In the Moment: Don’t be a child

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LAT Photographic

Welcome to a new weekly feature we’re calling In the Moment!

This all started in Slack, the messaging software we use for staff communication. Several weeks ago, Hagerty’s editor-at-large, Sam Smith, began kicking off our mornings by plopping a random archive photo into the main chat room. 

In addition to being a lifelong student of automotive and racing history, Smith drinks a lot of coffee. Each photo he dropped into the conversation was accompanied by a few short paragraphs of caffeine-fueled explanation. 

We liked these drops a lot, so we’re sharing one here each Thursday. Enjoy, and let us know what you think in the comments! —Ed.

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Morning, folks!

Here’s a picture of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. A Brazilian and a Frenchman, in that order, and two of the greatest Formula 1 drivers in history. They are in McLaren-Hondas, teammates. They are parked, just off the track surface, during an active Grand Prix. 

Not moving. Parked. 

This was a crash.

Kind of.

To read anything about the two men is to know their basic personalities. Prost was detail-oriented and calculating but incredibly quick; his nickname was “the Professor.” Senna was moody and emotional but incendiary in a race car, brilliant on the edge. The former was known for manners and cold distance; the latter was famously prone to unsportsmanlike conduct, willing to win even at huge cost. Both men were staggeringly good under pressure.

LAT Photographic

Naturally, they were often oil and water.

This shot was taken during the 1989 Japanese G.P., at Suzuka. If the two men look like they’re about to take off their gloves and get into a slap fight, it’s because they very much wanted to take off their gloves and get into a slap fight.

They were in a fight for the title. Senna had qualified ahead by nearly two seconds, but Prost had worked more on setup. His rear wing was running without its Gurney flap. This meant less downforce—less grip in a corner and under braking—but also less drag.

The choice mattered; in the race, Prost’s car is noticeably faster in a straight line. Still, pitstop timing helps Senna draw close. With six laps to go, the latter goes for an insane pass into the chicane. He is betting Prost will flinch, go wide, let him into the corner.

The two cars are briefly heading straight while inches apart. Prost, tired of Senna’s behavior and duplicity during their time as teammates, has had enough; he is unwilling to give. He squeezes to the right. It is too early for the corner. They hit. 

LAT Photographic

They come to a stop on the escape road. (Prost, in the blue and while helmet: Look at those eyes!) Both men are out of the race. It is one of the more famous—and most telling, and most stupid—crashes in F1 history.

Prost in Autoweek, 2014:

We didn’t have any problems until Estoril in 1988, when we were McLaren teammates. As I passed Ayrton, he swerved at me, putting me maybe a foot from the pit wall. I didn’t lift and won the race, but I was shaken by what he’d done, and I told him what I thought. In a way, though, I can’t blame him, because he always got away with it! After all, how many times was Ayrton sanctioned for that kind of thing? Never.

It was in Imola in ’89 that the relationship … disintegrated. We qualified one-two, and Ayrton suggested we shouldn’t fight at the first corner, Tosa, on the opening lap; whoever got there first would have the position … On the restart, I got ahead—and at Tosa, Ayrton passed me …

At the end of the year, going to Suzuka, I was ahead on points, and I told the team, “There’s no way I’m going to open the door anymore.” I’d done it too often, and I’d had enough.

Eventually, we crashed … Everyone thinks I did it on purpose, but I didn’t want to finish the race like that. I’d led from the start and I wanted to win. When he tried to pass, I couldn’t believe it because he came from so far back. But I thought, “I’m not going to leave him even a one-meter gap.”

Prost won the championship that year. The points tally by Suzuka was such that he could afford a DNF and Senna could not. 

Two of the world’s most famous athletes, at one of the most prestigious teams in all of motorsport, out of the race for childish reasons. No matter what you think of this, two facts are inarguable. First, fans at Suzuka and those watching on TV were denied another chance to see two all-time greats in their prime battle to the wire at a ballsy track not known for easy passing. Second, when everything was over, several people looked remarkably dumb.

LAT Photographic

Maybe you dislike someone you work with. Perhaps it’s more than dislike; maybe you want to tie them down and feed them their own shoes. It doesn’t matter—at the end of the day, pull it together. Have principles but know when to call time. Fight like hell but know where the fight should not go. Focus on the larger goal. 

In other words, just drive the car. 

Preferably not into your teammate.

Have a good day, guys!

 

—Sam

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