Alain Prost on the death of Ayrton Senna

Alain Prost, Toyota, Andros Trophy, 2008Alain Prost has distanced himself from the F1 world since the collapse of his F1 team in 2001.

I think it’s a shame the man who is F1′s most prolific champion, besides Michael Schumacher and Juan-Manuel Fangio, and who was one half of F1′s most notorious rivalry, keeps such a low profile these days. So I was pleased so see him blip onto my radar twice in the past week.

His second consecutive Trophee Andros victory for Toyota was not much of a surprise – but his illuminating interview for Motorsport magazine on the subject of Ayrton Senna was.

It’s trailed on the front cover as, “‘On the race he never impressed me’ – Alain Prost’s shock verdict on his nemesis,” but this isn’t Prost sticking the boot into his long-dead rival for old time’s sake. He merely acknowledges what I think many people would agree with – that Senna was incomparably quick in qualifying but Prost could match him on race pace.

What did jump out on me was this quote about Senna’s mental state in the weeks before that fateful race on May 1st, 1994:

We had never talked so much as in those weeks…before, he often didn’t call me, but now he was worried. First, he was a bit deceived by what he found at Williams.
[...]
Second, he was wrong-footed by the car. I had foreseen that and warned him. The car wasn’t as easy to drive as they said. And the layout was odd. I told him that too.
[...]
He was very worried about safety – he asked me several times to raise it with the Grand Prix Drivers Association – and he was convinced that Benetton were cheating.

Much time and ink has been spent guessing why Senna crashed to his death in the San Marino Grand Prix, but only when I read this did I realise how valuable Prost’s insight could be. Of all the F1 drivers, he surely knew his arch-nemesis and former team mate better than anyone else. And he’d driven for Williams the year before Senna.

I don’t think the fact that Senna was uncomfortable in the cockpit is the single reason that explains why he crashed. It always seemed to me to be one of those freak accidents caused by a myriad of unusual circumstances, of which Senna’s discomfort, suspicions about Michael Schumacher, and mental statement may be just three among many different components.

Still it’s good to see Prost in the press and talking about his past again. Perhaps now that he’s making himself available for interview again someone will finally do his excellent career justice with a decent biography. It’s not as if we’re short of books on Senna.

See the March issue of Motorsport for the full interview.

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13 comments on Alain Prost on the death of Ayrton Senna

  1. Journeyer said on 11th February 2008, 8:48

    Very interesting insights. A shame we don’t get Motorsport here. But it would be very nice to read that article.

  2. Good post – funny how Prost managaed to completely drift off the F1 radar. But then I guess once you’re not competing in F1 anymore, what interest can it hold for someone who was so focussed (as all good drivers must be) on winning?

  3. Steven Roy said on 11th February 2008, 15:35

    I buy the mag most months but it is not something I rush out to buy on the day it is printed. The combination of Nigel Roebuck’s desertion of Autosport and this article means it is number one on tomorrow’s to do list.

    A lot of people drift off the F1 radar. Piquet did it until 4 or 5 years ago when Nelsinho started racing. Schekter pops up occasionally but generally disappears for a decade at a time. Mansell is never seen at a race and other than his sons racing and his planning problems would never be heard of.

    I guess it must be difficult to go from being the centre of everyone’s attention to being one of the crowd.

  4. theRoswellite said on 11th February 2008, 19:37

    Just to add a thought to such a good post; I would think that one of the major reasons these champions did so well in F1 was there need to find a challenge combined with a love of competition. For them, I doubt simply “spectating” would hold more than a passing interest; and surely they have had all the public adoration any well balanced person could stand. Prost, especially, seemed very academic in his approach to motorsport. I would think he has continued to do that in some other endeavor.

  5. nothing new there actually…
    Senna did indeed say that he was so sure benneton was cheating…even Schumacher wasn’t that good on acceleration…
    and yes that williams was bad… the previous car had such great electronics in it that the car was so ‘easy’, but without it, it was just a very basic f1 car that wasn’t that great at all.

  6. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th February 2008, 20:24

    I didn’t say it was new (you’re the first person to use that word) I said it was valuable. And it is because if a four times world champion says a car isn’t easy to drive then I’m inclined to believe him.

  7. Wesley said on 11th February 2008, 21:40

    Could I have possibly read a rumour in the last two years that Prost may join with Nissan on an F1 team?

  8. I watched many a battle between Senna and Prost and loved every minute of them. I was a fan of Senna and watched that fateful race. It still angers me why it happened (in my mind anyway) and I am glad Prost has revealed what he has.

  9. “A shame we don’t get Motorsport here. But it would be very nice to read that article.”

    have to admit i don’t read it, but i think i might have to start.

    only discovered the paddock magazine – http://thepaddockmagazine.com/ – recently, may have to add this one to the list too. especially seeing as half the autosport team have bailed and left that as a one man show now.

  10. Steven Roy said on 13th February 2008, 9:54

    There have been rumours of Nissan entering F1 since they did a deal with Renault.

    Alonso seems to be leaving Renault at the end of the season. Flavio put out a story saying he would go when Alonso does but that may just be a negotiating ploy. Carlos Ghosn of Renault only wants to be in F1 if he perceives that Renault are making some kind of profit. Now Renault have signed a Japanese driver in Yamamoto and I am starting to wonder if the Renault team could transmute into Nissan in the near future.

    Of course Carlos Slim Helu’s involvement could see it become team Helu ot team Piquet.

  11. AJ14Foyt said on 13th February 2008, 22:05

    Alain speaks the truth – his fastest race laps far outpaced his rival. In many respects, Prost was the finest driver of his generation – and what a generation of drivers that was!

  12. That season (1994) has so many similarities to this 2008. They banned active suspension, reduced tyre widths and various electronic driver aids. This left the cars very unstable, and seem to effect the Williams more than most. Not surprising really as they were the leaders in this technology. Mansell won for Williams in 1992 followed by Prost in 1993…. 2008 also sees the banning of many driver aids, let’s hope history does not repeat itself with a catalogue of accidents!!

  13. the limit said on 4th August 2008, 3:00

    I believe Alain Prost and what he has claimed. It all makes sense when you think about it. Ofcourse Senna would be interested in Prost’s insight into the Williams, and any possible information he could divulge.
    It is well known that Prost’s ability at mentally taking in information, no matter how trivial, was pretty much legendary, hence his nickname of ‘The Professor’.
    Also, Senna must have been concerned about the pace of Michael Schumacher and Benetton, and the legality of their car also. Senna’s results at the start of 1994 show that the Williams was not the world championship certainty he had been led to believe. Even Damon Hill complained that the car was ‘nervous’ and ‘light at the backend’.
    These problems, without question, played there part in the crash that killed Aryton Senna. He had to push, due to Schumacher being on the pace right behind him, a car that was still suffering from major handling issues.
    That, in my mind, is beyond doubt. A racing driver has to have a car that he can believe in, trust in.
    When the car is behaving in the opposite fashion to which the driver desires, the situation can quickly esculate out of control.
    By the summer of 1994, the Williams team had ironed out alot of the problems with the car. Damon Hill could now take the fight to Schumacher, a far cry from the beginning of the season.
    The best, and most informed person, during those fraught and ultimately tragic months in 1994, would have been Alain Prost. Senna knew this, I am sure.

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