a series of these. You could call it ‘Grand Prix Flashbacks’ or something like that and have a detailed look at some of the best races in history.

    Thanks very much Keith it made for great reading.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Macca! I’ll definitely do some more in the future. I may add a group of links to all the other flashbacks at the bottom of these articles so you can find the others more easily as well.

      1. That would be great, thanks.

      2. Charles Carroll
        11th June 2010, 4:15

        Agreed, that was great fun! Since I am a new fan, this type of stuff is very interesting and entertaining to follow. Prior to this year, I had not heard of any F1 drivers aside from Michael Schumacher, so I obviously have much to learn!

        Please keep posting these and thanks!

      3. I really enjoyed the flashback as well. Nice footage as well, only a bit of a shame the passes of Prost on Senna and later Schumacher racing Senna and losing out are not available.

        FOM should listen to the fans and allow downloads of footage.

        But the time differences between them were massive (3.3 seconds between the top 10), that Williams was really ahead of everything. Only Sennas genius in qualifying got close to Prost in that car.

        And i never before realized what an effort it was for McLaren to get a pretty usefull car ready with only finding an engine in December.

        1. Yes, it was nice – I never saw this race live, only discovering F1 nearer to the and of the 1993 season on Eurosport. Great to see those cars back.

          About the footage: ssh, but those links Keith provided actually have the entire race, split in 10 parts. Not sure for how long, but at the moment they are there!

          1. Hah, thanks for that.

          2. I started watching F1 in 1993 as well. I used to watch it on Eurosport. I’m not sure why I chose that over the BBC. I also couldn’t imagine Eurosport showing F1 these days.

  6. 9 seconds from pole to the back of the field. I’m really not sure what Ferrari is complaining about these days.

    1. Ferrari wern’t really fit to be complainer in those days.

    2. They were 2,6 and 3,5 seconds of that pace themselves, and only Badoer wat 9 seconds off, his team mate was “only” 6.2 secons off the pace, just 2,7 seconds behind Bergers Ferrari!

      There were a lot of “backmarkers” in that time and there were even worse competitors in years to come. And worse years for Ferrari as well.

    3. I’ve forgotten more about how far the front running team mates were apart. Like Senna and Andretti. Prost and Hill.

      3 seconds difference between Senna & Andretti!

      How demoralising can it be to be so far off your team mate?

  7. Jean Doublet
    11th June 2010, 7:14

    Unbelieveble to see Michael Schumacher behind Senna and Prost, 17 years ago !!! I guess only Patrese (17 years) and Barichello (18) have a longer “life span” and they didn’t have gap years. But they were not on the top at all times. And Prost driving is so neat. Interesting to see that he has a wider line than Senna and Schumacher entering the corner and a much tighter one at the exit. Reminds me of Button in some ways.

    1. There are a lot of similarities between Prost and Button. Line choice and the economy of movement behind the wheel. in the same way that you can spot similarities between Hamilton and Senna…

  8. Hi guys. I am a South African and must say the atmosphere this morning and build up the last few weeks has been absolutely amazing. It is great to be a South African and the years of appartheid are long gone. PLease bring back a Grand Prix to SA. I stay about 20km from Kyalami but we have many venues that can host a Grand Prix. Or we can build a track. We have hosted many world cups and big events ( Rugby, Cricket, WSBK, Moto GP) and are more than capable of hosting a Grand Prix. Now more than ever. Viva Bafana Bafana ( South Africas Soccer team ).

    1. With a 24 race calender starting to look realistic in the next years, it might be possible.

      I would be in favor of it. South Africa is a classic F1 venue and Africa is failing in the “world” of the F1 world championship.

      But can the money be found to do it? And will the majority of the population support this event (it was seen as a white mans thing in the past, because of running during apartheid years)?
      I hope Lewis, and to a lesser extent guys like Chandhok can break some barriers there.

  9. It is incredible that after 17 years, a time in which SA has changed so much, there are still two drivers on the grid that have been there in 93.
    Personally I hope that F1 will return to the country in the future, but right now let’s concentrate on that other sport event starting there today ;)

  10. Poor Ivan Capelli. He spent his best years driving for March/Leyton House and had many brilliant drives, but when he finally got his chance for Ferrari it was with the horrid F92 and his motivation plummeted.

    Badoer nearly three seconds off of his team mate…ouch.

    1. A bit of history repeating for Badoer last year….

      1. He was only 1.5 seconds off of Kimi at Spa. He’s improved by 50% so in theory in another 16 years he’ll be able to fight for the championship ;)

  11. F1 really needs to have a race in Africa and South Africa is the obvious choice.

    I hope all the people complaining how slow the new teams are this year notice how big the time gaps were back in 1993.

    1. Joe Saward wrote an article last year about how, in general, the prospect of a return to South Africa is not too popular among F1 people. The crime is the main reason cited (as it is, of course, with the floods of emigrants leaving the country).

      There aren’t many candidates for an F1 race in Africa in the near future. South Africa is one, Egypt might be another, perhaps Morocco – only not on that dire Marrakesh street circuit, please!

      1. It can’t be that much worse than Sao Paulo, I recall reading about F1 team members getting carjacked and seeing drive-by shootings during the run up to the Brazilian GP…

  12. I remember this race like it was yesterday. It was on during school holidays (I was only 7 at the time) and I watched every minute of every session. It was a pretty exciting race, and the rain at the end added to the drama.

    I had longed for a South African GP every year after that, but alas, it doesn’t look like its going to happen. The Gauteng government seem to have it in for motorsport at the moment and they are trying to get out of all of the contracts they entered into with various motorsport bodies in their “” guise.

  13. Firstly, a quick comment to say that this was a great idea for an article. Random insights into history like this are really interesting and serve to very nicely combat the endless supply of rumours (which are almost always untrue) from the current season/more recent seasons.

    Secondly, I have never seen a race in Kylami. I was unfortunate enough to come across footage of Tom Pryce’s horrendous accident there a few years ago and on that basis I’ve kept well away from anything Kylami based. However, watching these videos really reminds you of how exciting F1 could be when it was much more the driver than the car that made the difference. Although, this was perhaps because there was more of a disparity in the fitness levels/commitment levels of those who raced, having some cars out qualify their teammates by nearly 1.5 seconds really shows you just how dedicated those individuals are and were. Prost and Senna were really on top of their games back then, and it would have been phenomenal to see them.

    Unfortunately, I can’t see F1 going back to Kylami. I also can’t see football wanting to ever go back there either after this world cup is over. But you never know with Bernie. Where there’s money, there’s a way!

    1. What is this thing about South Africa that everyboby is afraid of?

      We are not worst then Brasil I can assure you. I have been there.

      Our soccer World Cup was so successfull that brazilian sport commentators are worried they cannot match the quality we have shown.

  14. Despite this race not going down as a classic, it certainly had a few memorable moments.

    Keith is spot on in terms of the pre season being quite turbulent. I remember William’s participation in the championship was in doubt at one point going in to the season because they hadn’t provided the correct paper-work to the FIA.

    I loved the battle between Senna and Prost in the race. It reminded me of their epic battle at the British Grand Prix also in 1993.

    Capelli’s accident in the Jordan was a big one, I believe they changed that last but one corner to avoid such a shunt again.

    The rain in the end added some spice, I remember seeing lightning from the TV coverage and poor old Derek Warwick spinning out of the points on the last lap and his return to F1.

    I always felt disappointed about the new Kyalami configuration having loved the layout of the old track. Who remembers Barbecue bend?

    Great flashback Keith!

  15. The cars in that picture are so pretty….

  16. One thing that did strike me watching that old footage was how un-biased Murray was compared to our more recent ITV/BBC commentators. When Hill and Zanardi collided, Murray intially placed the blame on Hill, based on his inability to cope with pressure in the past! I can’t imagine James Allen or Jonathan Legard would have done the same…

    1. Sush Meerkat
      11th June 2010, 13:33

      James Allen would have named Hill as driver of the race for his controlled spin.

  17. What a facinating read! At the age of 13 I was “dragged” to this race by my Dad, and is what set me on the path to F1 obsession.

    It was interesting to compare my 13 year old viewpoint to a proper review of the race and the F1 politics of the time, of which I was completely oblivious to.

    I still have a prized piece of Philippe Alliot’s front wing that a kind marshall passed through the fence to me when he crashed on the corner we were watching from.

  18. As a south African by birth I watched and attended all SA GP from 1965 the only one I missed was the 1992 since I was out the country but was there in 1993 as I realized that it would be a long time before a GP would return to Southern Africa.

    Excelent Artical Keith

  19. My dad went to this race and I was gutted he didn’t have a ticket for me, as I was n into F1 from age 5…

  20. “You might have noticed a certain international football tournament is starting in South Africa today.”
    Keith, you are a genious and made me laugh out loudly.
    In any case, VERY nice article, I enjoyed it enormously.

  21. Here’s what I recall about this race. Prior to the season starting there was a lot of discussion about the technology increasing in F1 and taking driver skill out of the picture: full active suspension, traction control, automatic gearboxes (that changed gear by themselves in the case of McLaren), etc etc. Several articles made mention of a moneky being able to win in a Williams-Renault.

    And yet, here we had Senna, Prost, and Schumacher, all in 3 different cars, running miles ahead of the field, and battling head-to-head. It made me realize that F1 would always be about the drivers no matter what the technology did. And that still largely holds true even today.

  22. Great story. It’s amazing to reflect on how the sport has changed.

    The 3 second gap to 6th on the grid back then puts current concerns that the sport used to be more competitive with so much great passing into perspective. Now you have brand new teams keeping within a few seconds of the leaders. Things are so much more professional and the quality of the field so deep now.

    And I’m not sure exactly when the famous driver skill era really ended but it must have been before that fearsome robot FW15C took to the track. “Airbus”? More like F-22. That thing was sick. If not for the terrible events the next year, who knows what kind of performance Williams would have reached. Mastering a car with such awesome capability and extracting it all is a skill no one before and no one since has had an opportunity to match.

    When you look at the technology and peformance in Group C at around the same time you can see that this truly was the golden age of high performance auto racing. 250mph on the Mulsanne straight, cars averaged over 230mph at Indy, F1 cars with active suspension. Even NASCAR, thanks to new aero development, had reached a state of performance that was shocking compared to preceding years.

  23. How is Michael Andretti credited with four laps in this race when he crashed before turn one?

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