6th October, 1985 would be a proud day to be remembered by Alain Prost. His 4th place finish at the 1985 European Grand Prix saw him mathematically clinch the first of his four Drivers Championship in what would turn out to be an illustrious and eventful career for the Frenchman.
(PS, a special mention to Nigel Mansell who won the first of his 31 race wins in the same Grand Prix)
As the F1 Records stand today, his tally of 51 wins is second only to Michael Schumacher’s 91 wins and his tally of 4 World Championships is equalled or bettered by Sebastian Vettel, Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
The Frenchman was an extremely competitive driver right from his karting days and Formula 3. After a season of struggle with McLaren he moved to Renault partnering fellow Frenchman, René Arnoux. However, Alain Prost had a turbulent time with the team and his teammate in their 2 years together, especially when he felt Arnoux was not driving in support of him when he had piped Prost to win the 1982 French Grand Prix.
His relationship with the Media of France at that time was not great, which led him to comment:
When I went to Renault the journalists wrote good things about me, but by 1982 I had become the bad guy. I think, to be honest, I had made the mistake of winning! The French don’t really like winners.
Following a breakdown in the relationship with Renault over criticisms of their car (despite adding further victories) he moved to McLaren for 6 years. It is here, having nearly won the title in 1984, that he would establish himself as a Formula One great, finishing high up the drivers standings in five of his six years.
When he won it in 1985, he disliked the fact the French Media proclaimed it a victory for France, especially given the relationship they shared in the past, pointing out he was the only French Link in a British team, founded by a New Zealand-er, using German Engines and an American chassis and tyres.
1986 saw him win his second championship with some memorable events, running out of fuel in the San Marino and German Grand Prix and doing his level best to make sure he crossed the line.
1987, he had become the most successful F1 driver with 28 wins passing Sir Jackie Stewart at the Portuguese Grand Prix. It was in this season, he won what he has described as his greatest F1 win, having won the opening round in Brazil against the much faster Williams Honda, using a different car set up, that prolonged tyre life. Imagine, winning the race when the pole cars were capable of lapping 3 seconds a lap faster, but he made 2 pit stops.
Over his time in Mclaren he would develop rivalries with Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell, but those paled in comparison with the rivalry with Ayrton Senna.
He convinced McLaren to sign him in 1988, to get the competitive Honda Engine to the team. However, despite outscoring him at the end of the season, the best 11 out of 16 results counted which allowed Senna to win, and Prost felt Honda were favoring his Brazilian teammate.
This turned into an all out conflict in 89, which would be won by Prost under different circumstances in the Japanese Grandprix as he and his teammate collided in the race, but with Senna getting disqualified, Prost won the race.
Both would accuse each other of rash driving and they made pacts and broke them (as seen in the Imola grandprix that year, where they agreed to let the winner of the start go ahead unchallenged, which Senna won first and Prost won on the re-start of the race, but Senna broke the rule in the second time, while denying it. The pact was however revealed by Marbolo’s John Hagin who said he was a witness). With Prost not happy, he announced he would leave the team for Ferrari in 1990. With Senna admitting he deliberately drove into Prost in the 1989 Japanese Grandprix, Prost really felt he had lost all respect for the Brazilian legend.
He had a good debut season with Ferrari but struggled in 1991 and he was fired from the team at the end of the season. He would return to the sport as a driver in 1993, to win his 4th Championship in a single year with Williams.
He would return to the sport in Prost Racing owner in 1997. However while it s tarted strong, F1 is a financially challenging endeavor and just 4 years after his team started, it folded towards the end of 2002 with massive debts.
He would continue bike racing and would be a media broadcaster at certain races and even taking a role as a Stewart during some races.
Alain Prost won 25.24% of his races and had a 50% rate of finishing on the podiums. His driving style was very smooth, technical and efficient and his willingness to take different set ups to overcome shortcomings in his car, is a very rare skill set seen in drivers in the history of the sport.
On the downside of his sporting character, his dominating personality saw him clash with some of the biggest names in the sport and the Prost-Senna rivalry is by far the greatest and most intense rivalry the sport has ever seen. However, given the love Senna gained worldwide through his popularity, Prost has not been able to earn as much credit as he deserves. 4 World Championships and 51 wins, is deserving of a lot of respect.
The rivalry however, highlighted the resolve and determination of both Prost and Senna to really win the ultimate prize in F1, the Drivers Championship. So, once again, today is a day, Alain Prost would never forget and it was the first of many more eventful years in Formula One, as a driver and team owner.