February 24

This Day in History

Automotive

Feb 24, 1955:

French Formula One champ born

Alain Prost, the four-time Formula One (F1) champ, is born on February 24, 1955, near Saint-Chamond, France. Prost's four championships in the mid-1980s and early 1990s were bested by only two other drivers: Germany's Michael Schumacher, who collected seven championships between 1994 and 2004, and Argentina's Juan Manuel Fangio, who won five championships between 1951 and 1957.

As a teenager in France, Prost was a champion kart racer. In 1980, he made his debut on the Formula One circuit, an elite level of racing that originated in Europe. F1 competitors drive high-priced, single-seat, open-cockpit, open-wheel vehicles capable of speeds of well over 200 mph. Prost won his first race, the French Grand Prix in 1981. In 1985, he scored his inaugural F1 world championship, the first Frenchman ever to do so. Nicknamed "The Professor" for his cool, calculated driving style, Prost went on to collect the championship title again in 1986, 1989 and 1993.

Prost was known for his fierce rivalry with Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna. The two men drove for the same team, McLaren, in 1988, and collected 15 out of that season's 16 Grand Prix events. Senna also claimed the championship crown that year. The following season, Prost took home the F1 championship, then quit McLaren to join the Ferrari team. Senna scored the championship title again in 1990 and 1991. Prost, however, was dropped from the Ferrari team in 1991 after not winning a single race. He spent the 1992 season as a TV commentator, then joined the Williams team for the 1993 season. He won seven races and finished the season with his fourth F1 world championship and a then-record career total of 51 F1 victories. Faced with the possibility that Senna could become his teammate the following year, Prost retired from racing. Senna did, in fact, join the Williams team for the 1994 season; however, he died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1 of that year at the age of 34.

In 1997, Prost bought the Ligier Formula One racing team and renamed it after himself; however, financial problems and other issues led to the team's demise following the 2001 season.

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