On one Sunday in April 1993, Ayrton Senna passed four cars on the first lap -- in the rain -- and took a lead that would never be in doubt. And yet these bare facts, dramatic as they are, do not begin to portray a mesmeric performance as the Brazilian displayed his delicacy of touch and an extraordinary ability to find grip where there appeared to be none. This went on for the best part of two hours as the 1993 European Grand Prix was played out in front of a bedraggled but captivated audience.
One way or another, Senna had also dominated most of the season thus far -- largely because there had been a point when it seemed he might not race at all. The triple world champion had been unhappy about a number of things, not least that his nemesis, Alain Prost, had signed a contract to drive for Williams-Renault, the reigning champion.
This added to Senna's uncertainty over a sixth season with McLaren, particularly as Ron Dennis had failed to secure a Renault V10 as a replacement for the glorious and sadly departed Honda V12. The alternative of a Ford V8 did not seem attractive, particularly as the deal with Ford and Cosworth had not been done until November -- unbelievably late by the standards of 1993, never mind today.
There had been hope, however, when Senna flew from Brazil to a chilly Silverstone in February and found the latest McLaren, the MP4/8, to be a gem of a car, bristling with permitted trick electronic gadgetry that would have today's engineers doing cartwheels of delight.
Away from the car, however, discussion between Britain, Brazil and the Marlboro HQ in Switzerland over Senna's fee -- rumoured to be $16 million -- had McLaren's fax machine close to burnout. Brinkmanship reached the stage where a race-by-race deal was tentatively agreed. Whatever the political footwork, McLaren would receive value for money when Senna finished second (to Prost) in South Africa and pulled off a classy win in the wet Brazilian Grand Prix. Donington was next.
The race in the Midlands had been a late substitute for the cancelled Grand Prix at Autopolis in Japan. It didn't matter that Donington had never staged a Grand Prix before; that some of the facilities would be, as a consequence, makeshift; or that this would be on Easter weekend and therefore at the mercy of Britain's fickle weather. The point was that the Grand Prix would be a dream come true for Tom Wheatcroft, the bluff and jovial owner of the tricky little track. There was an unspoken sense among the F1 community of wanting to make this happen. Besides, it beat the hell out of trekking from Sao Paulo to the back of beyond on the island of Kyushu, and then to Imola.
The sun shone on Saturday, which was bad news for Senna, quickest in the wet on the previous day but muscled down to fourth during qualifying by the more powerful Williams-Renaults of Prost and Damon Hill (in his first full season) and Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Ford. Rain on race day would be his only salvation.
As if on cue, the day dawned overcast, the only certainty being that wet weather tyres would be the right choice as cars formed on the grid. Senna made an average start and was squeezed by Schumacher, a move that gave Karl Wendlinger the chance to jump them both. The Sauber driver's moment would be exactly that.
Senna was immediately on the attack as he quickly overtook Schumacher and ran round the outside of Wendlinger as the field slithered through the downhill Craner Curves. By the time they reached the bottom he was lining up Hill, taking the Williams on the climb to McLeans. Prost stayed in front until the Melbourne Hairpin, where the red and white McLaren outbraked the blue and yellow car as if it was standing still. Job done, Senna disappeared through the spray and into a race of his own. He began lapping a couple of seconds quicker than anyone else.
Not even constantly changing conditions would disrupt this spellbinding momentum, Senna frequently staying on slicks as others gave up the struggle and returned to wets. This display of virtuosity lasted for an hour and 50 minutes. Senna came close to lapping the rest of the field, led by Hill and Prost, the Williams pair seemingly forever in the pits, perpetually paying the price for fitting the wrong tyres at the wrong time.
To say Senna enjoyed the post-race press conference would be an understatement. When Prost began to explain about an over-sensitive clutch having caused a stalled engine in one pit stop, Senna leaned across and offered to swap cars. As Prost continued, Senna put his head back, closed his eyes and feigned sleep.
Then he used the opportunity to lambast Ford for not giving McLaren the same specification V8 as that supplied on an exclusive basis to Benetton. Senna knew full well that this was part of the deal agreed by Dennis but he was not about to pass up the chance to underline that McLaren had scored two wins whereas the best Benetton could offer was third place in Brazil.
If nothing else, it was mischievous proof that the Easter weekend in 1993 had belonged to Ayrton Senna from start to finish. Of many stand-out performances, this was one was stunning.