Alain Prost

One of the Monaco masters with four wins in the Prin­ci­pal­ity, Sir Pa­trick Head re­mem­bers a driver with a de­cep­tively smooth style

CONCIERGE – The F1 Inside Track - - CONTENTS -

Alain Prost

Alain is four-time win­ner of the Monaco G rand P rix, a n um­ber o nly b et­tered b y Ayr­ton Senna (6), Michael Schumacher (5) and Graham Hill (5).

His For­mula One ca­reer be­gan with Mclaren in 1980, con­tin­ued with Re­nault, the com­pany that brought tur­bocharg­ing into F1, in 1981/3, be­fore he re­turned to Mclaren be­tween 1984 and 1989. He went to Fer­rari for 1990 and 1991, leav­ing late in that year after pub­licly crit­i­cis­ing the team for not de­vel­op­ing the car, sit­ting out 1992 and join­ing Wil­liams after Nigel Mansell’s de­par­ture for the 1993 sea­son. There, Alain de­liv­ered his fourth World Cham­pi­onship with seven wins – and then re­tired from For­mula One.

His statis­tics are im­pres­sive. Those four World Cham­pi­onships, 51 Grand Prix wins, 106 podi­ums over 12 seasons of rac­ing, and all that while there were usu­ally no more than 16 GPS in each year (now there are 21).

His 51 wins came from 199 GP starts, a re­mark­able re­turn in days com­pet­ing against many le­gends, in­clud­ing Niki Lauda, Ayr­ton Senna, Nel­son Pi­quet and Nigel Mansell.

Alain’s driv­ing style, most par­tic­u­larly in the turbo years with Re­nault and Mclaren-porsche, was de­cep­tively smooth. In those days of more limited data ac­qui­si­tion and anal­y­sis, en­gi­neers would of­ten go around the track to ob­serve their cars, and it was not un­usual to think that Alain was on a slow­ing lap into the pits only to find that he had just set his fastest time.

I think this was, in part, a legacy of his early turbo in­volve­ment with Re­nault, when throt­tle re­sponse was slow. He de­vel­oped his smooth style, his tra­jec­tory through the cor­ner was un­like that for the nor­mally-as­pi­rated cars, with light brak­ing and a long, curved rolling en­try into a late apex, and a gen­tle pick up of the throt­tle main­tain­ing cor­ner speed un­til he could see the exit, and add more throt­tle. It was silky smooth, but very de­cep­tive.

Alain spe­cialised in strength in the race, where the points were won, rac­ing in times when the cars were fu­elled for the full race, very heavy due to high fuel con­sump­tion of the turbo engines and usu­ally ran through the race on a sin­gle set of tyres. His 33 pole po­si­tions and 41 fastest race laps tes­tify to his speed.

Alain com­peted against the best. A staged shot in 1986 with Ayr­ton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Nel­son Pi­quet. Be­tween them they have 11 World Cham­pi­onships, 146 GP wins,

154 pole po­si­tions and 113 fastest race laps.

He would be care­fully look­ing after the tyres in the early stages, when the car weight was high­est, and then start pushing strongly from mid dis­tance, of­ten some way be­hind the lead­ers, but start in­ex­orably clos­ing, tak­ing the lead to­wards the lat­ter stages of the race.

Hav­ing worked with him dur­ing his fi­nal cham­pi­onship year, his last driv­ing in F1, I also saw how metic­u­lous he was in op­ti­mis­ing the car for the race, of­ten sat in a cor­ner with his Wil­liams race en­gi­neer, David Brown, ag­o­nis­ing about even the smallest change to his car’s set up. Although he was not nat­u­rally an an­tag­o­nist, in­evitably Alain’s ca­reer is marked by his bat­tles with Ayr­ton Senna, both at the Mclaren team and then after he left to join Fer­rari. Senna was more the young up­start and was pre­pared to take more risks than Alain, but I don’t think that any ex­pe­ri­enced par­tic­i­pants thought that there was any dif­fer­ence in skill. At the time, both were con­sid­ered ‘masters of their art’.

As has been the case with many be­fore and after him, Alain was dis­ap­pointed with pol­i­tics and lack of fo­cus at Fer­rari in 1991, but was un­will­ing to re­main silent, his crit­i­cism lead­ing to a de­par­ture from the team be­fore the end of the sea­son.

After a 1992 sea­son away from the track, Alain joined Wil­liams, and with Da­mon Hill along­side him, won his last F1 World Cham­pi­onship. Alain was chal­lenged at times by his team mates, but mostly by Ayr­ton Senna in the Mclaren, yet had the abil­ity to step up a gear if chal­lenged to achieve his aims.

Alain was, and is, a thinker, and some­times won races that his equip­ment did not de­serve. He was not so in­ter­ested in the plau­dits in test­ing, or in qual­i­fy­ing – his think­ing was all to­wards the race po­si­tion on the fi­nal lap. Yet he still man­aged 33 pole po­si­tions and 41 fastest race laps – his speed was never in doubt.

Fol­low­ing his re­tire­ment from driv­ing, Alain had a short pe­riod as a con­sul­tant to Re­nault, but sought a closer in­volve­ment, and even­tu­ally bought the Ligier team from Flavio Bri­a­tore, which be­came Prost Grand Prix from 1997. Ini­tially the team used the Mu­gen-honda en­gine, but Alain signed a three-year agree­ment with Peu­geot from 1998, how­ever the en­gine proved too heavy and un­re­li­able.

After a fi­nal year in 2001 with Fer­rari V10 engines, branded as ACER 01A, and poor results, Alain was dis­ap­pointed to find that, de­spite France’s his­toric strength in Grands Prix, rais­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port for a French GP team proved im­pos­si­ble.

After fin­ish­ing with run­ning an F1 team, Alain won three An­dros Tro­phy cham­pi­onships, ice rac­ing with Toy­ota and Da­cia, was cen­trally in­volved with Re­nault’s suc­cess­ful seasons in For­mula E, now passed to Nis­san, and is now very much in­volved in the pro­gramme to raise the Re­nault F1 team into the up­per­most ech­e­lons of For­mula 1.

On the podium in Monaco in 1985, his first WC year with Mclaren

First F1 win in the Re­nault RE30 in the French GP at Di­jon-prenois in 1981

A dom­i­nant year for Mclaren brought Alain’s first WC, here at Ade­laide in 1985.

Lead­ing his team mate, Da­mon Hill, on his way to his fourth WC, with Wil­liams in 1993

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from France

© PressReader. All rights reserved.