Four-time Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost is another driver who is celebrating his birthday today; the little Frenchman is turning 57 years old today!
When Alain hung up the keys at the end of the 1993 season, his Formula 1 record stood at four world titles, an unheralded 51 Grand Prix victories, and a tally of almost 800 championship points. He averaged four points (equivalent to a third place) at every race he contested.
After starting out in karts alongside the likes of Eddie Cheever and Riccardo Patrese, he turned to racing cars, and headed to the Winfield Elf School in 1975, winning the Pilote Elf trophy.
His reward was a stint in Formula Renault the following year, and he won 12 of the thirteen races that season. He moved into the Super Renault championship, and claimed that crown after a further eight wins.
Formula 3 followed, and while not initially successful from the off, a chassis change brought back the form and he romped to the 1979 French and European championship crowns, including a win at the prestigious support race for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Formula 1 was now his calling, and McLaren duly snapped him up for the 1980 season. Points in his first two races was a great start, but the team’s M29 and M30 chassis’ used that year were not top-shelf. Despite this, the hallmarks of his driving were already becoming apparent, particularly his famous smoothness behind the wheel.
He moved to Renault for the 1981 season, and thrashed team-mate Arnoux along the way to claim three classy wins in his first season with the French team. Staying on for 1982, he added two more wins, but were it not for the team’s dreadful reliability, the title would surely have been his.
The same should have been the case in 1983, but once again championship glory slipped through his fingers at the final hurdle. The press and the team blamed Alain; Alain blamed the team and quit in disgust to return to McLaren.
For 1984, it was again a case of ‘so near, yet so far’, and this time he lost out on his maiden title by the narrowest of margins – a mere half-point! – to team-mate Niki Lauda. But in 1985, it would finally come good, and he became his country’s first (and still only) Formula 1 World Champion.
The 1986 season looked like it would have been a Williams whitewash, but Alain eked four excellent wins out of his TAG-powered McLaren, and disbelievingly took back-to-back titles at the season-ending Australian Grand Prix after Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet self-destructed..
By 1987, his McLaren package was too long in the tooth, and even his talents would not be enough to stop Williams steamrolling the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship crowns. That being said, he still finished atop the podium on three occasions.
While the pair would obliterate the opposition by winning 15 of the year’s 16 races between them, Senna would have his measure in their first year together.
The tables were turned in 1989 as Prost would controversially take the title at the penultimate round in Japan, but the relationship between the two had collapsed, and so Prost headed off to Ferrari.
After years in the doldrums, Prost’s arrival gave the Scuderia a new sense of purpose in 1990, and he almost claimed a shock Drivers’ Championship with another consistent season, only to be punted off track by his old mate Senna at Suzuka, which gave the Brazilian the championship crown.
With the 1991 Ferrari nowhere near competitive, a frustrated Prost was forced to squabble for the minor placings, and after one too many public criticisms of the team, he was fired before the season was out.
With no competitive drives in the offing for 1992, Prost took a sabbatical before making a swansong return with Williams. Armed with the all-conquering FW15C, he romped to a fourth title with seven wins and thirteen pole positions. Never considered a strong qualifier, this tally represented more than one-third of his total pole position tally.
Faced with the prospect of Senna joining Williams’ ranks for the 1994 season, Prost announced his retirement immediately after claiming title number four.
The first Prost chassis – the Peugeot-powered AP01 – was a complete dog and the team took a single point all season in 1998.
His team battled on for three more seasons before the debts became too large and he closed the team at the season’s end.
[Images via The Cahier Archive]