Bruno Senna and Nicolas Prost bring historic rivalry to a new age of electrifying racing
Each year on 21 March, the motor racing family remembers one of its greatest sons. The birthday of Ayrton Senna, the most exciting, intriguing and possibly the greatest Formula 1 driver of all-time taken from us too soon, triggers a flood of tributes, videos and memories on the internet to celebrate the Brazilian’s life.
26 years on from his historic battle with Alain Prost – team-mate, rival and fellow legend – fans still share their memories of the on-track tussles that culminated in two infamous collisions at Suzuka that would define their generation.
But the battle is not done. The names of Prost and Senna may have departed F1, but they are alive and well in the rapidly emerging Formula E, the all-electric single-seater class that can boast FIA backing and carbon-free races.
Bruno Senna, the former HRT, Renault and Williams F1 driver and nephew of the late Ayrton, is one of those currently developing the future of motorsport in Formula E alongside Nicolas Prost, son of the four-time world champion Alain.
While their names go before them, the pair have forged a rivalry of their own having come through the lower formulas together. Both currently split their time between Formula E and the World Endurance Championship, and as Prost says, it’s still special when the two come together on the track.
“Maybe with Bruno,” Prost tells the Independent when asked about his rivalry with second-generation drivers. “With Nelson [Piquet Jr] it’s a bit different, our parents were really good friends. With Bruno, obviously the big fight with his uncle is always there, and also he has the same helmet [as Ayrton].
“He’s a good friend, I really like him but when I see the helmet down the pit lane I always get goosebumps.
“We’ve been competing now against each other in the past so not so much anymore, but it’s just his helmet down the pit lane, it’s always quite strange and special.”
For Senna, who embraces the same South American passion for motorsport that made his uncle a household favourite the world over, the feeling is mutual.
“It’s always nice to say I overtook Nico, or I beat Nico or Nelson, but ultimately when you see the level of the grid, everybody is your enemy,” says Senna. “You’re fighting hard with all the guys here and the level is really, really high in this championship. Anyone you overtake you think ‘yeah that was good’, that’s how it goes.”
The Formula E championship head to Long Beach, California, next weekend off the back of a hugely successful debut in Mexico City, in which over 33,000 turned out at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez – scene of last year’s triumphant return of F1 – to watch an exciting and dramatic race that was eventually won by Jerome D’Ambrosio after original race winner Lucas Di Grassi – both of whom are F1 alumni – was disqualified for his car being underweight.
Formula E is glamorous, people watch the race in places like Miami – you get the beach, the sea, everything
Senna felt at home in the Mexican capital, despite illness hampering his preparation for the fifth round of the championship, and the roar that went up when his name was read out in the emphatic stadium section left it in no doubt who the locals were cheering on.
“Well it’s interesting, we have to wait and see but ultimately the Mexicans are really passionate about racing,” Senna adds. “I saw it with the Formula One race, it was amazing how many people were here and I think if we get a bit of that momentum from the Formula One race I’m sure it’s going to be pretty fun here.
“This track has been here since the sixties and I think for the last 25 years or so when the big events didn’t come to Mexico anymore they missed it, and then they finally did a great job resurfacing the circuit and making it more suitable for the big leagues because ultimately the track was a bit on the dangerous side and they improved it.”
Of course, Formula E cannot be watched without comparisons being drawn to its elder brother, despite CEO Alejandro Agag admitting that he “loves” F1 and believes it will never be rivalled for its berth as the pinnacle of the four-wheel world.
But what Formula E can offer is something different. Championship that takes place in the heart of some of the most glorious and beautiful cities in the world, one that is sustainable and that captures the imagination of the fans even if they leave with their ear drums intact given the relative silence of the cars.
“It’s just back to Formula 3 where everyone has more or less the same car and you fight, it’s really nice,” explains Prost. “There’s little difference between the drivers and the teams and it’s really good, I enjoy fighting when racing.
“It’s a great atmosphere. You’re always in the middle of the city, I really like the atmosphere. I think Formula E is glamorous, people watch the race in places like Miami – you get the beach, the sea, everything.
“Miami is a great name. I love the whole thing, in the end you like cars, you like girls, sun, palm trees so it’s nicer to watch as opposed to the middle of nowhere in the rain you know. It’s a bit like Monaco every weekend.”
The glamour will come to a culmination on the slightly less dazzling streets of Battersea though, with London set to host the final double-round ePrix in July. Before then, Paris will make its Formula E bow, and Agag has already identified Brazil as a potential destination for next year’s championship. With such plans in place, Formula E is here to stay, and with names such as Senna and Prost in the mix, streets the world over are set to be electrified like never before.