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Prost accepts his fate

ALAIN PROST's place in the annals of Formula 1 has been surpassed by Michael Schumacher, who has not only equaled his tally of four world championships but beaten his outright record of 51 wins so it's understandable that 'le Professeur' is feeling a little reflective.

Despite the deep and bitter feud with his career-defining rival, the late Ayrton Senna, through much of the time they raced together Prost remains convinced that if anyone would - and possibly should - have eclipsed his score first it would have been Senna.

"When I retired at the end of 1993 Ayrton Senna had 41 wins and, had he lived, I think he would have quite obviously beaten my record first. I was convinced at the time that it was Ayrton who would threaten my record rather than Michael, but either way it doesn't really matter because it was going to be beaten by a top guy."

At the peak of their battling, from 1988 as team mates at McLaren to Prost's final championship-winning season with Williams in 1993, Senna rarely even brought himself to say the name of 'The Frenchman', but in hindsight Prost clearly looks back on those days as some of his and possibly the sport's finest.

"I am sure it was more demanding when I raced when we had 1,000-horsepower turbocharged cars, handling manual gearboxes and having to conserve the cars in order to save the brakes over a race distance," he said.

"I am reluctant to make that distinction, but in my opinion the period in which I raced was more interesting for everybody concerned. You had to take care of a lot of technical parameters, whereas today the engineers are looking after those parameters."

Unlike many of his erstwhile rivals, Prost has not apparently put any bulk on his diminutive frame in eight seasons of retirement, and recent rumors that he may well take to the track in a modern Formula 1 car do not seem too silly. It is said that as a consolation for losing the victory record the Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo has offered Prost a run in Schumacher's F2001.

The last time Prost drove a Ferrari was in 1991 before he was sacked by the team's then-management for comparing the Prancing Horse's then-finest unfavorably with a truck. Nevertheless Prost has a good relationship with Ferrari, which provides the engines for Prost's eponymous team, and he seems far from averse to the idea of putting on a set of red overalls again.

"A period of my career is tied to Maranello, I have so many beautiful memories, despite everything," he said. "I would really like to try out a modern day Ferrari, as something personal and also to understand what has changed since my day. Michael Schumacher has overtaken me but what could I do about it? It is the age, one era succeeding another."