It is commonly accepted all the best drivers find their way into Formula 1 at some stage during their careers, however, only a handful ever go on to achieve success and greatness on a level measured in multiple wins and titles.
Alain Prost rightly belongs in the latter category, a proven race winner from the early days of karting and single-seaters, the preferred career route, honing his racecraft until grabbing the attention of Formula 1s bigwigs, the natural progression to the heady heights of F1’s glitz and glamour. It would be Prost’s cool calculating demeanor that earned him “The Professor” moniker, famously deeming a race too dangerous under wet conditions, Prost parked his car and got out.
Early Racing Career
One of the greatest racing drivers of all time, Alain Prost rose through the ranks of karting, through Formula Renault (1975 champion), Formula 3 (1979 champion) before joining the big leagues signing for McLaren in 1980 after declining to contest the 1979 season-ending Watkins Glen race.
Racing, however, wasn’t the first choice. Prost, before his karting days, considered a career as both a gym instructor and professional footballer before his first taste of karts during a family holiday at the age of 14.
Two Times World Champion, McLaren TAG
A winning combination of McLaren chassis and TAG/Porsche power gave Alain Prost two of his world titles, taking the silverware in both 1985/86 with five and four wins respectively. In the process, Prost became the first successive double world champion since Jack Brabham scored his second title in 1960.
Five wins across a season don’t sound that impressive by modern standards where a single team often dominates proceedings, but in 1986, things were a little different. Consistency was the key to title glory, with as many as five different constructors claiming race wins. Alain Prost’s “thinking” approach netted almost half of his 73 point season tally through points-paying positions rather than wins, The Professor nickname was well-earned.
Prost Versus Senna, Team Rivalry
With two world championships under his belt, Prost rightly viewed as the team leader for McLaren, welcomed a new teammate for 1988. However, the dream team quickly turned sour, with Ayrton Senna, believed to be on the receiving end of preferential driver treatment, claimed the title with eight wins.
The same bitter inter-team rivalry continued for 1989 with Prost ahead on points going into the penultimate race, the outcome of the race and effectively the season decided off track with Senna disqualified. Prost, despite a double retirement, had secured his third title, and promptly left “his” team behind.
Ferrari Years “The Truck”
A dream combination of a Ferrari power and world championship status for 1990 got off to a good start with five wins and eight points-paying positions, Prost, not quite having the reliability to beat Senna for the title, came home second overall, one of Ferrari’s best results for a long time.
The following season titles hopes amounted to nothing but a string of DNFs and no wins, the season-best result of second places at the US, French, and Spanish Grand Prix left Prost down in 5th place overall. A lack of performance led to a succession of negative comments, most famously referring to his race car as “the truck” leading to early contract termination.
Simple Red, White, And Blue
Throughout his F1 career, Prost kept a simple crash helmet design featuring three colors, red, white, and blue referencing the French flag, sporting subtle changes in design, although unmistakably the same basic layout. Compared to modern drivers who change their helmet design whenever they feel like it.
Physical shape changes account for the biggest difference from the early McLaren days through to the later, more aerodynamically sculpted and safer design of 1993. For the avid Prost F1 fan, several companies producing made-to-measure replicas, allowing gearheads to wear the French racer’s iconic colors, for a few bucks, of course.
Final F1 Glory and Retirement
After a one-year sabbatical in 1992, Prost joined the UK-based Williams outfit, a team very much riding a wave of success, having claimed the title in 1992 with Nigel Mansell.
The Williams FW15C easily the class of the field helped Alain Prost to seven wins, securing the title for a fourth time on points tall of 99, over twenty points ahead of second-placed Ayrton Senna. At the end of the season, Prost announced his retirement.
Team Ownership. Prost Grand Prix
With racing retirement came the new challenge of team ownership, Alain Prost securing the former Ligier F1 team from long-standing team boss Flavio Briatore led to the arrival of the Prost Grand Prix team in 1997. The season got off to a good start with early podium visits for Olivier Panis, running as high as third in the championship, a high-speed crash putting paid to any further racing success that year.
A new engine supplier deal replaced Mugen Honda power with Peugeot V10s for 1998, transforming Prost’s team into an all-French affair. However, the dream scenario failed to deliver any results, in 1998 recording 15 DNFs, 14 the following year, and a dismal 22 DNF’s in 2000. Failure to secure financial backing spelled the end, Prost Grand Prix disappearing from the gird before 2002 even started.
Competitive Life Away From Cars
Away from the roar of internal combustion engines, Prost is a keen cyclist, even taking on some of the world’s most torturous routes both on and off-road.
In 2012-14 with cycling partner Sebastien de Pasqua tackling the fearsome eight-day 700 km Absa Cape Epic across South Africa, in stages climbing to a lung punishing 3000 meters, Prost finishing twice in 2012-13.
Renault e.Dams – FIA Formula E
A new racing series with environmental sustainability at the forefront made its debut in 2014, the FIA sanctioned Formula E category also witnessed the return of a familiar face. Returning to motorsport as co-owner of Renault e.Dams Racing, Alain Prost steering the team to constructors titles three years in succession between 2014-16, culminating in their first driver’s title with Sebastian Buemi.
Prost remained at the helm until 2017 ahead of sister brand Nissan’s takeover of the team, relinquishing his shares in the outfit.
The Elite Few Multi World Champions
Becoming a multiple world champion in Formula 1 is an honor most drivers never achieve, the majority never realize their dreams of a single title. Prost is one of just 33 drivers to have beaten all comers over a single season, and one of an elite few 17 drivers to win on more than one occasion. As records currently stand, only Fangio, Schumacher, and Hamilton have been more successful.
Over twelve seasons amassing 4 world titles, 51 race wins, 33 pole positions, and 106 podiums, Alain Prost’s F1 legacy looks to be secure as one of the most successful drivers of all time. Even retirement cannot keep the professor away from motorsport, currently employed as special advisor for Renault / Alpines F1 outfit, the talented racer still has a passion for racing.
There’s perhaps no more famous F1 driver than the legendary Michael Schumacher. For all the facts and trivia you didn’t know, here’s a list.
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