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Formula One: the limit of human skill

Written for Prospect Magazine:

 

The greatest sporting spectacle that I have ever witnessed live took place on a day of freezing rain, bitter winds and unimaginable mud in Leicestershire in April 1993. I had come seventy miles across the Pennines with my brother and a friend to camp for the weekend in a wind-ravaged field. But so cold and blasted was England that we abandoned our tent and drove all the way home again – only to set out once more on the Sunday at four thirty in the morning so as to secure the vantage that we feared we might have lost. We need not have worried. The crowds were thinned and desperate – blurry men and women twisting their backs into the whipping squalls. This was the European Grand Prix at Donington Park – a near-mythical race meeting among motor racing fans –  because of these conditions and because that day witnessed the greatest lap ever driven by the man whom many consider to be the sport’s supreme driver: Aryton Senna.

This was the only time that Formula One had ever been to Donington Park – the result of a late cancellation by another track in Japan – and it was a terrible idea. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong – for everyone, all weekend. (Silverstone is held in July for good reason.) Murray Walker described it as the worst weather that he had ‘ever seen at any race anywhere in the world’. And Donington never hosted a Formula One event again. Meanwhile, that season, Senna was in an inferior car to his cunning rival and nemesis, Prost, who had just returned after a ‘sabbatical’ and would go on to win the championship with the dominant Williams. Thus Senna was quietly furious at his lack of opportunities and Prost quietly anxious not to squander his advantage; three races into the season and already the two greats were already back to feuding, fighting, psychological warfare.

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