Alain Prost is a name that commands a lot of respect. This is for the simplest of reasons that the Frenchman has against his name, not one or two, but four separate world titles. If that’s not some achievement, then, one wonders what is?
During his peak, as seen in the eighties and early nineties, Alain Prost gained heightened fame, much of it largely to a rivalry he came to forge with Ayrton Senna. So could the mention and depiction of that part of his life in the Senna movie be the reason why the Frenchman has leveled criticism against the film?
Every sport needs a rivalry. Football has found at its heart the great Messi vs Ronaldo contest. Cricket recognizes the rivalry between the English and the Australians- aptly called the ‘Ashes’- as one of the fiercest battles ever.
Similarly, Prost vs Senna is a debate that’s ultimately a gift to Formula 1. This is owing to the fact that decades upon its explosive occurrence, it’s remembered as one of the motorsports’ great battles that played its part in popularizing the sport. Yet, when Alain Prost criticizes the Senna movie, a biographical feature on the amazing and gifted life of the Brazilian driver, one wonders whether there’s any sense in it at all?
Surely, in an age where everyone sort of becomes a self-titled expert, where being a pundit often needs one to ‘opine’ instead of having ‘it’ within, there’s space for discussion. Or should one say, rabble?
But when Alain Prost- a respected, successful, and highly cited name in the world of motorsports- goes as far as saying, “I hate” the Senna movie, one can’t help but gauge the reason behind the criticism leveled at the Asif Kapadia-film.
To that end, here’s a fact. Unlike the rivalry witnessed in the journey of Sampras and Agassi, where despite intense moments on the court there was pure respect off it, or say, the battle between Brian Lara or Glenn McGrath, where explosives weren’t necessarily fired down the way of the bat or the ball, the tongue often waging a war on its own, the Senna-Prost sage was different. In fact, it was, at its height, an ugly showdown.
Alain Prost’s standing in F1 was simply unrivaled until there came along Ayrton Senna. We saw what happened when Senna began to drive at his peak, literally stopping at nothing to win. After all, the flamboyant and redoubtable talent is himself known to have said, “I am not designed to come second.”
While that doesn’t make Senna a Bodhisattva, nor does it make the fan enlightened to know that the legendary Brazilian wasn’t here in F1 to attain sainthood, a thing must be asked.
Was Alain Prost- a competitor in Renault to Senna in a Toleman, then, a rival in a McLaren to Senna’s Lotus, and finally, often arch-rival to Senna in a McLaren- unfair in slamming Senna movie.
Even if one kept aside the fact that Prost was called the Professor- for his tactical mindset and a penchant to toy with the drivers’ psyche, his understanding of a track and his opponents- it can’t be denied that he didn’t exactly relish Senna’s rise.
Together, when Senna and Prost teamed up for McLaren-during their most tumultuous years- picture, the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix- Senna’s efforts, according to Prost weren’t to just beat him, but to prove everyone that he (Ayrton) was the man to ‘beat.’
To that end, the depiction of the same in the Senna movie and the fact that at several intervals, there’s footage of Prost being not kind of his then-teammate, specific lines such as “Ayrton has a problem; he thinks he can’t kill himself” might have done enough to draw ire from Prost, who, like any other driver would want to be shown in a positive light.
But then, it must also be asked that does Prost, one of Senna’s pallbearers alongside Rubens (and others) is shown in the film with the empathy and pain for all to see, the director doing his bit to show the human side of the ‘Professor’, have a complaint in that?
Or does it occur to the French driver that the movie was perhaps made in a way that it had to show Senna’s greatness at the cost of Prost’s weaknesses, which, well, one needn’t be an Einstein to rule out as an erroneous notion?
While one can’t say what is true and what isn’t, it doesn’t really seem that rational on the champion drivers’ part to have gone to the extremity of ‘hating’ a movie that was screen around the world, much to moviegoers’ delight and those who lent their creativity in it. What is further surprising is that nowhere does the movie do anything deliberately to portray Prost in a bad light.
Surely, if the Frenchman had his own take on a man who he felt was ‘difficult to team, race with’ going as far as telling an outfit to not sign Senna if they ever desired his services, one cannot fathom the dislike Prost has come to the harbor for a film deeply admired by the F1 community and movie-lovers in general.