Say “Prost” to most sports fans – never mind motor racing fans – and they’ll tell you stories of Alain Prost, the curly-haired, quietly-spoken and intensely cerebral French racing driver who won four F1 titles and whose battles with another legend, Senna, are inscribed in the history books. Say “Prost” to Formula E fans, however, and you’ll get a very different answer.
Nico Prost, son of Alain, came into the new sport as something of an underdog. His father is one of the chiefs of the Renault e.dams team and his remarkable success as a driver casts a long shadow. The team’s other racer is Sebastien Buemi, the Swiss driver who won the 2014 WEC crown and whom Prost senior described as one of the best drivers in Formula E. Too, much of the rest of the field has competed in F1 or IndyCar – the big leagues of single-seater racing – which Prost hasn’t.
Yet it would take just one unusually sunny afternoon in Beijing to thrust the younger Prost into the world’s consciousness. It was an afternoon that opened an entirely new chapter in the Prost ledger.
“It will always remain in my mind,” says Nico Prost, speaking nearly a year later. He has the same wild hair that tumbles across his ears as his father did in his heyday. He also has the same mesmerising eyes, the colours of which you can never be entirely sure. In fact, with his helmet on and visor up, it’s very hard to tell the difference between father and son.
The incident Prost is referring to is that horrific crash on the last corner of the Beijing 2014 race. “It was not intentional,” Prost explains. He still sounds upset by the incident 12 months later. “I moved on the line. I didn’t see him. The best thing is that he wasn’t hurt. I apologised. I discussed the matter with Nick, who was the most important person to talk to. That night, I was not thinking about losing the race but about what could have happened to Nick.”
It was a tough start to the season but one that underlined one simple fact: despite the mistake, Prost is every inch the racing driver. He went on to set the fastest lap in qualifying in the very next race (before being demoted as punishment for causing the Beijing crash). “Qualifying pace has been quite good, overall,” he says, in his typically understated manner. “It’s always been one of my strengths. Even in F1, when I was testing for Lotus, I was always fast on a single lap. I won two poles. In Long Beach, I missed pole by nine thousandths of a second.”
Despite disappointments and heartache – and Prost is a character who wears his heart on his sleeve – he doesn’t play the blame game. “Everyone has good luck and bad, good times and bad times,” Prost reflects. “I need to keep working and get better for the next season. I can do better.”
If season one gave Prost his own strong claim to the family name, season two could be where the French driver begins to craft his own legacy, especially as the sport grows in stature. “Formula E has proved to be a fantastic championship,” he says. “For sure, this year I have my eyes on the title. If I can keep the pace in the first half of the season I can fight for the championship. I’m confident.”
This is an excerpt from the October 2015 edition of the Current E magazine.