We’ve already had one new book on Ayrton Senna
to mark the 15th anniversary of his death – and here’s another.
But this one has a twist. Written after discussions with Alain Prost, “Senna versus Prost” tells the story of their infamous rivalry which dominated F1 from the moment they became team mates in 1988, until Prost’s retirement in 1993.
Read the review below plus enter an exclusive F1 Fanatic competition to win one of six copies.
I was halfway through a biography of John F. Kennedy when a copy of “Senna versus Prost” arrived for review. Ironically the Kennedy book is sub-titled “An unfinished life” – the very sentiment which has inspired so much interest in the three-times F1 champion.
To put it into perspective, a glance at my bookshelf reveals five biographies of Senna (one of which a compilation of several other books by the same author). Of his nemesis Alain Prost, four times a world champion and winner of more Grands Prix than anyone bar Michael Schumacher, I own just one, published before his final championship victory.
This is not because I am uninterested in Prost – far from it – there are simply not as many books written about him as there are Senna. At least, not in English.
So I had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Malcolm Folley’s “Senna versus Prost”, enough to put “Unfinished life” on hiatus. Not least because Folley had secured an interview with the only one of the two combatants still around to talk about it.
Since the collapse of his eponymous, ex-Ligier team in 2001, Prost has often been reluctant to talk to the motor racing press. This is a pity for all concerned, as it has denied us greater insight into a man who unquestionably was one of the greatest ever to compete in the sport.
Folley seizes on the differences between Prost and Senna’s experiences of death in racing and uses it to explain their contrasting approaches.
Prost was on the scene of Gilles Villeneuve’s fatal accident at Zolder in 1982. Later that year it was Prost’s Renault that Didier Pironi struck in practice at Hockenheim that year, launching the Ferrari into the air, burying it into the ground, smashing Pironi’s legs.
That first-hand experience of the death and destruction brought about by Pironi and Villeneuve’s rivalry motivated Prost to ensure the same did not happen to him: “From this point on,” says Prost, “I changed the way I drove. I remember 1982 as a defining moment.”
Perhaps inevitably, the book casts Senna in a more critical light than many others do. Some would say this is closer to an accurate portrait of the man, free of rose-tinted sentimentality.
I had to hold myself back from skipping forward to the chapter on 1989 to read Prost’s account of the championship-deciding crash with Senna at Suzuka. I’m not going to reproduce it here (you’ll have to enter the competition!), but suffice to say I thought his insistence that “I had no interest to make a crash” was disingenuous and at odds with the author’s efforts to paint Prost in a positive light.
There are no headline-grabbing revelations to be found, especially if you’ve chewed through as many Senna books as I have. I did find some sections rather flabby and weighed down by irrelevant detail.
Given the recent dramas at the McLaren team I was expecting and hoping to hear a bit more about Ron Dennis’s role in events, but he doesn’t get an introduction until 40 pages before the end.
However I appreciated the new material in it, particularly the interviews – not just with Prost but also seasoned F1 observers who saw Senna at close quarters, like Martin Brundle and Gerhard Berger.
Perhaps this book would have worked best offered as a book dedicated to Prost rather than a sort of ‘dual biography’. Sadly, it’s not difficult to imagine why such a proposition would be less attractive to publishers. Still this is more likely to find a home among fans of Prost than Senna.
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“Senna versus Prost”
More on Senna and Prost
- Alain Prost (Christopher Hilton, 1992)
- Ayrton Senna – As Time Goes By (Christopher Hilton, 1999)
- Ayrton Senna – The Whole Story (Christopher Hilton, 2004)
- Ayrton Senna – An interactive voyage (Christopher Hilton, 2009)
- The Life of Senna (Tom Rubython, 2004)
- The Death of Ayrton Senna (Richard Williams, 1999)
- Alain Prost biography
- Ayrton Senna biography
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