F1 Racing: Was Alain Prost really "the professor"?

I recently watched the Magny-Cours Grand Prix (well it did only happen a week and a half ago). I watched on as Ralf Schumacher proceeded to win his second GP in a row. That makes it three poles in the last four races and two wins. Pretty impressive from Schuey Jr. It is said he proved his doubters and critics wrong (even though he still did not overtake - maybe a little harsh on him right?)

After reading some commentary on his driving, it was brought to light that at the beggining of the season, when the Williams FW24 (or is it 25?) was at its weakest (i.e. the back end was sliding all over the place) that it was JPM (Montoya) who was making the best use of this not-so-perfect car. The given reason was that because he is a more aggressive, on-the-edge driver, he can wring more out of the car when it is not performing as brilliantly. However, Ralph can set the car up the best when it is working at its optimal, and so can squeeze out that extra tenth from the car (i.e. find the cars “sweet spot” when it is all hooked up). This ability to calculate, reason and try and get the car to work brilliantly (as opposed to just driving the wheels off it like Senna) was also apparent in Alain Prost, so the article noted.

I never watched Prost. By the time he had come and gone I wasn’t watching motorsports as intently. Now I know that drivers know a lot about the cars that they are driving, but I find it hard to believe that Prost knew so much more stuff than the other drivers that he would excel them on the track. According to all motorsport “people”, and this group includes especially the people that had worked with him (the Mclaren boys for example), Alain Prost was the “professor” - the calculator, or the guy who would reason out everything and defeat his opponents via stealth and cunning.

But didn’t Senna outwit him at Donnington in 1993 in a lesser car? Where was stealth then? Where was cunning? Not that I have anything against Prost (he was after all, a four-time world champion), it’s just I don’t get how he made all the difference just by smart strategy alone. How good a natural driver was he, and compared to others?

And does he really deserve the title of the “best tactical mind in the history of motorsports?”

If not, who does?

I’m genuinely curious; where did you read this article? Nothing against Ralf (in fact, I’m a huge fan of the Schumacher brothers), but to me, the comparison to Alain Prost seems odd.

Obviously I don’t know any of the drivers personally, but Prost had that coldly objective, analytical approach to race car setup; an approach I’ve noticed in Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher more so than Ralf. Some drivers have an inherent understanding of the engineering involved, while some don’t. A lot of the success comes from the driver being able to really communicate to his engineer and technical crew what the car is doing (or not doing) so that the crew can make the proper adjustments. After all, the guy in the fast seat is the only one who really knows how that change in timing/downforce/spring rates affects the car on track. Usually time and experience help in this regard, but a handful of drivers just have that ‘feel’ of the car and the knack to communicate it precisely to the engineers. That, I think, is where Prost’s reputation came from. I seem to recall reading that he and the engineers really were on the same page. So it’s more about successful communications, IMO. I’ve never heard any compliments on Ralf’s abilities in that area.

I remember reading ‘Competition Driving’ by Prost back in the early '90s. Of specific interest was a section where he mentioned the differences between a driver who will really throw around a poor-handling car and make it fast, and a driver who would really work and work with his engineers to dial-in a fast car. Of course, Prost being the latter, he said that a driver with the patience to dial-in the car will be more successful and is a cheaper driver to keep because he’s less destructive on the equipment. :slight_smile:

I honestly can’t comment on the race at Donnington in 1993, but, as far as I’m concerned, those were the “good old days” of F1. What drew me to it back then was that it was a nearly unlimited playground for technology research and development. Now, with the increasing restrictions for money and for publicity, it’s losing a lot of what I enjoyed about it. I still enjoy it, and making the annual trek to Indy for the USGP is always a treat. Damn, the Colombian women who come to cheer on Montoya are GORGEOUS! :smiley:

i started watchin f1 since 1994 so im not in much of a position to comment about prosts donnington drive. but i have read a bit about the guy and from what i make of it prost was a technically sound guy who could accurately judge the way a car behaved and KNEW exactly why it behaved the way it was behaving.he would be bang on about the setup of the car most of the times and the engineers usually got his drift. although senna was in a class of his own he was pretty much opposite of how prost was. senna would spare no efforts to win ( he even banged into prost on a championship decider and got them out of the race and eventually won the championship) but prost was more of a prim and proper guy. in the current lot i guess the guy who comes closest to prosts technical understanding is micheal schumacher.even he is really good at understanding the various situations and adapting the setup accordingly. if you had watched micheal`s qualifiying lap for the french gp last weekend the onboard shot showed micheal adjusting the brake balance of his car for different sectors of the laps while still on the hot lap!!
and yes i miss having a GP where i stay and now with the prospect of hot colombian chicks its worse.