Prost’s debut GP season was the opposite to that of Stewart, in that he worked wonders in one of the most disappointing cars of the year. As a result, he didn’t cause the stir his hero had some 15 years earlier. But unquestionably, the pace was there from the start and, even in a ground-effect porpoise, Prost’s driving was smooth, easy on the car and the eye.
The Gordon Coppuck McLaren M29 hadn’t been much cop in 1979, and it had hardly improved with age, but in Prost’s hands it was, if not a front runner, at least a contender for top-six finishes. And in his first two grands prix, the 25year-old Frenchman did indeed score points. A totally bewildered John Watson, hitherto regarded as a pacesetter, could not get near his new team-mate. Prost broke his wrist in South Africa when the car’s suspension broke and missed two races, but returned as quick as ever and finished sixth at Brands Hatch. Two races later he debuted the M30 in Holland and scored another sixth.
Prost, however, was becoming ever more disenchanted with McLaren pre-Ron Dennis. More shunts because of car breakages meant Renault were pushing against an open door when they started wooing him for the 1981 season. Prost is a big fan of Button, who tested for his team at the start of 2000, and might take him aside to advise him about Renault politics. Button does not carry the extra burden of French expectation but, like Prost, is still probably a further team swap away from a title. DM
Prost’s Rookie year
Championship position 15th Starts 11 Wins Poles Fastest laps Points 5 Points per start 0.45 Average grid position 14.08 GPs led/Laps led 0/0 Race accidents 4