Sunday, 24 July 2011

In defence of Alain Prost

I, like most people who've seen it, consider the recent Senna film to be a triumph, for a number of reasons. But I do have one major criticism of the film: it is immensely harsh in its treatment of Ayrton Senna's chief rival, Alain Prost.

Credit: Mark McArdle
Prost is very much presented as the story's villain, with ex-ESPN commentator John Bisignano describing him as a driver who drove for safe points rather than wins, and used 'politics' to prevail in the sport.

I can understand why this is to an extent. The makers felt that the film had to have a coherent Hollywood-style narrative, complete with a protagonist and antagonist. But the problem is that their presentation Prost is rather jaundiced, and at the negative end of the possible interpretations of him as a man and driver.

I have always thought Prost curiously under sold as a driver generally (and this is coming from someone who spent most of his childhood hero-worshiping Ayrton Senna). This was the case long before the Senna film was even thought of - indeed some commented thus during his career as well as after it. I also always say that if I could buy shares in former F1 drivers I would buy shares in Alain Prost. I feel that his stock will surely only rise: there has to be a point where his driving genius receives the wider appreciation it deserves from history.

First of all, the numbers. In a F1 career that spanned 13 seasons Prost won four drivers' world championships. And he very easily could have won anything up to five further titles (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1988 and 1990) but for factors for which he was not to blame denying him. You could also argue that Prost was the last driver to win a championship in not nearly the best car, which he undoubtedly achieved in beating the Williams-Hondas to the 1986 crown.

He claimed 51 Grand Prix wins, and 106 podiums finishes, from 202 starts. And all this was achieved in a time when cars weren't nearly as reliable as they are now, and Prost was invariably up against an all-star cast of contemporaries: Senna, Lauda, Rosberg, Mansell, Piquet among others (and of those, all but Piquet spent some time as Prost's team mate. No Schumi-style rear gunners here).

But of course statistics only mean so much. Which is just as well for Prost as there was so much to appreciate about him other than the numbers.

Prost, nicknamed 'the Professor', is commonly associated with calculation and consistency rather than spectacular racing, which is most probably what John Bisignano was referring to in part. It's less well-recorded that he was bloody quick as well, and that when called upon could go wheel to wheel with rivals as decisively and aggressively as anyone. As one Australian journalist said, Prost had the head of Stewart and the right foot of Villeneuve.

Credit: Stuart Seeger
If you doubt Prost's speed and bravery, try this quote from Niki Lauda for starters: 'In qualifying, particularly, you need that extra something, a mixture of enthusiasm and madness. Prost - six years my junior - was more capable of it than I was. At Monaco in particular, I couldn't believe how he went through traffic'.

And how about this from Keke Rosberg, widely considered to be F1's fastest and bravest driver for much of the 1980s, after going up against Prost as team mates at McLaren: 'He's the best I've ever known, no question about it. As an all-round race driver he's head and shoulders clear of anyone else (he's raced against), because he's brilliant in every department...and he's bloody quick, I can tell you'.

Prost's F1 career is strewn with attacking drives of the sort we'd more naturally associate with Gilles Villeneuve or Lewis Hamilton than with 'The Professor'. For example, in the South African Grand Prix of 1982 while he was leading just after half distance one of Prost's tyres punctured. A subsequent three-quarter lap on a shredded tyre and pit stop (lengthy as it was not part of the F1 drill in those days) left him in eighth place and a lap down. But he then got on with it, lapped routinely three seconds and more quicker than anyone else (including his team mate Rene Arnoux, now in the lead) and he regained first place with nine laps left - only 27 laps after his puncture - which he kept.

Then in the 1986 Belgian Grand Prix at the classic Spa track he was involved in someone else's accident at the first turn, which crumpled his front wing. A long delay in the crash, slow lap and a long stop to replace his nose left him way off the back of the field. He then proceeded to smash the lap record repeatedly, and never once touching his turbo boost, to claim the final point for sixth place. And he did this in a damaged car, his engine mountings bent and suspension damaged in the first corner contretemps. In the words of McLaren designer John Barnard: 'the thing was like a banana!'

Credit:  Lothar Spurzem
Then there was as similar performance in Suzuka the following year. This time it was an early puncture that delayed Prost, and it left him so far behind it took him 22 laps of a 53 lap race to even catch the next car ahead. But he again went fast for the sake of it, and made up almost an entire lap on winner Gerhard Berger (and set a fastest lap 1.7 seconds quicker than the next best by anyone else) to come seventh, just out of the points.

And there are many examples beyond these, such as plain beating team mate Senna for pace in Mexico, France and elsewhere in 1988, coming through the field to win from 13th on the grid in the Mexican race in 1990 and hauling an off-colour Williams in qualifying and the race to win in Barcelona in 1993. And then there's Imola the same year, when but one round after Senna's famous triumph in wet conditions at Donnington, Prost swarmed all over Senna's McLaren in the damp early stages of the race, before going on to win.

Indeed, in a race situation Prost was rarely lacking for pace. This much is demonstrated by his collection of 41 fastest race laps in his career, which was a record until Schumi hoovered that one (along with everything else) up.

Indeed, the man himself never concurred with the 'cruise and collect' persona that continues to be attributed to him. After winning his first title, in 1985, Prost commented: '...the last two races I haven't really enjoyed, to be honest. Driving "tactical" races is not what I like to do...I can race in Kyalami and Adelaide (the last two races of the season) now, and feel I can just go for it, which is much more natural to me'. And in a line that could have been in response to Bisignano, on tactical races he said: 'Everyone - Keke (Rosberg), Piquet, has driven this kind of race in the circumstances'.

And while Prost is often viewed as having been something of a 'wimp', in fact he was rarely faint of heart in on track battles. He after all did not flinch when Senna tried to drive him into the pitwall at 200mph in Estoril in 1988. Two years earlier, this time at Montreal, and up against the same rival, Prost showed similar nerve. There once featured a fast right-left-right sweep on the track layout there, with forbidding walls very close by (there's now a straight instead). Prost, having sought for many laps to pass an unaccommodating Senna, nosed ahead there, and decisively claimed the racing line, causing Senna to lift from the throttle and jink his car half onto the grass, and thus cede the place.



So, with all of this in place, you may ask why Prost continues to be under rated by posterity? In my view part of the reason may be related to the way that Prost went about his business, on and off the track.

In both cases there was none of the dramatic legend, continuous confrontation and altercation and mystical charisma that charcaterised Senna's existence, and his posthumous mythology, for the most part. Prost, unlike Senna (as well as unlike Mansell and others), tended to generally go about his business with a lack of fuss, certainly when it came to the racing.

Prost's appearance also, somehow, emphasised this difference. Prost was physically short in height, had thick curly hair, a crooked nose and often rather downbeat attire and a complete lack of pretension and self-promotion. Certainly to look at him it was hard to see an archetypal international superstar. He was never the romantic and charismatic hero that Senna was. And Prost's willingness to speak frankly on various issues, which often included the FIA's and his own team's shortcomings, led him to be viewed by many as something of a 'whinger' (this was a charge Senna often sought to pin on him). And for some reason a major part of Senna's (in my view, deserved) passing into folklore has been to trash his rival Prost's reputation at the same time. Unfair, and also unnecessary, in my book.

And on track Prost never looked quick. But rather than being seen as a weakness it should be seen as a major part of Prost's genius.

Nigel Roebuck once commented: 'Probably no one ever made the driving of a Grand Prix car look as easy as Alain did. He was quite uncannily smooth. I remember watching qualifying at Monaco one year with Denis Jenkinson, and we talked about who was going to be on pole. There were various possibilities – and then suddenly they announced that Prost had just shattered the previous best time. "Now where the hell did that come from?" said Jenks. "Didn’t even notice he was out…"'

Something similar happened in 1986 at the same venue. Prost took pole and won easily, but anyone in attendance without a stop watch to hand could have reasonably assumed that Prost was the slowest guy out there. As everyone else rubbed barriers and smashed kerbs Prost, far ahead, looked unhurried and completely smooth and precise. As Jackie Stewart said 'To some, that's boring; to me, it's artistry - and so much more difficult that just throwing a car about'.

Nigel Mansell, having observed Prost at close quarters as his team mate (and was usually far behind on track) once rather contemptuously described Prost a 'chauffeur', in the sense that he let his car do the work. Prost's response was slightly incredulous, pointing out that this was the object of the exercise. But in a sense Mansell may have been onto something: it's possibly harder to for those watching on to appreciate a driver whose hard work is done in an unglamourous test session, or in private session with their engineers, rather than by throwing the car around and pulling off spectacular overtakes. But Alain Prost is right, set-up and car development is all part of the game.

Credit:  Stuart Seeger
Another former team mate, Eddie Cheever, certainly agrees with him: 'If you had a good race, the next weekend it would be hell, because he’d (Prost) have made sure that he took a further step forward, and it was hard to keep pace with him. He never did anything in an underhand way, I must say. I never in my life came across anyone as detail-orientated as Prost was. He just went about his job – he was like a little general.

'Alain was a genius when it came to set-up, and I only started really to appreciate that when I drove at Indy the first two or three times. If the car wasn’t handling well, you just had to hold on, and then start working towards a set-up goal at the end of the stint. That was when I started to learn a little bit about how Prost did it – he was just phenomenal'.

There was also a lack of fuss and rancour about Prost's progress on a Sunday. Instead, his progress up the lap charts was somehow quiet, but no less inexorable for that. Patrick Head summed it up: 'Very often we'd be way ahead of him at first, and think, "Where the hell's Alain?" He'd qualify third or fourth, make a slow start, and you'd think, "Great, he's ninth or whatever, that's him out the way." Then you'd see that he was sixth, fifth, fourth, third, and you'd think, "Oooh, shit!" That was very much him wasn't it? That inexorable quality'.

The overtaking moves themselves had a similar quality, almost never did he lock up, bang wheels, or elbow his way past, passes were always clean. This was painted best by Rob Walker: 'Prost's overtaking manoeuvres were graceful in themselves, weren't they? So graceful and sure, almost like ballet'.

Prost's reputation is also perhaps not helped by the fact he tended to hide his light a lot of the time. I read a story in this excellent article on Prost by Peter Dick about Prost's early days at the Winfield racing school at Paul Ricard, which somehow sums Prost up. Prost initially looked of about average talent and pace compared with the other drivers at the school, but then one day when it rained the instructors noticed he was braking at the end of the straight at the same point as he had in the dry, and then in the final Prost suddenly blew his rivals away easily. It seems that before the final he'd deliberately been pacing himself to those around him, and then destroyed them at the precise point they'd be least equipped to deal with it. And all this brain power and discipline was already on display from a driver just starting out.

It was to be the shape of things to come. Prost's ability to think through a weekend was unrivaled throughout his career, and possibly so in the history of F1. Again this should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness. Like Fangio, Stewart and others before him, Prost was a disciple of winning at the lowest possible speed, saving himself and his car as much as possible. Perhaps in the strange world of F1 this visible lack of drama has led to him being under rated rather than treasured.

But surely The Professor's prodigious use of his loaf should be celebrated? There are some classic examples of him out foxing opponents with considerable elan. At Monza in 1988, a year that he and Senna dominated in their McLaren-Hondas, with his championship hopes hanging by a thread he discovered early on, while running second to Senna, that his engine wasn't going to last the distance. So he cranked up the turbo boost, thus putting his fuel consumption well into the 'red', hoping that Senna would do the same. Senna indeed took the bait, and after Prost retired he had to tail off his pace disastrously in order to finish. As the Ferraris closed in, Senna tripped over a backmarker on the penultimate lap, putting him out, and keeping Prost in championship contention. Then at the next meeting, at Estoril in Portugal, Prost was the quicker of the two McLarens in qualifying. And part way into the final session he unclipped his belts, left his car and soon after conspicuously appeared in the McLaren garage dressed in his civvies, hanging around nonchalantly. This had the desired effect on his team mate, who became increasingly desperate in his attempts to beat Prost's benchmark, and went slower and slower as a result.

And another reason we should admire Alain Prost is that, not unimportant in my book, his on track conduct Prost was as clean as they come. In an age when on track ethics took a conspicuous dive, Prost resolutely stuck to his principled standards. Yes, it's probable he knew what he was doing in the collision with Senna at Suzuka in 1989, but I for one can forgive him one aberration over a long career.

It's also ironic that it's commonly thought that Prost was close to FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre, and that as such 'politics' assisted him throughout his career, as claimed by Bisignano. For the most part the two didn't see eye to eye particularly, mainly because of Prost's tendency to speak out with frankness on his perceptions of the shortcomings of the powers that be.

In my view, the persona that Alain Prost has had developed for him, both during his career and subsequently, is ill-fitting. Yes, Prost had strengths in calculation and in avoiding brute force, but it should also be appreciated that he was as quick as they come and one hell of a racer. And his breathtaking smoothness, ability to set a car up, and the inexorable nature of his race progress are facets that should be marveled at rather than seen as reasons to discredit him. He is surely one of the most impressive performers behind the wheel of a racing car that the world has ever seen. It's about time for an Alain Prost reappraisal.

62 comments:

  1. Beautifully well written post. While I certainly know Alain Prost, I definitely don't know enough about him. But you have enlightened and educated me, and I have gained a much greater appreciation for the man and the racer.

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  2. Thanks for this!

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  3. Absolutely 100% spot on! I watched all of Prosts career and can only say it
    was true magic to see. I have sat in the stands with a stopwatch watching all his competition looking very spectacular. Alain would come crawling along and we would look at the watch and be blown away by the lap. If that's not true magic I don't know what is!

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  4. Thanks very much everyone for the kind words. Glad you like the post!

    I agree that Alain Prost was an amazing talent, genuinely one of the best ever. I find it hard to accept why he isn't more widely appreciated.

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  5. Hi Graham

    Could I publish this on my website www.prostfan.com? I would of course mention Copyright Graham Keilloh and link back to this page!

    Thanks in advance for your reply!

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  6. Hi Oskar,

    I'd be delighted for you to publish this on your website! Do let me know if there's anything else you need, if you prefer I can be contacted directly on gkeilloh@hotmail.co.uk

    I've had a look at your website and it is very impressive.

    Thanks very much,
    Graham

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  7. Prost's talent as a Grand Prix driver is never in doubt ... he is one of the very best to drive an F1 car. However as a person I think the Senna film captures him very accurately.

    The reason why Prost fails to capture the hearts of most F1 fans is his habit of blaming others for his failures (both as a driver and as a team owner). Not owning up to deliberately crashing into Senna at Suzuka in 1989 was horrendous. Blaming Honda for favoring Senna was puerile. Blaming Ferrari and Renault for the effort they gave during this times with them was cowardly. Blaming France when his team failed was ridiculous.

    Alain Prost is not an admirable figure in my mind.

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    1. someone with sense yet he is the closest we will come to senna these days. he was a very good driver yes but i want to become a formula 1 driver and i am already into go karts i just want some tips from good f1 drivers.

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  8. To the anonymous person who made a comment on August 30, 2011: It is no secret anymore that Honda was favoring Senna, several people from Honda admitted that in the meantime... In Suzuka 1989, Senna crashed into Prost (he was clearly behind at the entrance of the corner and at the time of the crash. There is people who think otherwise. The opinions at the time were about 50:50. Let's call that one a racing incident and say that both drivers were to blame. You can say Prost was always blaming other people. In my opinion, Prost has always been telling straight forward what he thought (just like Niki Lauda or Eddie Jordan). This has given him more problems than it helped him at the end. But at least he was honest...

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  9. Hi Graham,

    Thank you very much for your allowance of use. I will put the article on as soon as possible. Unfortunately I had not seen your reply before...

    In my opinion, this review is absolutely fantastic as I think it is written by a pretty much unbiased fan of the sport who knows what he talks about. Without a doubt, it's the best review about the Senna movie I have read and it's better than I could ever have written it. Thank you so much for this!

    Best regards,
    Oskar

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  10. Thanks very much again Oskar for your kind words, it is very much appreciated.

    As I said, growing up I was a big Ayrton Senna fan but I think the way Alain Prost is treated by history (such as in the Senna movie) is really undeserved

    Thanks again!
    Graham

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  11. The helicopter footage of the incident at Suzuka in 1989 clearly shows that Prost was not turning for the apex of the corner. He was turning his car to make contact with Senna. As for Honda favoring Senna, please sight one source of reference to support what you say that Honda personnel has admitted that.

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    1. I agree many people still bring this up, but I have yet to see anyone come up with evidence to the claim that Senna " had more power" or what ever. I have read similar articles and Ron Dennis is quoted many times saying all they wanted was equality, to the point where it literally came down to a coin toss. It would be like Toto Wolf noticing that Hamilton has more power and going "eh what ever" . It would never happen. Ron Dennis would have never let some thing like that slip under the radar.

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    2. There are two examples of Honda favouring Senna over Prost. The first is the 1989 Mexican Grand Prix. Early in the race, Senna led with Prost right behind him. Prost's McLaren MP4/5 was running less wing which generally gives more straight line speed. Prost was seen for a number of laps coming out of the final turn much faster than Senna yet despite running less wing and being in his slipstream, Senna was actually seen to pull away down the over 1 KM long straight. And later in the race when Senna came up to lap Prost (after a couple of very slow pit stops), Senna easily powered past on the straight.

      The second is the 1989 Italian Grand Prix. Now yes I know Prost won after Senna's engine blew late in the race, but the fact is that while again running less wing on his car than Senna, the Brazilian was some 10 km/h faster through Monza's speed trap than Prost who qualified almost 2 seconds slower in 4th place, beaten by both Ferrari's.

      As for Ron Dennis not letting that slip under the radar, remember that Prost had made up his mind to leave McLaren at the end of 1989 and Dennis is no fool, he knew full well he was on a good thing with Honda and was loath to upset the relationship in any way lest they do to McLaren what they did to Williams which was pull out of the contract a year early.

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    3. Prost also had a couple of allies in what he said about Honda. Both Keke Rosberg and Nigel Mansell have said that after it was known that neither would be using Honda engines the following year, that their engines would not work as well as they had and should be and that their team mate would suddenly have an advantage if they were going to be with a team that would have Honda power. Mansell even said in an interview on the 1987 season review video that it was very easy for Honda to make changes to the engine just by putting in a different 'chip' to the electronics and that it would literally only take a few seconds to do that without anyone from the actual team knowing what was going on.

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  12. Typical hero worship stuff. no I won't be watching it until it hits free to air tv.
    Loved Senna's style but he was no more less flawed. Not a God just a inperfect human like everybody else.

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  13. 'Senna' is a great film so I recommend you see it when you can, but you're right that Ayrton Senna had a dark side and the film doesn't explore that to any great extent. Though I understand why it didn't for the reasons I mentioned!

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  14. Just came across this whilst I was looking for Prost pictures...very good post! I admit right now that Senna, for me, was the best, as a driver and a person...disclaimer! But, Alain Prost I think did get a bad deal in the film slightly; he definitely was defined as the antagonist. I think Prost is obviously one of the greats, even if you only take into account the fact that he had to race wheel to wheel with Senna and still managed to win Championships...however, Ayrton Senna for me includes how much time and money he gave to charity (the ASF is up to 12 million kids educated) and I don't see that Prost has done anything more than be a good driver (and then a disastrous team owner...;)). He didn't particularly support France either, whereas Senna was always, always "Ayrton Senna do Brasil", which I think again shows the difference in character...Prost was always about himself. I do love the guy though, even if sometimes I do love to hate him...and I don't respect him or his style as much as I do Senna...being drama free is great, but for me it means that you're not on the edge, and you're not 100%...great post though! :D

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    1. But wasn't it Prost who helped Senna's sister set up the Ayrton Senna Foundation after his death?

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  15. In 1982 Prost (then with Renault) had a similar relationship with his team-mate Rene Arnoux. When Arnoux proved to be as fast as Prost, Alain began conjuring up broken agreements, blaming Arnoux, asking the team to favour him in the championship, etc. (sound familiar?). Arnoux was so fed up he left Renault to join Ferrari. Little to do with culture there since they were both French in a French team. In 1990 now at Ferrari, when then team-mate Nigel Mansell's car was running better than his Prost had the mechanics swap their cars without Mansell's knowledge. Senna was not the only one who had problems with Prost. Arnoux, Renault, Ferrari, Mansell, McLaren, Honda, etc., etc.....

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    1. what a lot of absolute crap

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    2. Arnoux as fast as Prost in 1982 you say? That's funny, I could've sworn Prost was a lap down after a puncture in South Africa, then retook the lead (from Arnoux) within 27 laps and won the race.

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  16. In the movie, Prost speaks his own words. Answers the interview questions himself. To suggest that they are twisting his words in some way is simply petty and untrue. Prost should not be proud of his final years in F1 I lost all of my respect for him after 1989. If the movie does not paint Prost in a good light it is because he behaved very poorly especially when he was in front of a camera with a microphone pointed towards him. It is as simple as that.

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  17. Thanks for the latest comments. Some food for thought there.

    First anonymous poster - you're right that Senna was very much a national hero in a way that Prost wasn't, which may explain some of their divergent popularity. Prost always gave the impression he didn't care for his country much, and was often not afraid to say so (though this outlook was perhaps explained in part after his experiences at Renault).

    Second anonymous poster - hmmm, you're right that Prost fell out with a few people in his career now that you list them! He was no angel, and *was* willing to use politics. But so was Senna (and so are many top drivers - they become top drivers because they're selfish so-and-sos who'll do whatever it takes to increase their own chances!). And as I said Prost rarely did himself favours in the eyes of the public with his extreme frankness. But I'd argue that there's much more to Prost than politics, he was a magical driver as well. And let's face it, neither Mansell nor Arnoux very often got near Prost on pace when they were his team mate.

    Jackel - who suggests the film 'twists Prost's words'? I don't and I don't believe anyone commenting has. My criticism is how Prost is portrayed and described in the film, particularly by John Bisignano. I'd also suggest the film is guilty of omission as well. Key points in understanding why the Senna-Prost relationship broke down wherein Senna behaved poorly, most notably Imola '89 and Estoril '88 aren't so much as mentioned.

    As I said, I thought the film was fantastic and I understand why they made the film that they did, for the reasons I outline in the article. But let's not pretend the Senna film was a balanced piece of historical record, because it clearly wasn't.

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  18. Fantastic article. I couldn't agree more with what's been said.

    It seems Prost's detractors have got a lot of mileage out of the "political genius" angle, when there's no proof he was ever reliant on this talent for his success. Even as a rookie at McLaren he pretty much blew away John Watson (himself no slouch) right from the start of the season, then waltzed into Renault and immediately went faster than Arnoux. Same at McLaren again with Lauda and at Ferrari with Mansell*. To outpace the established driver in a team - especially prodigious talents like the above - right from the start takes skill behind the wheel, not just skill in front of the team CEO's desk.

    Besides, Prost tended to prevail even when the intra-team winds were blowing against him: witness his title in '89 against *alleged* Honda favouritism and his supremacy over Jean "The New Messiah" Alesi at Ferrari in '91, despite being at odds with Ferrari's management for the whole year.

    Was Prost prone to running his mouth off at times? Yes, absolutely. Did he have reason? A lot of the time, yes. Cut away all the BS though, and you have a driver who ticked all the right boxes for greatness - fast, consistent, and able to take on any contender, be it inside or outside the team. Allez Alain!

    * I might as well point out that Mansell finally got his number 1 status at Williams in '91 and still took eight races to outqualify Riccardo Patrese. Can't see Prost taking as long, can you?

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  19. Very well said Graham and thank-you for your accuracy, there is still so much more to tell...
    I was a young man, a professional racer in a different discipline where contact was permitted. I had watched the Jackie's and Lauda's growing up but simply was amazed by what Alain was able to do in virtually every car he drove. Lost in all this are other quick comments I would like to add...
    As a European myself I can say that Prost was liked outside of the F1 world for his humour, Yes, he had a good sense of humour, he was very easy going (albeit a nervous nail-biter) but he often appeared on TV or commercials with good humour intended and poking fun at himself.
    Next was the fact that from early on in his F1 life, he was touched by tragedy...Villeneuve, Pironi and DeAngelis (where he was one of the first on the scene) and the point being that he raced at Senna speed as a father and not a bachelor. I can speak of personal experience that, that in itself is beyond most peoples comprehension.
    Then you have to add wet conditions, Prost was always very fast in the wet, he was simply never willing to throw a wet race away for the sake of being the fastest. Two examples...Senna passes Prost (in championship contention) on the straight (perhpas simple car set up)in his black Lotus during a downpour for the lead, moments later in the spray, Prost loses the car to hydroplaning in the straight, saves the car and goes on to collect points. Fast forward to Montreal Prost and Senna put on a show during downpour conditions in qualifying. Neither car is worthy of the Williams (Mansell/Piquet electroniques) but everyone leaves the track in amazement over the Prost and Senna duel in the wet, trading lap after lap. As for the Donington debachle, if you recall it was all the woes of Prost and a ultra high tech car that took away any chance of a fight to the finish. It was very clear that Senna's Mclaren was better suited for full wet conditions (and later very much admitted) but the following weekend, on grease like conditions, Prost destroyed everyone. As for team mates...no one in the F1 world (other than the team mates he outdrove) ever pointed the finger at Alain. Instead, when Senna was going over to Mclaren, all were concerned as to how the arrogance of Senna would affect the reserved but frank speaking Prost.
    The point lost in all this, is how Senna himself made a public gesture days before his untimely end and that Alain is very much a respected part of Ayrton's personal family.
    All F1 fans, of all ages were treated to something you rarely see in any discipline...two combatants giving you all they had in their own way, every second weekend for years on end.
    We owe them both a thank-you for the spectacle they provided which at any moment could've ended in tragedy and unfortunately one day did.
    I for one was looking forward to this movie but the mere fact that Alain has been portrayed by perception and not fact is very, very sad.
    Duey 51

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  20. Att: Anonymous,
    Although I know not your age, it seems unfortunate that your ideas seem to have been formed with less fact then you think or may recall.
    As for Honda...Mr.Kawamoto explained it as only the Japanese can...Senna was their pilot first and was viewed as a Samurai style racer, whereas Prost was a computer.
    The 89 Suzuka incident, regardless of any argument, Senna's wheels were not side by side but still mid-rif. During that season, Ayrton took many with a similar tactic, of placing his front wheel between the your front and rear...a very big No, No in open wheel racing, yet Ayrton did it repeatedly with no consequence. In one race, he did it to Berger, followed by Nanini (which could've been disasterous) and finally Boutsen....all in one race and without consequence. In my discipline block passing is expected, but not in open wheel. Prost has made it clear he would'nt let him do it and he didn't. Remember this, in racing the leader (or anyone) fighting to fend his position does not have to yeild unless unless you have pulled up alongside evenly.
    As for charities, that is subject to interpretation...while Senna, like Piquet and all the other Millionaire playboys spent as much time as possible at the beach (with their toys)and as little time as possible with the teams and the cars on any day off or during the off season, Alain (the father) was doing all the PR for his teams, constantly traveling for the team, constantly testing for the team.
    Unlike the many prima-donnas of F1, Prost, Mansell, Villeneuve had no wealthy families backing them up. Mansell mortgaged his house to keep going, Villneuve (just a regular canuck)and Alain, would assign himself weekend passes (while on Military service) so he could show up, dress up and hit the track at race school.
    Remember this in life, you can donate to charity or any gesture anonymously or you can attach your name.
    I for one, have never attached my name.
    I also wanted to comment on the personality traits, elite atheletes are often one of two types...very arrogant, in your face, A-type personalities or introverted, always deflecting compliments with a ... thank-you but, yes it was but...Why this latter example, because I can relate. I spent my youth playing down my talent, almost in an embarrassed way. Accepting compliments but always attaching some disclaimer...Looking back on it, it was as much to do with being our own worst critic. I think at times I should have been more arrogant but then I catch myself, smile and know that to me, my accomplishments spoke for me. I sense Prost was that type, where as Piquet, Senna and others were simply more the A-type and that's fine.
    Finally, Graham touched briefly on Prost often soldiering on even when all was lost. This too was never appreciated...oh, how often lesser prima-donnas would just arrive at the garage, nearly run over anyone in the way and park the car...be it lap 1 or 50. Meantime, throughout Alain's career, no matter the lap, if the car was still able to roll, he soldiered on, no matter the deficit...simply because... in his words, it was his job, his committment to the team and every point counts. Belgium (the truest of tracks) in '86 was his drive, never to be forgotten by those in the know...and with 60bhp less than the Williams Hondas....they could'nt lap him.
    This is how championships are won and as mentioned early on in Graham's blog, Alain lost at least 3 more championships to microscopic points differences.
    I hope you appreciate my added comments and that they help all of you see things in a different light.

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  21. Very well written article, I think it pretty much sums it all up from most angles.
    I too was a big Senna fan during the era and was left in awe by his talent behind the wheel, even considered Prost slower than Senna.
    And indeed, long after the Frenchman quit, year after year his stocks have risen with me considerably.
    In fact I've come to believe he was the best of his era, yes, even better than Senna.
    I think there's a couple of specific reasons he was not particularly loved or hailed by the crowds as he would deserve:
    1)He was not out to play a hero and everyone back then loved (and still loves today) a hero, a balls out driver.
    He was there to be the best but "best" registered differently with formula one team owners and differently with F1 crowds.
    2)His own countrymen disliked him!
    As Prost himself once said, while still driving for Renault early in his career, "I made the mistake of winning and my compatriots don't like winners".
    Whatever, I have so many fond memories from that era.
    I think the fact that I was a kid magnifies things a little bit so I'm not sure how much is down to reality and how much to the "good ol' days" mentality but what does it matter.

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  22. A really great article! I too agree that the Senna film was unfair and worry that history will forget what an amazing driver he was. You may appreciate this other article which takes a statistical approach to Prost's rivalry with Senna: http://f1banter.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/senna-vs-prost-statistics-show-you-would-rather-have-prost-in-your-car-if-you-were-a-f1-team-principal/

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  23. Diane Cullimore1 July 2012 at 16:10

    Not read such a brilliantly unbiased accurate article on F1 for a long time.This sums up to me how things were at the time pretty much perfectly.I have to be honest the Senna film disappointed me greatly especially for the way that Alain was portrayed.That's hollywood for you though.They try to make things more clear cut and dramatic.That was a terrible weekend at Imola but to portray Prost as some kind of villain is outragious.I think the only reason Alain hasn't spoken out about the film is because he knows it will be looked at as a slight on Ayrton and would backfire on him.I witness their rivalry first hand on the track and that is why i am a bit nervous about the film Rush.I'm not sure they are going to portray things as they were.Will watch it but through my fingers!

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  24. He was as great as Senna, they were true rivals, if someone claims Senna was a legend this person is indeed clamming that Prost was a legend too.

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  25. It's sad to see when 90% of people consider Prost a cheater, a whiner, etc, whereas he was a hel of a driver and a true genius!

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  26. Absolute rubbish. Prost was and continues to be a total douchenozzle. He was dirty as they come on track, it's just nobody noticed just like nobody noticed how fast he actually was. In conclusion, douchenozzle.

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    1. You must be living in a parallel universe, jim peabrain.

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  27. South Africa 1984: Of Pit Lane to second in meta

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  28. That's a well-written article, as usual from Graham. Your article about MSC was classic, as is this one

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  29. Just incredibly unfair how they twist the story, my brothers one of those Senna fans, and can't even admit that Prost was good. In my opinion Prost was better than Senna but I at least admit that Senna was a fantastic driver.

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  30. Great article mate. I think Prost is a fascinating character and I can really relate to him. I never understood the criticism of him I guess its just the sheepish nature of people to think "if I like Senna, then I have to hate Prost", Im proud to say Im a Prost fan of that era through and through top respect for the man and top respect for the article. I see Alonso and Räikkönen in the same light as Prost, theyre just always up there week in week out and it would take a fool to bet against them on the podium

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  31. I used to think John Bisignano was a smarmy creep on ESPNs F1 broadcasts. Seeing him on film twenty years later still makes my skin crawl. If being an unabashed Prost fan puts me in a small minority, I'm happy to be in the same company as Jackie Stewart.

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  32. I had the unfortunate miss adventure of dealing with Bisignano , his report is the same as he is in private life straight as a cork screw . I have to wonder who he had to satisfy to keep his job .

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  33. the sole purpose of senna's driving f-1 was to "destroy" prost - by hook or by crook
    when prost retired for good, senna lost his 'purpose' of racing
    that's why in '94 despite having the best car - he seemed to be confused and lost to the inexperienced schumy
    even san marino gp 'defeated' the brazilian
    senna is great at winning pole position; prost was better at winning on the race day

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    1. 100% to that. Prost and Senna were easily the best drivers of their era. Senna was the supreme qualifier and his ability to put in a banzai lap that blew everyone else into the weeds (especially when he had the car to do it) was unrivaled. But Prost was the man all his contemporaries feared come race day. It why, other than being called "The Professor" that Prost also had the lesser known nickname of "The Terrorist", because he came from nowhere to be usually the fastest when it counted, race day.

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    2. Wow, I've never heard Prost being called the "Terrorist", but I love it!

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  34. As I am Michael Schumacher fans for his ability to build team and people around him, I am 100% agree with this article. Great! Even greater than Senna who were taking risk too much. Great! that's the only word for Alain.

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  35. Hi Graham,

    Hoping you get notifications about comments on old posts as well =) , was just searchin around the interwebs and found this gem of an article, there are a few Videos on Youtube as well if you search for "Senna Mercedes 1984)

    http://en.espnf1.com/f1/motorsport/story/54800.html

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  36. Great article. The portrayal of Prost in the Senna movie is scandalous and I actually believe Senna would be unhappy at the portrayal. The editing is so biased. There is actually a longer edit available online that shows significantly more including many interviews with Prost. This is by far the more balanced portrayal.

    Senna came from a wealthy family and money and resources, he was never the underdog and had a reputation of driving people off the road when he was in single seaters.

    Only when Prost retired did Senna mature enough to start to really understand himself. Dying young does some strange things to people's memories. At the time, Senna's behaviour was classified as rude, aggressive, arrogant and with completely questionable ethics on track. This has now been interpreted as 'enigmatic, charasmatic, driven'. Whatever happened to competing with dignity and grace?

    Senna was capable of setting very fast pole times but that's what he focussed on. Prost spent the weekend setting his car up for the race, not just looking for a hot lap.

    There is a video of the karting event at Bercy which Senna and Prost were involved in. Senna's kart breaks down and there is a scene of him standing trackside as Prost goes by. He has the look and demeanour of a child who could not accept losing. This is the Senna I remember.

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  37. With the Senna 20 year anniversary shows these days , I'm sick of hearing people refer to Prost's deliberate crash into Senna at Suzuka 1989 being described as "they came together". At least this writer with "Yes, it's probable he knew what he was doing in the collision with Senna at Suzuka in 1989" gets close to the truth, but you can drop the "probably". Prost deserved everything get got in Suzuka 1990

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    1. I don't agree at all. *If* Alain Prost knew what he was doing in 1989 at Suzuka (and I stress the 'if' as we don't know for certain) then it does not at all mean that 'Prost deserved everything he got in Suzuka 1990'. For one thing, two wrongs do not make a right. For another, the 1989 collision was at low speed. The 1990 collision had an egregious additional dimension in that the collision was at well over 100mph, and with 23 other cars right behind. It was purely luck that the resultant carnage from the accident did not result in widespread injury or even death.

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    2. No "if" needed. Prost has already stated that he wouldn't let Senna pass him no matter waht. The collision was at low speed because that's where Senna tried to pass him, a low speed corner. If it were at a high speed bit of the track, and if Prost had kept his word, it would have a high speed accident. And from what you said, seems you agree 1) Prost did a "wrong" 2) It's OK to take someone out in an F1 car if it's at low speed

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    3. Or how about you read what I actually said? Indeed, I said explicitly that taking someone out deliberately is 'wrong' as well as that the high speed nature of the 1990 Suzuka collision was an 'additional dimension'. In other words, that the deliberate collision was done at high speed was a charge that can be added to the rap sheet over and above the fact that Senna took someone out deliberately in the first place. To get 'it's OK to take someone out in an F1 car if it's at low speed' from that is risible.

      Plus the two apparent 'points' you take from my words that '1) Prost did a "wrong" 2) It's OK to take someone out in an F1 car if it's at low speed' utterly contradict each other. If the first point is true then the second absolutely cannot be!

      So, the inferences you take not only bear no relation to what I said they are also absurd in themselves.

      You also manage to distort what Prost actually said beyond recognition too. He actually said that he was fed up of leaping out of the way when Senna tried one of his 'either you swerve in avoidance or we have an accident' overtakes, and that he wasn't going to do it again. Much milder than what you said (as well as something that plenty of contemporary drivers other than Prost said also), as well as leaves it possible that Prost wouldn't have done the same had Senna been able to make a clean overtake rather than the sort that he tried. And your claim that Prost would have done the same at a high speed point of the track is pure speculation.

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    4. Ok, Graham, you're way too committed to this argument for you be a sane enough person for me to try and debate. However, I will leave you with this: My main point (which you decided to troll BTW) was that I'm sick of people not recognising that Prost took Senna out in 89 as a deliberate move. Senna did it back to him the following year. i.e. Prost started it. People are fooled by how spectacular the 90 crash was vs how pedestrian the 89 looked. Don't be a fool Graham.
      Rob
      PS My " two apparent 'points'" were to show that you're all messed up in your thinking, contradicting yourself. So I know it was absurd, but it's what your logic suggested.

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    5. Oh dear. It appears I've hurt your feelings.

      On the 'two apparent points' matter, apologies. But I couldn't quite decipher what was so difficult about understanding the point I was making, namely: deliberately crashing into someone is bad; doing it at high speed is worse. Strikes me as pretty non-contentious.

      And to seek to answer your question as to why there's more condemnation for what Senna did at Suzuka 1990 than for Prost for what he did in 1989, my view is that the reason falls into three categories (all of which I've either said in my comments or in the original article, but I'll re-tread).

      One is, there was clearer culpability in 1990 than in 1989. If nothing else, Senna admitted he did wrong in 1990; not that we needed confirmation. Whereas in 1989 it's not nearly as clear. Maybe Prost knew what he was doing. Maybe as I said, he simply wasn't swerving out of the way when Senna tried a daredevil overtake like he usually did. Maybe it was a clumsy attempt at a block (indeed, Nelson Piquet said afterwards 'you can tell Prost's never blocked anyone before, because he did it so badly...')

      But even if we assume that Prost *did* know what he was doing that time, the context in the 1989 case was entirely different. And context is always important. For one thing (as we've been arguing about), the 1990 crash that Senna initiated was much more dangerous given the speed and the bunching of the cars behind.

      For another if Prost knew what he was doing then it represented a single solitary aberration in a long motor racing career. That can hardly be said about Senna.

      And just as in a criminal case you'll get a stiffer sentence if you're a repeat offender as well as if what you did had greater potential danger to life and limb of others, the same thing is at play here.

      And, with respect, frankly 'Prost started it' sounds like the defence said by a child in the school playground. Whatever Prost might have done, Senna must take responsibility for his own actions ultimately.

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    6. This Suzuka talk is ridiculous prattle from obsessed Senna fans (much like the man himself). Senna could not possibly have made it around the corner without hitting Prost. This is clear from the footage at all angles. Prost was simply turning at the point he turned every time and di not expect even a lunatic like Senna to try and come from so far back. Senna was a cheat, a dirty driver, a sook and a conspiror who had some crazy thought that God would save him from harm. Prost was the cleanest F1 driver ever and as good and a s fast as anyone as well. He was (I met him in Australia) also a very modest and charming man. Thank goodness Senna did not take anyone with him when he died because that was always a chance. Just because you die young does not mean you automatically get reclassified (a la Gilles Villeneuve, another lunatic who people make up myths about). Prost was classes above Senna in EVERY aspect, including as a person.

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    7. Very well written and totally unbiased article, specially coming from someone admitting to be a Senna fan. Great job Graham. I was always a die-hard Prost fan, glad to have found this piece.

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    8. Thanks very much for your compliments Othoniel, very nice to hear :)

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    9. In reference to the two incidents, as far as I'm concerned, Prost was in the right on both occasions. He was in the lead at the time and under the rules the corner was his. In 89 Prost has made a clear warning that he was fed up with Senna's behavior throughout the year and that he would not open the door to any unfair driving, such as what Senna displayed in his pass attempt.

      If 1989 was unclear, then 1990 isn't at all. Certainly Senna thought he was wronged and felt justified in risking other people's lives.

      One interesting thing to note: the FIA didn't handle the situation in 1989 overly well. Senna was justified in being disqualified due to his bump start, but the other charges that were levied against McLaren were not. I think that largely because of this, Balestre didn't have the capital to intervene the next year when Senna deserved severe punishment.

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  38. After watching the film and the making of the film, I have a few comments:
    John Bisignano should wipe the biased crap out of his eyes and wipe Senna's excrement from his collar!
    What Senna did to Prost in Japan in 1990 was seen again in 1997, Schumacher doing it to Villeneuve. Senna got away with it! Schumacher didn't, by being excluded from the championship. That's what should have happened to Senna in 1990.
    If Prost and Senna were such sworn enemies, why was Prost invited to be a pall-bearer at Senna's funeral in 1994? Tells me that what they said about each other was for the benefit of the press, some of whose journalists cater primarily for the IQ challenged inhabitants of this planet.
    At the beginning of 1994 Senna complained bitterly about the Williams Renault. Was it really a worse car to drive than the Toleman he drove in 1984? The best drivers, who can really call themselves racers, adapt to whatever equipment they are given. I know of two that have done that in that last 55 years: Jim Clark and Michael Schumacher. The British don't really like Schumacher, but having just finished the books written by Christopher Hilton, a Brit, on Schumacher, there is no doubt in my mind that he is the greatest driver F1 has had until now.

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  39. Finally, an unbiased article that doesn't paint Prost in a bad light and portray Senna as some kind of angel. I am of the opinion that Prost is better than Senna, because while Senna was faster, more popular with fans and more charismatic, he wasn't necessarily the better driver. I've noticed something interesting. Every time Senna finished first, more often than not, Prost would be there in second place. When Prost finished first, more often than not Senna would either have crashed out or had mechanical failure. Now these mechanical failures are due not only to bad luck, but Senna's aggressive treatment of the Mclaren. Notice how Prost would take better care of the machinery instead of chasing hard all the time for the win. Senna refused to adapt his style an took a bit of a toll of machinery. Now often people say today that Hamilton can't be the best driver because he won't adapt his style in order to preserve his car, rather he will go flat out. Maybe then, the better driver should be able to adapt his style so that his car can finish the race. I'm not suggesting that Senna didn't have any bad luck whatsoever but it's food for thought.

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  40. I saw the documentary "Senna" recently and together with re-viewing each single race in the 80's and early 90's in F1 / searching on the Web, I "ran" into this article. After reading all the comments here, I'm wondering why the debate on Prost and Senna is still going on, some "heated" discussions mattering who was the best driver included. Personally, I favoured both, admiring their different racing approach; Senna - driving with his "steer wheel between his teeth" mentality, or Prost - calculating, looking for the best option at a particularly moment. That's why I'm very pleased with Graham Keilloh's article here, giving Alain Prost the honour he deserves.

    Besides their differences in attitude, Senna and Prost had a lot in common as well. Not only their ambition to become World Champion, it's their intensive commitment in developing a car wherewith they excel above most other drivers. Both of them had a very wide and deep understanding on all the technical aspects of a racing car.

    When Alain Prost quit as a F1-driver, it was a kind of relief for me that Ayrton Senna continued in F1. But on the 1st of May, 1994 at Imola, at the moment that dr. Syd Watkins treated Ayrton Senna on the circuit, I felt that a special era in motorsports had come to an end. After the death of this Brazilian driver, Alain Prost had an interview wherein he answered in detail about his relationship with his biggest rival. A very sincere Prost gave an insight on what happened during and after their years of rivalry in motorsports. In there, Alain Prost talked about Senna with a warm tone in his voice, and became grieved when that tragic moment in 1994 and his funeral was being talked over. With hindsight, I had the honour to hear Ayrton himself praising Prost for his driving capabilities. I would like to point at the fact that in the end they became friends and regarded each other with an enormous respect. Therefore, I don't believe that the person Ayrton Senna, if he had survived that crash, had given his approval to this documentary. Between the Senna before 1994 and that same Senna after 1993, is a difference. Why should we, knowing that they finally came along with each other, are continuing the debate?

    The "Senna / Prost story" bears also a message for Hamilton and Rosberg: don't push rivalry too far, there's a life after Formula 1.

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  41. This is an absolutely fantastic article, based on the facts and truth rather than biased skull-doggery.
    There are just three main points I want to make in response to some of the comments above.
    In terms Suzuka 1989, I've always however been of the opinion that Prost was quite clearly the culprit, because although Senna attempted the move from a long way back, Prost still consciously chose to close the door. Villeneuve dived down the inside of Schumacher in 97 and Schumacher rightly got penalised for it because he closed the door, so where's the difference.

    Those who are saying that Senna gave Prost what he deserved in 1990 are just foolish. Correct me If i'm wrong but I don't remember Prost putting Senna's entire life at risk in 89, so what gives Senna the right to cause a dangerous high speed accident and put Prost's life at risk a year later?

    Finally, those who say Senna drove fast because he believed God would protect him, well congratulations, the media have managed to fool you. Senna was actually more aware of the dangers of driving an f1 car than Prost, but the difference is Senna felt he needed to confront those dangers with the maximum ferocity, not because he was a madman or crazy, but because Senna was the type of person to confront problems head on, both on and off the track. Senna never believed God would protect him, that was just some garbage made up by the media who couldn't grasp his religious beliefs.

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  42. Always puzzles me that some Senna hardcore fans and the movie in question try to lower so much Alain Prost abilities as a person, i mean, isn't it an honor to Senna having beaten the "great" Alain Prost rather the "cheater" Alain Prost?

    I'm sure, regarding how things were going in the final race of 93 and beginning of 94 between them, that Senna would always regard Prost highly. Prost was the only team mate that beat him in terms of final standings (apart 94) ...

    Prost says in the movie that Senna was the peoples favorite and that was that.. however portraying Prost as "evil" just because he wanted to win as much as Senna is a little strange and unfair, it's all about point of view. You could easily make a movie called "Prost" and make Senna the "evil" one, we have a lot of episodes about Senna.

    Quote : "As for Honda favoring Senna, please sight one source of reference to support what you say that Honda personnel has admitted that."
    I don't have any Honda inside personnel, but when claiming that Senna had more Honda power Prost backed his words saying that he had no problem admitting Senna was faster.. but not 2 seconds faster in the same car.. He had a point.

    Another issue about that frequently happens is people claiming that it was politics (FiA decision) in the 89 japonese grand prix that cost the title in 89 to Senna, but they usually forget that even if Senna had won that race, he would still finished second in the championship since he needed to win at Adelaide as well, and he crashed into Brundle's Brabham.

    And I can't forget Derek Warwick's quote in the 1989 Australian GP that said that the only brave guy that day was Alain Prost (for not taking part in the race) everybody did not want to race, but were too scared to refuse driving.

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