Sunday, 30 December 2018

Alain Prost - Christopher Hilton

Continuing my odyssey through assorted racing driver biographies, I turned next to the late Christopher Hilton's book about Alain Prost. This edition was published before he did his final F1 season (1993) with Williams.

I found this to be a frank exploration of its subject, looking at the darker and less appealing sides of Prost, whilst also acknowledging his undoubted strengths. Also, there is lots of valuable and intriguing material about the nature of the sport, with some illuminating contributions from colleagues and associates.

After re-reading this book I was left with the conclusion that the sport itself did not (maybe still does not) lend itself to the most pleasant relationships and to the most admirable behaviour.  Then again, these people would not have got to this position without exhibiting certain characteristics to an abnormal degree.  Extreme scenarios are not always conducive to compromise or even moderation.

As for Prost,  I was reinforced in my esteem for his driving ability, perhaps even enhanced, although his performances seldom stirred the blood like those of Senna, Schumacher and others.  I retain some ambivalence about Prost the person.  Yes, he was a man of principle and honesty in many respects, but was also quite manipulative and a bit of a moaner at times.

This biography is an even-handed account, I would contend, and I do not think that the author could be accused either of favouritism or of any bias. I enjoyed the passages about Prost's karting exploits, and the assertion (an assertion arguably supported by the facts and statistics) that in reality he did not exactly set the world on fire in that field of endeavour.  The opening chapter is also well done and impactful.

In conclusion, there is some good insight about what made Prost tick as a racing driver and as a human being. He was clearly suited to the tactical and technical demands of the mid-1980s, but successfully adapted to the later "sprint" era - 1990 was one of his greatest seasons, putting Nigel Mansell into the shade that year. Although the period is not covered by this book, I felt that he rather "phoned in" his drives in 1993, equipped as he was with the best car. The problem was that his effortless style did not inspire, because people prefer to see the effort up-front.

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