CREDIT SUISSE, 26.05.2005

Alain Prost: "I've been through fire and ice."

This interview is also available in French, German and Italian!

Interview: Andreas Thomann, emagazine editor

As a racing driver, a living legend; as a team boss, a spectacular failure: the Formula One career of four-time world champion Alain Prost reads like Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." In part two of the interview, Alain Prost looks back on his epic duels with Ayrton Senna, the ups and downs of his time with Ferrari, and the disaster that marked his career as a team owner.

Mr Prost, You won the world championship four times, but also finished runner-up four times. When you look back, does it sometimes bother you that your trophy case isn't bigger?
Well, you can replay the past over and over and ask yourself what could have been if only Certainly, some defeats were painful. In 1983 I finished only two points behind Nelson Piquet. A year later, Niki Lauda edged me out by just a half a point. And when Ayrton won the world championship in 1988, I had 11 more points than him but at that time, only the 11 best results counted. To me, more important than the victories is the fact that from 1981 I was in contention for the title in just about every season, often with the last race deciding the championship.

Piquet, Lauda, Senna: These three drivers were also your greatest rivals over the course of your Formula One career. Who impressed you the most?
In the beginning, Piquet was the benchmark a very tough competitor. Niki was impressive in terms of his consistent performance. When he beat me for the world championship in 1984, I was actually faster in the races most of the time, but he put his strengths to better use. I learned an important lesson from that. But if there's a driver who stood above the rest both for his driving and his mental abilities it was Ayrton Senna.

The duels between you and Senna have long been a part of Formula One history. Here, the cool, calculating "Professor" there, the impulsive Brazilian. How much substance is there behind this cliché?
As with all clichés, there's a grain of truth in it. The fact is, however, that in the course of his career, Senna gradually changed his driving style to become more like mine.

The media played up the rivalry. How great was it in fact?
Of course we were rivals. For two seasons we even drove together for the same team, with the same material. And there's a saying in Formula One: your teammate is always your biggest rival. That's because you can directly compare only those drivers who drive for the same team.

Unless there is a team hierarchy.
Yes, but McLaren didn't have any at that time. The team deliberately set up a competitive situation. And the fans were delighted. A lot of people started to become interested in Formula One thanks to our rivalry. Of course the media and sponsors actively pitched in. Despite our rivalry, we never lost respect for each other.

Then why did you change to Ferrari for the 1990 season?
To be honest, I'd had enough of doing Ayrton's work for him. While he was taking three months off for winter holidays, I was doing hundreds of kilometers of testing. So, I informed the team during the season that I didn't wish to extend my contract. At that time, I had no idea where I'd end up.

The two years with Ferrari weren't anywhere as glorious as the previous six years had been with McLaren. Do you now regret having made that decision?
Not at all. The first year was fantastic, possibly the most enjoyable of my career. The team did a fantastic job, and the atmosphere was sensational. Had the management been more far-sighted, I would have been world champion again. In contrast, the following season was a disaster we failed to pick up a single victory and wound up a dismal third. Accordingly, the atmosphere turned sour. I've thus experienced both sides of Ferrari: both fire and ice.

Your adventure as a team owner also wound up a disaster. What went wrong at Prost Grand Prix?
To begin with, the expectations were too high. We started practically from square one, and aside from Minardi we had the smallest budget in Formula One. In such a case, it takes years for you reach the top. And it takes solid partners, which we didn't have. Above all, our engine supplier Peugeot lacked the motivation right from the start to establish a long-term presence in Formula One. On top of that, the economic crisis made it harder and harder to find sponsors. For example, we signed a deal with South American TV network PSN, but they went bankrupt shortly after. We also had an agreement with Yahoo, but then the internet bubble burst. There was no way to stop the downward spiral.

In retrospect, what would you do differently today?
Actually, there's only one thing I'd do differently: I wouldn't get into it at all. I often didn't have any choice at all in the decisions that resulted. Financially, I had my back up against the wall.

You turned fifty in February. But you still race regularly sitting at the wheel of a Toyota Corolla in the "Trophée Andros" ice rally series. Are motorsports a drug?
Well, if you enjoy doing something, why should you quit? When I was a team owner, I never dreamed of getting back into the cockpit. But then the old passion was rekindled. Ice racing is something completely new to me; that makes it appealing. It's also absolutely safe. At my age, I don't take risks anymore...

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Alain Prost-Infopage © by Oskar Schuler, Switzerland