Alain Prost reflection and tribute

 

By: Daniel Murray-Smith

On the 24th of February 1955 in the Gier Valley, central France, a child was born who would go on to be one of the best Formula 1 drivers of all time.

The commune was Lorette, a coal-mining region with a population of around 4,000 people, and became home to a boy named Alain Prost.

Prost tried his luck at an array of sports ranging from football to wrestling but discovered karting when he was 14 on a family holiday and this quickly became his career of choice, and he was good at it.

Very good at it…

He quickly won several karting championships and by the time he was 19 he’d left school to race professionally, winning the French and European Formula 3 championships before being rewarded with a seat in F1 with McLaren in 1980.

On his debut he finished in the points at the Argentinian Grand Prix, the same place he scored his first podium a year later, now racing for Renault.

Renault, Prost, and the Dijon-Prenois Motor Circuit all share one common denominator – they’re all French. So, there was no better place he could’ve won his first F1 race than on home soil in 1981.

The time he spent at Renault however, was not always très bien, he was paired with fellow Frenchman René Arnoux and it was reported that the relationships between the two was far from civil. This relationship was made worse after the French Grand Prix in 1982 where Arnoux – who was leading the race – went back on a pre-race agreement to support Prost during the race.

In his final year with the team, he was in a tightly fought championship battle with Nelson Piquet which he ended up losing in the last few races of the season. Prost openly blamed the team being too conservative with bringing in new upgrades to the car but Renault scapegoated Prost and ultimately fired him. Tensions were also high with Renault fans who took it upon themselves to burn his personal cars.

He returned to McLaren, and in what one can only expect was built on the foundations of revenge, he set out to prove Renault and the fans wrong. Instead of his own cars, Prost began setting the track ablaze over the next few years and earned his nickname ‘The Professor’ for his intellectual approach to driving. He would often preserve his tyres for longer so that he could be faster than his opponents towards the end of the race.

He became the first French world champion in 1985, and then became the first driver since 1960 to retain his title in 1986. A three-way fight in Adelaide for the crown going Prost’s way after a dramatic tyre blowout for Nigel Mansell.

In 1988 Prost was introduced to his biggest ever rival, the late Ayrton Senna. It is often said that in F1 your biggest rival is also your teammate as they are the only driver on the grid that operates the same machinery, and these two proved just that after Senna signed for McLaren.

At the penultimate race of the 1989 season in Suzuka, Japan, the two collided on lap 46 and Prost was forced to retire his car whilst Senna was able to finish the race to win him the championship. However, Senna was disqualified over his path back onto the track after the incident, handing Prost the victory.

The following year at Suzuka the two collided once again. This time Senna was leading the scoring and was also starting on pole position with his rival one spot behind him. The Professor (now in a Ferrari) was better off the line and had overtaken the Brazilian into turn one but Senna failed to brake early enough and rear-ended him.

Senna later admitted that the move was premediated due to the collision the year prior, which caused Prost to call him a “man without value”.

After a sabbatical in 1992 Prost returned to the sport the year after to race for Williams, there was even a clause in his contract that made it so Senna was unable to also sign for Williams that year. He went on to win his fourth and final championship before retiring, supposedly because that contractual clause had run out.

He finished his career with 51 race wins and 106 podiums, the most of any driver at the time before he was overtaken by Michael Schumacher. He currently sits comfortably fourth after Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel joined Schumacher in the top three, not a bad trio to be behind.

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