“Alain Prost” – Christopher Hilton

Alain Prost: A controversial figure. And one who, despite his superior statistical successes remains overshadowed by his late nemesis Ayrton Senna.

Hilton’s biography appeared during Prost’s 1992 sabbatical season and thus omits his final championship victory in 1993 and disastrous stewardship of his eponymous team from 1997 to 2001. It was, however, written during the white heat of the Prost-Senna battles of 1989-91, and much of the book’s appeal lies in these illuminating passages.

The opening chapters are heavy work, however. Hilton has cultivated a few grammatical quirks that are much in evidence here (as well as in Ayrton Senna: As Time Goes By and his other F1 writing) that clutter and lumber the prose. So-and-so ?????ǣwill say?????? rather than ?????ǣsaid?????? particular things. This is in part only a problem because he has sought a diverse range of commentators to lend quotes, from old karting rivals to contemporary Formula One drivers.

Soon enough the text lapses into fairly conventional season-by-season recollections, with occasional deep insight into flash-points (Monaco 1984, Suzuka 1989 and 1990) that feel as if everything has gone into slow motion. It seldom looks far beyond these famous moments, though, and feels decidedly ‘by-the-numbers’ at times.

For a driver involved in some of the most scandalous incidents the sport has ever known, Hilton remains fairly even-handed and turns to his roster of interviewees to proffer verdicts on the notorious Suzuka encounters: John Watson, Rene Arnoux, Keke Rosberg, Derek Warwick, Slim Borgudd (!), Kenny Acheson, Anders Olofsson, Jean Sage, Jacky Ickx, Stefan Johansson, Niki Lauda and Hughes de Chaunac – though in respect of the latter it must be said that this inane observation contributes nothing to the analysis:
?????ǣWhen you are on the road and a car?????? hits you it is always the fault of the car which is behind.??????

Hilton may keep his opinions more or less to himself but he is not above lending far greater weight to more famous passages over others. Suzuka gets reams, but Prost’s fraught 1991 season gets a thin chapter; the 1986 Adelaide race gets a ‘slow motion’ passage; blink and you’ll miss the early Renault years.

There are a couple of glaring errors in the text too, and not just anorak stuff. An early recollection of the famed Monaco 1984 race has Senna in a black-and-gold Lotus (as he was from 1985-6) instead of a Toleman.

If this synopsis has dwelled on the negative rather too much (and I feel it has) don’t let that put you off: Prost’s career is too often overlooked especially since he dropped from second to third in the ‘most championship wins’ chart behind Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio, but he remains a terrifically important F1 figure and, despite its oversights, this book contributes greatly to an understanding of him.

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