Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost. Teammate versus teammate. Rival versus rival. Passion versus logic. Formula One’s iconic battle is one for the ages — and for the pages of Prost vs. Senna by Malcolm Folley.
(Welcome back to the Jalopnik Race Car Book Club, where we all get together to read books about racing and you send in all your spicy hot takes. In honor of being trapped indoors, I’ve made the reading a little more frequent; every two weeks instead of every month. This week, we’re looking at Senna vs. Prost by Malcolm Folley)
I’ll be honest: Having not lived through the Prost and Senna era of F1, I’ve only really experienced the myth-making that has been done in retrospect — and this book is another huge part of that. But like most people, I think I’ve only had the rose-tinted Senna lens that’s been endorsed by things like the 2010 documentary of the same name.
And if I’m being honest, I may as well admit that I’ve never actually seen the appeal of someone like Ayrton Senna. Tragedy has inspired us to remember him fondly, and Senna wasn’t averse to building his own legend in real time by citing an almost divine inspiration to compete and win at whatever cost. It comes across to me as an entitlement to win at the expense of everyone else, and I have a very difficult time respecting that. I’ve always been a bigger fan of Prost’s style, of winning at the slowest speed possible.
Folley’s book undoubtedly gives Prost more room to speak by very nature of the fact that Senna isn’t around to do it himself, and I could sense a little bias towards Prost because of that. We can hear his impressions that Senna could be a dangerous driver and a very poor teammate, and Senna isn’t around to defend himself.
That’s not to say that Senna is the bad guy here. Prost himself is careful to temper his criticisms with respect, and there are plenty of quotes from other drivers, team personnel, or other members of the F1 paddock that paint a very complex picture of Senna as a fascinating driver but a very difficult man — one who will likely remain so now that he isn’t here to give answers to our probing questions.
My only criticism of this book is that I wish it was longer and had gone into excruciating detail of both drivers. There were brief histories of both Prost’s and Senna’s careers, but Folley has a captive audience that’s willing to pore over the details of this rivalry, and I’d have loved for him to take advantage of it to the fullest. Folley’s writing is compelling, and so are his sources — he could easily have gotten away with publishing a tome, and people would have held onto his every word.
Overall, though, it’s a fascinating story. You’ll likely need a smidge of F1 knowledge to properly enjoy this book, but you don’t need to be an expert, and it’s a great primer for the era in general.
And that’s all we have for this week’s Jalopnik Race Car Book Club! Make sure you tune in again on March 7, 2022. We’re going to be reading John Surtees: Six Days in August by Michael Cooper-Evans. And don’t forget to drop those hot takes (and recommendations) in the comments or at eblackstock [at] jalopnik [dot] com!