Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
13 June 1993
Six races down and three wins apiece for Prost and Senna – a situation few had expected at the start of the year. Moreover, it was Senna rather than Prost who had looked better value for it, with the returning Frenchman having drawn criticism for some lacklustre performances and having stalled on the getaway from several pitstops – though his troubles in Monaco had since been identified as a broken clutch shaft. The Montreal circuit seemed tailor-made for the powerful Williams-Renaults, though, and most expected Prost and Hill to dominate. For the first time, though, Michael Andretti would be driving at a circuit he knew well and many were anxious to see how he would fare.
They were certainly the class of the field in Friday’s qualifying session, with Prost and Hill over a second ahead of Schumacher, but on Saturday morning attention was grabbed by off-track matters. Chief Scrutineer Charlie Whiting reported to the race stewards that all cars using electronic driver aids, specifically active suspension and traction control – which is to say all of them except the Lolas – were illegal. The stewards, for their part, acknowledged that “the issues raised are very substantial and affect the whole championship” and decided to allow the race to proceed under tolerance and fire a report with FISA. To say that this dropped a bombshell was an understatement – FISA had been making noises about introducing a ban on such systems for 1994, which the major teams were strenuously resisting, and this seemed to be another move in the political game being played.
Come the afternoon qualifying session, Prost was again on top, maintaining his 100% pole record for the year, with Hill alongside, 0.5s back. A huge 1.8s back was Schumacher in third, and with Patrese fourth the Benetton team had reason to smile. Berger and Alesi took up row three, with Martin Brundle seventh in the Ligier. And way back in 8th place was Ayrton Senna, the McLaren team having had real trouble getting their setup right. It was his worst-ever qualifying position for McLaren and his worst since Austria 1986 for Lotus. Wendlinger and Blundell made up the top ten, with the “only legal cars” of the BMS Lola team right at the back: Alboreto failing to qualify and Badoer 25th.
The luckless Andretti couldn’t get his McLaren going for the parade lap and would be forced to start from the pit instead of his 12th-place grid slot. In the event, with a flat battery, it was nearly three laps before he could get moving. After his controversial “jump start” in Monaco, Prost was a little over-cautious on the start and it was Hill who led into the first corner, while Schumacher had problems with his traction control and nearly stalled twice, dropping back to 12th and Patrese had a similar problem. Going just as rapidly in the other direction was Senna, who rocketed up through the pack to fourth by the second corner behind Hill, Prost and a fast-starting Berger. He followed his old friend for a lap before getting past into third. Prost was likewise keeping the pressure on Hill, and made his way past into the lead on lap six – just as a rapidly-recovering Schumacher elbowed his own way past Berger into fourth.
Prost had a point to prove and he set about doing so: with a string of fastest laps he was already over two seconds ahead of Hill by lap ten, and the number 0 Williams was beginning to see Senna looming in his mirrors. TV cameras were also watching a terrific scrap over fifth through ninth places between Berger, Alesi, Patrese, Brundle and Wendlinger. The Ferraris in particular were running well and Alesi got past his team-mate on lap 16, but seven laps later he was touring off with an overheating engine caused by a holed radiator. A few laps later, the scheduled tyre stops began with Michael Schumacher coming in from fourth. Next time round it was Hill – only the Williams pit crew were expecting Prost and the wrong set of tyres was out. By the time they’d got themselves sorted out and got Hill away, he’d lost 17s stationary and was fourth. His position wasn’t helped by Senna’s greased-lightning stop the following lap.
Prost, for once, had a trouble-free stop but Senna really had the bit between his teeth and was chasing hard, setting a fastest lap just 0.7s off Patrese’s 1992 lap record achieved with fatter tyres and higher-octane fuel in the process. Schumacher was closing on both of them too, and Prost was charging just as hard to maintain his lead. For lap after lap the three went at it hammer and tongs, Schumacher slowly reeling Senna in. By lap 60, with just nine to go, he was right with the McLaren – but Senna is an expert at not letting people pass. A great scrap ensued – cut sadly short when the McLaren’s alternator went fring and he toured off, moving over to allow Schumacher through (Schumacher moved in the same direction to overtake and the two nearly collided).
And that was it for the race. Prost took a thorougly dominant win to reclaim top spot in the championship, Schumacher a delighted second and Hill gratefully inherited third to salvage his afternoon. Berger, Brundle and Wendlinger took the minor points places – not a bad day for Austria.