|First race||Argentine Grand Prix||Buenos Aires||January 13, 1980||Race results|
|Last race||Australian Grand Prix||Adelaide||November 7, 1993||Race results|
Alain Prost could quite easily have been a professional footballer rather than a racing driver, but after trying his hand at karting on a family holiday when he was 14, an obsession started that would see the Frenchman eventually crowned world champion on four occasions.
At 19 Prost left school to pursue racing as a career. Not fortunate enough to have external funding, he managed to support himself by tuning engines and becoming a kart distributor. A year later he won the French senior karting championship, and earned himself a drive in Formula Renault. Having taken two Formula Renault titles he moved up to F3, winning both the French and European championships. This gave him plenty of options in Formula One, and although he surprised many by turning down a drive for McLaren at Watkins Glen in 1979 - saying that it would be a mistake to race in Formula One without being fully prepared - he signed with the team the following season.
It didn't take Prost long to cause some controversy. Having finished in the points on four occasions in his debut season, he had also suffered a number of mechanical failures; with separate accidents leaving him with a broken wrist and concussion. Unhappy with these McLaren failings and the team management he broke his contract and left for Renault.
Although the Renault collaboration looked like a match made in heaven - Prost won his home grand prix in his first season - the pressure on him to deliver a world title in a French car was huge. In 1983, after losing out on the title to Nelson Piquet, Renault employees set fire to his car outside his home. As the final straw, Prost moved his family to Switzerland and resigned with McLaren for 1984.
The move brought about the desired effect, as McLaren started a period of domination. Prost took the drivers title in 1985 and 1986, becoming the first back-to-back champion since Jack Brabham in 1960. The following year he surpassed Jackie Stewart's record of race wins, and in 1988 seven wins should have been enough for him to take his third title. But the McLaren was so dominant that eight of the other nine races were won by his new team-mate Ayrton Senna, who was crowned world champion and in turn kick-started one of the sport's greatest ever rivalries.
The pair battled for supremacy within the team, and Senna's all-out attitude won him more fans than Prost's conservative style; he was nicknamed 'The Professor' for his measured approach to races. 1989 saw the two battling it out for the championship once again, and Prost began to point fingers at Senna's driving and McLaren's treatment of the two. The situation came to a head at the penultimate race at Suzuka, where Prost turned in on his team-mate at the chicane. Although Senna recovered and continued, he was later disqualified for using the chicane's escape road, handing Prost his third world title.
Prost promptly left McLaren and headed to Ferrari, where he had a strong season. Five race wins brought about the same situation; a potential title decider in Japan. Having to start from pole on the dirtier side of the grid, Senna returned the favour of 12 months earlier in to turn one, driving in to Prost to take the championship.
It marked the start of a poor run for Prost, with an uncompetitive Ferrari in 1991 he failed to win a race, and was so publically damning of the team that he was fired before the season was out. He didn't pick up a drive for 1992, instead commentating for French television, before returning with Williams in 1993. It proved a successful move, with Prost taking seven wins on his way to a fourth world title. Unhappy with the prospect of teaming up with Senna once more the following season, Prost retired.
His passion for the sport went undiminished though, and in 1997 he bought the Ligier team and renamed it Prost Grand Prix. Despite a promising start including two podiums and two further points finishes in its first six races, the team proved a less successful venture than his driving career, and folded before the start of the 2002 season.
Strengths and weaknesses
A master at setting up a car for a race, his measured approach allowed him to capitalise on the failings of others and often saw him mounting strong charges towards the closing stages. He was never far from controversy though, which detract from his significant on-track achievements.
Winning his first world championship with McLaren in 1985, becoming the first French world champion in the process.
Being driven off the track at Suzuka by Ayrton Senna in 1990, giving Senna the title. He later admitted that it almost caused him to retire.
"What he did was disgusting...He is a man without value." After the 1990 clash with Senna.
"I always work the same way, starting from the beginning of the weekend, so I know at the beginning of the race, from all that I have analysed during the practice, whether I will win the race or not."
Prost lost out to team-mate Niki Lauda in the 1984 world championship by half a point. The anomaly came from the Monaco Grand Prix, where half points were awarded as the race was stopped due to heavy rain with Prost leading. It was controversial as Ayrton Senna passed Prost just as the race was halted, but had the race been completed, second place would have given Prost enough points to take the title.
October 10, 2014
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