Formula 1 legend Alain Prost celebrates his 65th birthday today. With 51 grand prix wins and four world drivers’ titles, usually done in his inimitable smooth-as-silk style, his F1 career has no shortage of high points.
And to mark Prost’s special day we have picked out five of what were even his most impressive races.
1981 Dutch Grand Prix
Alain Prost and Alan Jones battle it out
Prost was a revelation in 1981, with his promotion to Renault. He took his first F1 win – an opportunistic one in unusual circumstances – at Dijon.
Yet it was in win number two at Zandvoort that he underlined his sheer all-round ability. Prost was faultless under the most pitiless pressure.
He had already shown his steel a couple of rounds earlier, at Hockenheim, for several laps holding off the insistent Alan Jones in his Williams, often wheel-to-wheel. Jones nipped by in traffic that time. In the Netherlands they reconvened, with a different outcome.
Prost led from pole and Jones quickly moved by Prost’s team-mate René Arnoux into second place. But dislodging the other turbocharged Renault was another matter. Lap after lap Jones swarmed all over the leader, often got alongside, but Prost wouldn’t budge. “He may be a bit dull and unexciting to talk to but he’s a hard nut,” was Denis Jenkinson’s assessment for Motor Sport.
Only briefly did Jones prevail, as he passed, again among backmarkers, onto the pitstraight. But Prost startled Jones by immediately diving to his inside at the subsequent Tarzan hairpin then sitting it out to reclaim a lead he didn’t lose.
1986 Australian Grand Prix
Prost on his way to the 1986 world championship crown
The 1986 season is Prost’s crowning glory, and with reason as even now it is perhaps the last F1 drivers’ championship won not in the best car. It had a fitting final act in Adelaide.
A fratricidal squabble at pacesetting Williams, plus Prost’s skills, meant he went to the final round with a title chance. Yet Nigel Mansell needed only third place for the crown.
And Prost’s chance got slimmer when on lap 32 of 82 he punctured while well-placed and lost a load of time. “After that,” Prost noted, “all I could do was push as hard as possible. There was nothing to lose – even second place was no use to me.”
He clawed Williams’ title protagonist pair in, and the day suddenly turned back his way. Mansell was eliminated in that most iconic of F1 images, his tyre blowing out in a shower of sparks. Then Mansell’s stablemate Nelson Piquet pitted for tyres as a precaution.
This didn’t leave Prost on easy street, as his fuel computer long said he was five litres short to make the finish. “I just had to hope it was wrong,” Prost said. This time, fortunately for him, it was.