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F1 History 44

The lack of books on Alain Prost

Dear Nigel,

I’ve just been looking for a new motor racing book to read and noticed the lack of books on Alain Prost. Given his standing in the history of the sport and the one sided nature of the recent Senna documentary, isn’t it time someone (ie you!) wrote a definitive biography? I’m still hoping Alain will appear at Goodwood.

Steve Turnbull

Dear Steve,

I think you’re quite right. Jackie Stewart, for one, has said that he always thought Alain Prost better than Ayrton Senna, and that was my belief, too – just as, in JYS’s own era, I thought Jochen Rindt faster, but Jackie the best.

For reasons never clear to me, though, some people appear reluctant to give Prost his due, to accord him his rightful place in the pantheon of Grand Prix racing. Maybe it is because his public persona was anything but flashy, his driving style silky rather than overt…I don’t know. Since first I met Alain, when he was doing F3 in 1979, I got on with him well, and always found him very honest, as well as being extremely good fun. To interview him was a pleasure, because he always gave you a straight answer, rather than a politically correct one.

I agree with you: it’s time there was a good book about Prost. Perhaps you can suggest it to him yourself at Goodwood – yes, after all these years, he is confirmed for the Festival of Speed…

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44 comments on The lack of books on Alain Prost

  1. Carlos Sanchez, 18 April 2012 10:36

    Good subject! get back asap, thanks MS.

  2. Nick Planas, 18 April 2012 10:57

    The significant part of the question was the line “someone (ie you!) …” Nigel, if you were to write this three things would be guaranteed: 1) It would be a damn good read 2) It would sell very well and 3) it should “reinstate” Alain Prost to his rightful place in the minds of those who are not old enough to have seen him race, and therefore rely for their knowledge on such powerful films as “Senna”.
    Steve, if you meet Alain at Goodwood, suggest the idea and the author…

  3. Philip, 18 April 2012 11:29

    There are a few Prost books about. Nigel himself wrote a high level portrait style book at the end of 1989, Prost’s own autobiography takes the story up to early 1990 and the late Christopher Hilton wrote a fine book taking the story up until his joining Williams which is probably the closest available to a complete portrait. I’ve always considered Senna the better driver (based on 1993) but Prost a hair’s breath behind at most- he was an outstanding driver and far more talent and interesting than people give him credit for.

  4. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 18 April 2012 12:01

    I agree with Steve. Although a number of books on Prost are available (I checked Alain`s fan web site for titles), they feature his career mainly in photographs and statistics. However, there are also titles in French and others by Christopher Hilton, Alan Henry and even Nigel that provide an interesting reading. I assume Alain`s racing style is not very popular with car racing fans and that surely has reduced the book offer, which is not appropiate for this the most victorious 80`s Formula 1 driver
    I`d also recommend magazine back issues such as Motorsport of the eighties to get a detailed look at Prost`s career, because they allow to know what happened at every race he took part, how he performed at different circuits, his victories, etc, etc.

  5. Jon Denton, 18 April 2012 12:38

    I would love to read a full and frank biography of Prost, provided the man himself was heavily involved. Not just of his racing career though, I would love to hear the behind the scenes on what happened with the Prost F1 team. Prost is a legend of F1, even if he is an understated one.

  6. Mike Blair, 18 April 2012 14:08

    I too think a well detailed and thorough written account of Alain’s life in the sport is well overdue. He obviously was a major player in F1, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s. This I suppose has been well documented, however avenues such as F3, the Prost/Liger F1 team and the current hand he has in motorsport with ice racing, would be worthy of a more in depth write-up. Perhaps, as mentioned, his rather unexciting driving style coupled with his disagreeable, and at times downright irritating, personality have previously dissuaded some from the writing such a book. Nevertheless I believe it would be a fantastically good read, provided it wasn’t just a cheap excuse for JYS and company to go “senna-bashing”.

  7. Ray T, 18 April 2012 14:52

    I actually re-watched “Senna” last night, and I don’t understand this idea of the documentary being one-sided. Prost was interviewed in his own words for a lot of that film, and all the camera had to do was point to Jean-Marie Balestre to get a quick indication of his bias and personality.
    Prost was a different driver than Senna, but equally good. Senna has always been lionized for a variety of reasons off the track, and this was amplified by his death.
    Prost’s pragmatic personality got the job done, but he did not have the emotional support in France (Renault) that Senna had from Brazil. He wasn’t good looking, or the underdog from a country in turmoil.
    “Senna” was extremely well done and left me with more respect for Prost than I had before. I found the film very well balanced, when watched from an unbiased perspective.

  8. A.S. Gilbert, 18 April 2012 14:57

    This would be of interest for sure. He’s one of those gents you could fly across the Atlantic beside, and it’d be convivial.
    I don’t know how easy getting the pure story would be. I mean in the out of cockpit aspect.Prost for all his Gallic charm, is what “politicos” call a “pretty good operator”, I suspect.
    His cerebral approach, and analysis of a superior economy in using the circuit and the car would be most compelling.
    JYS in his annual Canadian GP comments always enthused about Piquet, at least from ’81-’84.
    Prost was winning ably then, but not campaigning as he did later.
    Good idea, like to see an effort. Perhaps a confirmation of a French GP once more, hopefully forever will boost probability.

  9. Rich Ambroson, 18 April 2012 15:28

    Nick Planas points are strong.

    I was a big Prost fan in the late 80s and early 90s. I’ve never understood how Senna is seen to be above him to the degree that many perceive it, especially after Suzuka, 1990.

    As for Prost’s driving style, it was surely not of the Rindt/Peterson/Villeneuve mold, but he could dice with the toughest of them. I still remember the highlights of the German GP of 81 I believe, when Alain was dicing with Alan Jones. Even as late as ’93 in South Africa, he still went hard at it with Senna as well.

    It would be a treat to read a Roebuck-authored book about Prost, especially if The Professor participated in the development!

  10. Pat O'Brien, 18 April 2012 17:57

    I have a copy of Nigel’s book written just after Prost’s exit from McLaren. Nigel, it’s time for an update. You took Alain’s side in the book, which at the time I agreed with, but maybe more is now known and a more definitive version can be written. One aspect of the drama the intrigues me is Alain’s claim at the time that Senna was being treated as the favorite. Any disinterested affirmations of that allegation?

    I have always thought that rough driving styles were more appreciated than smooth styles (Varzi vs Nuvolari, Andretti vs Peterson, the mature Scheckter vs Villeneuve), regardless of results. Who is best will always be arguable because they were seperated by so little.

  11. chris b, 18 April 2012 18:22

    i was always a Prost fan, a bit overawed by Senna and a bit mesmerised by his ability at times but totally annoyed by his driving standards [Senna's] I remember him in F3 driving Martin Brundle off track at Silverstone once and so incensed that this obviously brilliant driver did this,

    Alain, to me was necessarily ruthless in his quest to be champ and whilst he may be more remembered for his quiet approach later on – my favourite season was Niki’s last and Alain was the young pretender in those monstrous turbos now that was one brilliant year and Alain was just awesome. I too would welcome a book that whilst not tittle tattle was honest and spoke truthfully of the controversies

  12. GEOFF BELL, 18 April 2012 18:24

    Prost is like Ascari. Underrated. In 1953 the two top journalist Jenks & Rodney Walkerly said that Ascari was better than Fangio. However Fangio was probably more flambouyant than Ascari and caught the public’s imagination. As time goes on the same may apply to Button & Hamilton. In the thirties it was Carraciola & Nuvolari. Same thing, different era’s.

  13. Nick Planas, 18 April 2012 18:24

    Pat, you’re so right. I was aware of this from two observations I made trackside, one at Paddock Hill Bend, Brands (1982??? – Renault) and one at The Old Hairpin, Donington (1993 – Williams) – on both occasions during qualifying Prost looked and sounded pathetically slow on particular laps – I even recall looking at my friend and doing a “yawn” as Alain sailed by. On both occasions we heard afterwards they were STUNNINGLY quick laps – he was using a higher gear than the rest of the field!
    Even though it was boring an uninspiring to watch, I fully appreciated the genius of the man straight away – like a magician performing “sleight of speed”!

  14. Dick, 18 April 2012 19:41

    Bets off on next Hall of Fame inductee :-)

  15. Bob Hart, 18 April 2012 20:10

    Totally agree with Nick Planas my thoughts entirely,I was not really a Prost fan up until I saw him in practice at Donington in 1993.I was stood watching him come down the Craner Curves and like Nick was waiting for quite a few laps for him to warm up his tyres,or so I thought,next minute the PA broadcasts the fact that he’d just taken pole…..I shook my head in disbelief…all the other guys including Senna had appeared as if in a wrestling match with their cars or were just plain slow….it really was like seeing Night & Day……my respect for the Alain from that day on was sealed.

  16. Yoris, 19 April 2012 09:13

    and while you’re at it, Nigel, why not a complete John Surtees biography ? That too should offer very interesting reading !

  17. Nigel (not that one), 19 April 2012 10:31

    Completely agree on this and have been banging this drum for a while now, Prost seems to have been demoted to ‘the other guy’ in the Senna life story. He won 4 titles (soooo nearly 6 and a possible 7 if you accept Brabham used dodgy fuel to beat him) but did it with team mates that had 9 titles in their careers!

    He also outscored Senna 2 years out of 2 with the same car, only losing the title because of that ridiculous points droppping rule.

    He’s has a fascinating career, from turbos to ground effects, passive to fully loaded active cars, the Lauda comeback, the Senna years, the Ferrari rise and fall, The Ligier deal, the Williams comeback and FIA politics of 93 and the Prost team years.

    You could fill two great books with his F1 career alone, come on Nige, you know you want to! :)

  18. Pat O'Brien, 19 April 2012 11:02

    Nick and Bob, search youtube for ‘Prost Laps of the Gods’ and you get in-car footage from his days at Renault. It’s so strange to see his hands so calm on the wheel, his turn-in so gracefully slow and yet he is absolutely flying past the other cars. This is with a turbo that had about a 2,000 rev power band. Senna was raw aggression, Prost was an artist.

  19. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 19 April 2012 17:07

    Nick, Bob and Pat, Alain`s style was smooth but very fast!
    I remember watching him on TV at the middle of each GP cruising around, so I thought “he`ll fall to the end of the pack at that pace”, but immediately would appear at the bottom of the screen the following message: “fastest lap: Alain Prost” . That was always amazing!
    Remember him dueling with Damon Hill at the 1993 British GP qualifying session, both of them lowering their lap records at least four times until Prost took the final lap and got the pole…
    After South Africa 1982 Reutemann (the 2nd there) said: “Prost comes from another planet”.

  20. David H, 19 April 2012 18:27

    Agree with Mr. Turnbull and his ‘one-sided’ comment. Polite that. Nigel, my memory is it was you who mentioned that after Alain’s retirement, Senna would call him to discuss matters of safety. Do I have that right? If so, did the movie producer ever say why he chose to leave such out? Thanks. (And I’d second those above hoping you write more.)

  21. Ray T, 19 April 2012 19:59

    “One aspect of the drama the intrigues me is Alain’s claim at the time that Senna was being treated as the favorite. Any disinterested affirmations of that allegation?”

    Clearly, after the incident at Suzuka, Ron Dennis appealed to the FIA and the press on Senna’s behalf. He had a famous historic video of cars cutting through the run-off area without penalty. It seemed bizarre to me that he would do this. His team finished 1-2 in the WC, the best result a team manager could hope for, so why care if Senna or Prost actually won the WDC? I think he was more worried about losing Senna than Prost. Ironically, he eventually lost both.

  22. Rich Snape, 19 April 2012 22:04

    It is a shame in a way that Prost isn’t revered in the same way as some other drivers, most of whom of course achieved less than he did. I’ve seen the Senna movie twice now and the intent to make Prost the villain of the piece was pretty obvious, not to mention the extremely annoying way John Bisgnano kept pronouncing his name (Prost doesn’t rhyme with toast!) I think that Proast, sorry Prost, is probably less bothered about all of this than anyone else, however his story does remain a great un-tapped source of Motor Racing reading for the enthusiast and I hope somebody takes up the mantle one day. It won’t be before time.

  23. DDT, 20 April 2012 01:56

    I don’t really have an informed opinon on Prost. However, as much as “Senna” the movie raised Senna’s reputation, it savaged Prost’s
    Prost comes across as a back room wheeler dealer, who did not deserve the championship he took from Senna’s at Suzuka. I have no problem with knocking your opponent out at corner. It’s not polite, but it is racing. But the fact that Senna kept going, and could only be stopped in the end with an absurdly chauvinistic and desperate ruling is creepy. I wouldn’t want championship that had to be so brazenly stolen off the track. Prost seems fine with it.
    These are my impressions from the movie, and are therefore very poorly informed. However, a lot of people will share them because the movie is all they know. So a book is probably a good idea.

  24. Carlos Sanchez, 20 April 2012 12:53

    I am really astonished at all this, in general, ‘surprise’ and sorrow of there not being many books on Alain Prost?. Are we hypocritical or what!?… Or is it that we all feel guilty of first and foremost revering those who have given their ALL in our chosen sport, and I do not mean their lives ultimately, but their competitive spirit as RACING Drivers with which we all enjoyed our Motor Racing to the fullest and not just for their own sake and statistics as DRIVERS, and now we also want to give enough credit to the next better down. Prost, though a superb driver, pretty much like Schumacher just have, in spite of all their records in the logbook, not managed to ‘cut the cake’ among the Greatest of our beloved sport. The very lady owner of the Libreria del Autodromo at Monza confirms my feelings when she reminds me that the number of requests for Senna or Villeneuve books by and far far outnumbers the request on all other drivers put together (even after all these years, and even more as the years go by!, so if that doesn’t prove the point… As I pointed to the Senna film director when he asked me about what Senna meant, I said you could sense an ‘electric feeling in the paddock’, and, oh!, Senna was there!…I always say that Ayrton Senna is akin to The Beatles, whereas Prost, or Shumacher, are akin to the Rolling Stones, both great, but some more than others…

  25. Andrew Scoley, 20 April 2012 15:50

    I can’t help feeling the photograph says it all really. Just look in the background.

    I don’t recall seeing another message saying win for Alain; win for Ayrton, or anyone else for that matter. Has anyone?

    I have the utmost respect for Alain, a great driver, but I’m afraid too smooth to be exciting.

  26. Rich Ambroson, 20 April 2012 16:23

    Having had an appreciation for Prost over Senna is not being “hypocritical” as some here have recently asserted. I was a Prost fan over Senna from the beginning of when I started following F1 closely in the mid-to-late 80s. In general my favorite drivers are of the Villeneuve/Peterson/Rindt mold, but Fangio was the “proto-Professor” and he’s my “All-Timer” (along with Nuvolari).

    Prost’s smoothness is not something to hold as “second best”, it was amazing. And he could win from well back in the field, as he was a great racer. Mexico 1990 was a fantastic win for The Professor, one of my favorite all-time races that I saw on the day.

    If we’re going to use musical comparisons, perhaps Prost is Bach to Senna’s Wagner. Or, perhaps Prost was the Frank Sinatra, and Senna was Jim Morrison.

  27. Nigel (not that one), 20 April 2012 18:21

    “Prost, though a superb driver, pretty much like Schumacher just have, in spite of all their records in the logbook, not managed to ‘cut the cake’ among the Greatest of our beloved sport.”

    Well, he beat Niki Lauda in the same car, beat Nigel Mansell in the same car, outscored Senna two years running in the same car, beat Keke Rosberg in the same car.

    Not sure what else the guy has to do to ‘cut the cake’ to be honest.

  28. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 20 April 2012 19:23

    It still amazes me how Prost`s different approach to car racing has earned him that “not best” grade between car racing fans. I think it has to do with the reduced number of accidents (few of them were hard and none grievous) he had in F1 compared to his fellow drivers, and the apparent easy way he drove and won many races. But it takes a really trained eye to see how Prost`s skills at car set ups, development and performance administration, tyre care, and race (and championship!) strategies defeated his hardworking rivals at the tracks, some of which pushed their cars and driving abilities to the very limit to keep their chances, with all the inherent risks involved. Those most visible energies, efforts, risks taken and bravery are what most of car racing fans value best regarding racing drivers “greatness”, not the economy of resources spent for winning races and championships, which is best interpreted by technically knowledgeable fans, journalists, etc. and most appreciated by race engineers, mechanics and team directors.

  29. Andy, 20 April 2012 19:57

    Regarding book on Prost – there isn’t one because there’s not enough demand. Nobody’s interested (well not enough anyway)

  30. Sir Mick Jagger, 20 April 2012 20:02

    Senna is The Beatles and Prost The Rolling Stones?? – other way round I would have thought given their respective styles.

  31. Ray T, 20 April 2012 20:16

    DDT…lets go back a few years, should Hunt have accepted the WDC over Lauda in 1976?

    The problem with the view of the Suzuka incident is that everyone seems to ignore the rest of that season.

  32. Rich Ambroson, 20 April 2012 21:02

    I think “Brenda” is correct regarding the musical comparison.

  33. Wayne, 20 April 2012 22:51

    I think its time for a French renaissance, erm….or at least another one anyway. There is a certain lack anything man made, French and fast in the book department. Little On Alain Prost, Little on the amazing French company Matra ( although talking about a company that won a formula 1 world championship in only their 3rd year, Le Mans a million times, Made missiles that won the Israelis the 6 day war and was the first man in to Spaces personal run a round would be kinda of boring) A severe lack of books the Dassault Mirage III the most sleek and beautiful fighters of all time with a combat record the length of your arm. Not even a book on great man himself Marcel Dassault ( I lie there’s one). Facel Vega, beautiful and under commentated. Need I go on ?

  34. Dave Saunders, 21 April 2012 14:11

    I totally agree with JYS on Alain Prost being the better driver than Ayrton Senna & I feel his portrayal in the otherwise excellent Senna film unfair. I well remember his relentless pursuit of Senna during the 1985 British GP, standing at Stowe corner & watching in awe at his incredible precision & speed as Senna became ever more ragged in his attempts to stay in front. I for one would welcome a good book about Alain. For me he was the best of his era.

  35. DDT, 21 April 2012 22:27

    @Ray T
    Admittedly, I don’t know that much about the season in question. Obviously, if you want to win the championship, don’t let it get so close that one incident can blow it . Easier said than done, but once it is that close, you have accept the role of luck and happenstance in your fate.
    Senna made a classic out braking pass on Prost, and had him by all the normal rules of racing. Prost’s ONLY hope was to knock Senna out right there, which he did. This is a pretty common, if not exactly honorable, racing maneuver. Senna should have retired right there, and kicked himself for making it too easy for Prost to knock him out. But he didn’t retire, he kept going and won the race.
    It is here that things get ugly. The whole thing was decided off the track, in a smoke filled room full of frenchmen. An egregiously putrid decision was arrived at through nationalistic chauvinism, and Senna was excluded from the race. Without this absurd decision it’s fair to assume that Senna would have 4 championships, and Prost 3.
    What makes Prost uninteresting to people is that he’s fine with this way of winning. Compare that to Moss loosing a championship by correcting a call against Mike Hawthorne. I’d put Moss above Prost any day, as a person and driver. Moss is still more interesting to people even though he won no championships. That’s the point.

  36. Rich Ambroson, 21 April 2012 23:09

    DDT, sorry, Senna did not make an overtaking move at the chicane, he outbraked himself after entering the corner off line (starting from the pitlane entrance, frankly) and used Prost as a brake. Yes, Prost had said at the start of the event he would not move over for Senna as he and many had for so long. But honestly, I don’t see Senna ever making that corner. What Senna did the following year should have got him banned from the sport for a year, and all his results from 1990 rescinded.

  37. Rich Ambroson, 21 April 2012 23:13

    Further to your assertion about Prost being uninteresting to people for the manner in which he won the 1989 WDC; I am confused then why Senna is held in such regard after the shameful thing he did at the beginning of the Japanese GP of 1990. THAT is worse than the infamous incident between Schumacher and Hill or Schumacher and Villeneuve, yet Senna is not only given a pass for such reprehensible behavior, he is actually LAUDED by many for his specific actions a Suzuka 1990.

    No, I appreciate that Senna had a lot of talent. I appreciate even more what he did for the people of Brazil (having many friends from there, I know what he meant to them). But as an actual racing driver, he showed little honor in the way he “won” the 1990 WDC.

    As for 1989, even if he’d won the Japanese GP, he stuffed it into Brundle at the Australian GP, so the whole issue with Balestre/Prost, etc., should be moot.

  38. Carlos Sanchez, 21 April 2012 23:21

    You’ve GOT IT DDT! Compliments in ‘seeing’ beyond (perverse french, or whatever) smoothness.

  39. Carlos Sanchez, 21 April 2012 23:36

    And Rich A., using Prost as a brake??? COME ON!!! You must be out, I respect your views but this is too much quite honestly… Besides asserting that Senna wouldn’t have made that corner, well then Prost should have let him go past and go off track and prove your point, don’t you think?… So why didn’t Mr. Professor do it… And subsequently he went to cry out with his countryman Balestre to have his defeater robbed of genuine victory. SHAME really…

  40. Rich Ambroson, 21 April 2012 23:41

    Carlos, the one part of your recent post that I can see some merit to is perhaps in certain situations, Prost could have braked early/changed line and let Senna careen off into the runoff. It was much closer than that for one, and as noted, Prost had specifically said before that event that he would not just move over for more of Senna’s bully-boy tactics.

    Remember the Hungarian GP of 1990? Senna just bonked Nannini off the track in similar manner to how he came together with Prost at Suzuka 1989, and so many others in his history.

    I don’t have the quotes off the top of my head, but I recall Keke Rosberg having Senna’s number…

  41. Alain Prost, 22 April 2012 08:04

    Look – some of these posts are winding me up something rotten, and as you know I have a filthy temper. In that race in Japan, Senna drove into me, he even admitted in a bizarre tear filled interview about a year later. He was a good driver but a total pillock. And another thing….I’m not boring! I’m just off to Carrefour now to get some fireworks to let off in my bathroom. And one last thing…I didn’t steal Mansells car before the British GP in 1990, it was just the chassis and the engine. Everything else was the same…now all of you just buzz off!

  42. Rich, 5 May 2012 04:09

    I think Prost lost out in history because of 1988. His overt yelling when Senna got him on the straight. His poor performance in the rain at Silverstone. Then add in his complaining of Imola 89, pulling out in Australia. I think he was in the right in all of those situations, and I am an unabashed Senna fan.

    Like Schumacher he didn’t have the luck of dying behind the wheel, and unfortunately we tend to idolize those that did.

  43. Terry Jacob, 23 June 2012 14:45

    Maybe because , whatever his achievements , his driving was just plain boring !

  44. Anthony Jenkins, 26 January 2014 03:02

    Alain Prost won four titles ( and came close twice more) and retired alive and universally respected. Senna won three titles , died and has a legacy for ruthlessness and duplicity. Prost was the better driver and the better man.