Prost vs. Senna: An age old debate

Throughout the course of human history, there have been many age old debates which have driven mankind to the brink of war and beyond, pitted brother against brother, torn families and nations apart. Cats or dogs ? Country or western? Chocolate or vanilla? Ginger or Mary Ann? But there is one which, possibly above all others, has pushed the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than any other argument in recorded history: Prost or Senna?

I can’t speak for everyone, but it does seem that many if not most Formula One fans have a clear favorite between the two historic pilots. Each had reasons to be rooted for or rooted against. Nicknamed “The Professor”, Alain Prost was methodical and precise to the point of often just doing enough in a race to score the necessary points to help him along to any of his four World Drivers Championships. Ayrton Senna, on the other hand, was brutally fast and, in many eyes, just as brutally ruthless on track. But beyond their on track personalities, for good or bad, or the techniques behind how each accomplished their combined 92 Grand Prix victories, can percentages actually be used to determine which, if either, was actually the better driver?

Even when looking at these numbers, one must decide for themselves what is important. Is it wins? Is it championships? Sterling Moss famously never one a title of his own, yet he has won more GPs than a dozen drivers who have in fact taken championships, some multiple times. David Coulthard has 13 victories while Phil Hill has only 3…and the 1961 World Driver’s Title! Who was the better driver? Who’s to say, really?

When it comes to wins, Prost beats Senna with 51 from 199 races compared to Ayrton’s 41 victories from 161 GPs. Percentage-wise, the race is very close with Prost taking a 25.62% hit rate versus Senna’s 25.46%. If wins are the important thing, then the French multi WDC was better, but just. Senna, of course, was famous for taking pole positions and scored that honor in 40.37% of the races he took part in, compared to just 16.58% for Prost. Alain, meanwhile, outscored Ayrton in both total points paying finishes with 128 at 64.32% against the Brazilian’s 94 at 58.39% and podiums with a total of 106, 53.26% of the races he took part in, while Senna finished in the Top Three on 80 occasions or 49.68% of the time.

As for titles, the ultimate goal, that is another very close race. From thirteen full seasons at the top level, Alain Prost had an average year end finish of 3.5 in the standings compared to Senna’s average finish of 3.1. However Alain took four World Driver’s Championships, which resulted in a title hit rate of 33.25% of the seasons in which he took part. Though very close, Ayrton’s three titles from ten full seasons resulted in a 33.33%, bettered, however slightly, by his one time teammate at McLaren.

So if percentages are the defining matter, then it looks like Alain Prost was indeed the better driver, beating Ayrton Senna in race winning percentage, podium finish percentage, points paying finish percentage and World Driver Championship hit rate. Senna may have been faster when it came to outright speed, particularly over a single lap, but it does appear that, however slightly, he may have indeed been outclassed by The Professor.

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