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In 1993 Alain Prost returned from a year away from the sport to replace Nigel Mansell in the all-conquering Williams team. Although he would once again win the World Championship, Prost received little credit from the press. Every time he added to his record number of GP victories it was attributed to the Williams car; but the blame fell squarely on the Frenchman’s shoulders when he lost. Nevertheless, by the end of the season Prost had won seven races, always qualified on the front row and collected his fourth title by a 26-point margin.
Highly regarded by the team and by Renault, Prost still felt pressure from the F1 governing body and the press. He announced his retirement at the Portuguese GP when it became obvious that Ayrton Senna would be joining Williams for 1994, just a day before he clinched a fourth title.
At McLaren, Senna started the year without the Honda engines he had used for the last six years, and with the seemingly impossible task of wresting the championship away from Williams. A combination of Senna’s brilliance, the heavy rain in which he thrived and a nimble McLaren-Ford gave the Brazilian victories in Brazil and at Donington, as well as the championship lead after six rounds.
Senna gave the performance of his career in the European GP at Donington Park, passing four cars on the opening lap and out-thinking his rivals in the treacherous conditions. But Prost gathered momentum and victories after this and despite Senna driving as forcefully as he could, the title slipped away from him.
Both Williams and McLaren turned to relatively inexperienced drivers to back up their stars. After near misses at Silverstone and Hockenheim, Damon Hill captured the first of three successive wins for Williams in Hungary. But McLaren’s choice, reigning Champ Car Champion Michael Andretti, struggled in Formula 1 and eventually relinquished his ride immediately after scoring his year-best third-place finish at Monza. Andretti’s generally disappointing performances were highlighted by his replacement, Mika Hakkinen, who out-qualified Senna on his debut for the team and would end the year by finishing third in Japan.
Benetton’s Michael Schumacher won in Portugal and further enhanced his credentials by finishing on the podium on eight other occasions during 1993. Riccardo Patrese replaced Brundle as the German’s team-mate but failed to match Schumacher’s pace in a disappointing final season in Grand Prix racing. Patrese retired from the category having started a record 256 races.
Jean Alesi continued to be spectacular, especially in practice. But although he led in Portugal and was normally quicker than team-mate Gerhard Berger, it was another season without a win for Ferrari. The team hired former rally co-driver Jean Todt to bring organisation to its racing programme. Although Ferrari would not regain the championship for another seven years, Todt’s recruitment was a vital step in eventually returning the team to full competitiveness.
Mercedes-Benz re-entered Formula 1 with Swiss sports car team Sauber, but after a points finish at the first round, the alliance’s potential went unfulfilled. Jordan’s fortunes improved after replacing Yamaha’s disappointing engine with a Hart unit at the start of the year. Rubens Barrichello made a strong showing at Donington, while Eddie Irvine’s debut for the team was even more dramatic: he finished sixth at Suzuka and had a widely reported post-race physical altercation with Senna, after he re-passed and blocked the McLaren while being lapped.