• March 12 down the years

Senna accuses Prost of 'behaving like a coward'

What happened on March 12 in Formula One history?
Michael Schumacher in action during the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix © Getty Images

Alain Prost answered those who doubted he could return from his year's sabbatical as sharp as he was before by setting the fastest time for the South African Grand Prix, the first round of the 16-race 1993 world championship. Prost, driving a Williams-Renault FW15C, beat fierce rival Ayrton Senna's McLaren MP4/8 to whet the appetite of fans who had to endure an easy title win for Nigel Mansell the previous season. But Senna continued to seethe, blaming Prost for keeping him out of the Williams set-up. "The way he is behaving is like a coward," Senna said. "He has everything laid out for him in 1993. It's like running a 100 metre race with him in running shoes and everybody in lead boots."

The first race of the season, held in Bahrain, was the first held under new qualifying rules, in which the one-hour session was split into three knockout sections. Michael Schumacher eventually emerged on pole position and fellow German Nico Rosberg scored the fastest lap. It was the first race for Midland, Toro Rosso and Super Aguri, the latter being the only totally new team, with the other two the results of team buy-outs.

Ferrari revealed it was prepared to offer Schumacher £52 million to remain with it for the rest of his career, and then to continue to act as its ambassador when he did retire. The move came after he was linked with a switch to McLaren-Mercedes despite being paid £17.5 million a year. In the event he stayed, won five more championships and retired in 2006 before making an unexpected comeback in 2010 … with Mercedes.

The first race of the season was held in Australia and was won by Schumacher in his Ferrari; team-mate Rubens Barrichello followed him home. "This car is so bloody fast," a delighted Schumacher said. "When I first stepped into it, I knew this was the car I could fight for the world championship with." He was right, going on to win the first of five successive titles. Brother Ralf was third, in his BMW Williams, driving in his 50th grand prix. It was the first race for Jenson Button in a BMW, Nick Heidfeld in the Prost, and Gaston Mazzacane in a Minardi. Both Button and Mazzacane retired, but Heidfeld finished ninth, two laps behind the winner.