A quick glance at the F1 Fanatic book reviews index reveals title on Alain Prost are outnumbered by those on his bitter rival Ayrton Senna by seven to one – and I’m certain there are far more Senna books out there I haven’t read than Prost ones.
But here comes McLaren to redress the balance. Well, not really, as they put out a book on Senna 12 months ago. But as I’ve written more than once after trudging through endless works on Senna of varying quality, his worthy adversary was due some more attention from biographers.
McLaren’s driver profiles are evidently being produced to similar specifications. Like the Senna book, the Prost profile is written by top Formula One scribe Maurice Hamilton (author of many must-read F1 titles) to a familiar format. This is longer, however, by some 70 pages.
This must have been a challenging brief to write. Not so much because McLaren has published a book about a driver who severed ties with on less than amicable terms 26 years ago – after all Prost tested for McLaren with a view to making a comeback in 1994 – but because of the overlap with the Senna book and the need to portray both sides of a sharply divided story.
In places this leads to some duplication – owners of the Senna book will spot a few familiar quotes. In other parts – especially Suzuka 1989 – the version of events is noticeably more ‘Prost-friendly’.
But I would argue this actually doesn’t matter very much. There is little new to be said about these controversies unless Prost is about to change his explanation of that day in Japan, and as he is still claiming “it was not in my interest to make a crash”, that is clearly not the case.
The real interest in a book like this is the lesser-known parts of Prost’s back story, and of that there is much great insight to be found which I am not going to spoil. Arguably the most interesting part of the book concerns Prost’s often-overlooked first stint at McLaren when he arrived in F1 in 1980, and the sharp constrast between Teddy Maher’s underperforming outfit and the championship-winning machine Ron Dennis had turned it into by the mid-eighties.
The biggest disappointment of the book is how Prost’s final spell in Formula One, as boss of his own team between 1997 and 2001, is almost completely overlooked. So are many other details of Prost’s post-F1 career, including his successful foray into ice racing, his work with Renault and involvement in the career of son Nicolas.
I have a few minor quibbles too. As with the Senna book, I still find the style of using chunky quotes to break up sequences of text makes for a jarring read. There is also an odd section about the Senna film , in which on the word of at least one person who admits not having seen it, we are expected to be persuaded it was a hatchet job on Prost (when Jean-Marie Balestre was clearly the true villain of the piece).
However the interest to be found here more than makes up for this, as does the rich illustration which has become a trademark of these McLaren books. We’ve been waiting years for a quality book on Prost, and finally we’ve got one.
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Alain Prost – McLaren
Author: Maurice Hamilton
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15 comments on “McLaren’s Alain Prost book reviewed”
8th November 2015, 14:21
A book I very much look forward to reading since despite Alain often being interpreted as the merely mortal antithesis to his legendary dueling partner, he has always seemed to me an equally interesting sporting study.
I think in a way very comparable with Senna, but nonetheless unstated by accounts of this period, is the way Alain is conflicted by the intensity of his ambition following his championship successes in the mid-80s. Whilst it appears naive to say this of a sporting star, and moreover one so profoundly berated by the media, but I genuinely get the sense that personal and professional integrity is of tremendous importance to Prost. Therein, enter a moral dilemma when he finds himself alongside a similarly skilled and sporadically inflammatory teammate, where the motivation to win is at its highest, and the price of defeat is the realization someone has done a better job with the same car.
Prost’s monosyllabic and often negative rhetoric didn’t endear himself to all, and his doctrine of consistency perhaps didn’t capture the global attention that Senna manged, but I nonetheless find him a fascinating driver.
8th November 2015, 20:16
@william-brierty, the other thing that I think worked against him was the fact that his driving style was so placid.
I recall seeing a Motorsport magazine article from 1981 where the writer was watching the practise sessions for the Dutch GP and making notes on the drivers. He noted that most of the journalists wanted to watch the likes of Villeneuve, Piquet and Jones throwing the car about on the track because it was visually flamboyant and exciting to watch. By contrast, Prost’s laps around the circuit attracted little attention because he was steering the car around the track in such a smooth and steady manner – it looked to them as if he was just doing warm up laps, and nobody was interested in seeing that.
It was only after the session that those journalists were then shocked to find that Prost had been consistently setting lap times that were between 1 to 1.5s a lap faster than anybody else out on circuit – which lead to that journalist wryly noting that perhaps they should have been paying more attention to what he was doing (incidentally, Prost did then go on to win that race, having started from pole and lead virtually the whole race from start to finish).
That, I think, to a certain extent worked against Prost – despite the fact that he was devastatingly fast on track, his style of driving never looked fast to those outside the cockpit. When a driver is throwing the car around on the track – for example, in the way that Gilles did – the physical effort and requisite skill required to keep the car on track was apparent to those watching him.
Prost’s style of driving lacked the sense of drama and theatre that people seem almost conditioned to associate with fast driving, to the point where it almost seems as if some want to downplay his ability for the fact that it jarred so much with what we assume the sport should be like.
After all, people talk about the “injustice” of the way that Balestre was seen as conspiring against Senna. However, on the flip side, we never see people complain about the fact that Prost was cheated out of the title in 1983 when Balestre allowed Brabham to continue using illegal fuels for political reasons – it’s a curious standard, as if we want to continue using Balestre as a villain against Senna, but cannot admit that he was the same villain against Prost.
OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
8th November 2015, 15:59
About the second crash between Senna and Prost (1990), why wasn’t Senna DSQ from the WDC? If he admitted he did in on purpose!!!
8th November 2015, 19:40
@omarr-pepper, Senna made sure that he only admitted to deliberately taking Prost out of that race at the end of the following season, knowing that there was nothing that the FIA could do to penalise him for his actions in 1990.
8th November 2015, 19:57
They could and should have the same as Tour De France winners have been stripped of titles years later for cheating. Senna changed F1 forever with his cheating. For me Prost was always the best of his era but of course when someone dies the myths and b.s prevail.
10th November 2015, 11:44
this. so much this…
8th November 2015, 16:05
I consider Alain Prost as the best driver in the dry of (at least) the last forty years (I still have a soft spot for Jackie Stewart, my childhood hero, and I’ve not seen Jim Clark or Juan Manuel Fangio driving). But alas, he was about average in the rain.
If only he had been that good also in the rain, Alain Prost would have won at least as many titles as Michael Schumacher, and few would remember a certain Ayrton who would have got none (but this Ayrton guy was tops in two things: unsportmanship, and rain driving skills).
8th November 2015, 17:02
8th November 2015, 20:04
Don’t forget Alain Prost had the ear of Jean-Marie Balestre the then President of the FIA. A person with a controversial past, who some suspected he engineered Prost’s 1989 championship and threaten to suspend Senna’s license.
8th November 2015, 20:26
The thing is, this is the same Balestre that acted against Prost in the past by allowing Brabham to continue using an illegal car in 1983, enabling Piquet to take the title that year.
It seems strange that Balestre is only ever seen as being antagonistic towards Senna and friendly towards Prost, when in reality his position tended to be more flexible when he needed to seek political advantage from a particular side.
8th November 2015, 19:56
Prost to me was the best driver ever! He took all his victories and championships agains some of the best rivals and teammates the sport has seen.
He was good at taking care of the cars in a race, which did matter a lot as cars where far from the almost bulletproof reliable machines we see today.
9th November 2015, 7:35
Happy to read above comments. Senna is a legend sure, but for me Prost was the better Formula One driver, maybe the best there ever will be. Had luck been on his side just a tad more he could have plenty more titles.
29th June 2016, 17:19
A pathetic review, 100% biased against Prost.
I see f1fanatic is a “Senna = hero” mouthpice.
Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)
29th June 2016, 19:11
In the interest of balance, here’s an article where I was accused of the exact opposite from people equally as wrong a you:
Peter Hunter (@holdenv8)
15th May 2017, 19:48
Keith does come across as a bit pro-Senna and anti-Prost when it comes to the happenings at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, but that’s his right, his opinion. He see’s it in Senna’s favour. However, other than that one incident (and Ballestre’s somewhat shady involvement), I’ve never seen where he specifically favours one driver over the other.
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