AUGUST 20, 2001
Prost philosophical as Schumacher matches his record
"One wonders how many races Michael will eventually win," said the Frenchman who retired at the end of the 1993 season.
"It could be sixty, could be seventy. One factor in his favor is the fact that there are fewer really top teams, so he will probably hang on at Ferrari, and the cars as a whole are generally more reliable which gives a driver the chance to finish more races and therefore have more chances to win."
The 46-year old Frenchman had remained the(italics) man to beat in the formula one record book for the last fourteen years. Yet even before Sunday's race, Prost had admitted he would be strangely relieved if Michael finally matched his record.
"It's funny, Alain and I had yesterday a chat in the motorhome," said Schumacher after his victory, "and he said 'please win that race, I'm so bored all the time of answering that question: ' when's it going to happen? What do you feel for Michael? blah, blah, blah...'
"I said exactly the same so he will be a little bit more happy - so will I - but then Alain told me that I'd have to win another one because now we're equal so you'll probably continue asking the question."
The effective benchmark for formula one achievement was set in 1957 when Juan Manuel Fangio retired after winning a staggering 24 grands prix out of 51 starts. This record lasted for eleven years until Jim Clark scored his 25th win in the 1968 South African grand prix, two months before he was killed.
Clark's benchmark remained intact until 1973 when Jackie Stewart retired having scored 27 wins and it took another fourteen seasons before Prost racked up his 28th victory, celebration of which represented a brief pause on his journey to his eventual tally of 51 wins.
After Prost moved ahead in the record books after his victory in the 1987 Portuguese grand prix, an admiring Stewart said; "that drive was absolutely superb. A faultless performance. I honestly believe him to be in a class of his own amongst today's grand prix drivers and couldn't be happier that it was Alain who finally beat my record."
Prost smiles indulgently. "What I remember most about that day was that we did a group photograph with the McLaren mechanics and with Jackie and a board saying '28 victories' and I was embarrassed for him," he said.
"When you beat somebody's record, it can hardly be nice. It was a strange feeling. I also remember that Jackie said that I might even win forty races and I was thinking 'no way, I never can win forty races' and now we see how it turned out. So you never know."
So what is his assessment of Schumacher. "Clearly to win all those races he must be one of the very best drivers there has been," said Prost, perhaps stating the obvious. "He genuinely deserves what he has achieved."
If Prost has any reservations about Schumacher's statistical achievement, it is in an area which reflects on Michael as a driver. He is reluctant to be branded an old fogey, but he does believe that, even in the 1980s, drivers had to battle with more challenging cars that today's high-tech machines.
"I am sure it was more demanding when I raced when we had 1000 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."
He feels philosophical about Schumacher matching his achievement. "You obviously want to keep these sort of records," he said, "but 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."