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This week in motorsport history: 19th February – 25th February

This week sees more important anniversaries from the world of F1

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As F1 prepares to burst into life for 2024, we look at two illustrious drivers from across motorsport history who were born this week. 

Alain Prost on the podium for McLaren (Image Credit: @F1 on X)
Alain Prost on the podium for McLaren (Image Credit: @F1 on X)
24th February – Alain Prost’s birthday

One of Formula One and motorsport’s greatest drivers, Alain Prost, was born on the 24th of February 1955. Debuting in F1 in 1980 after winning European F3 in 1979, Prost raced for McLaren at eleven races. He almost beat Grand Prix winner teammate John Watson, who scored six points.

Prost would move to the Renault team in 1981, which had a reputation for poor reliability. This was evident for Prost and new teammate Rene Arnoux, as the drivers finished precisely half of their entered races. Of their retirements, 53% were mechanical.

Despite this, Prost had a fantastic season, taking six podiums, including three victories in France, Holland, and Italy. Prost was in championship contention until Canada, the penultimate round, when he collided with Nigel Mansell.

After this fantastic 1981 season, many touted the 26-year-old Prost as a future champion. At this stage of his career, Prost was younger than some of the best drivers on the grid, such as Gilles Villeneuve, Didier Pironi, Watson, and the returning Niki Lauda.

1982 would start ideally for Prost with back-to-back victories in South Africa and Brazil. Yet the next seven rounds would starkly contrast with six retirements, of which three were engine-related. The recurring pattern was Renault would take pole position and retire from the race. The team converted only two of their ten pole positions.

Prost took two second-place finishes in France and Switzerland, which gave him an outside shot at the championship with two rounds to go.  Retirement in Italy prevented him from being able to let it go to the final round.

1983 was better, as he would duel with Nelson Piquet and Ferrari duo Arnoux and Patrick Tambay for the world championship. Victories in France, Belgium, Britain, and Austria, and podiums in San Marino, Monaco, and Brands Hatch meant that Prost, Piquet and Arnoux would decide the title in South Africa. However, Prost’s hopes ended when he retired on lap 35 with another engine problem.

McLaren move

Prost moved to McLaren in 1984, a surprising move considering their poor form in 1983. Despite this, he would duel with teammate Lauda for the title, with the duo winning 12 races. Prost won seven, while Lauda took five. Lauda won the title by half a point.

Prost dominated in 1985, retaining his title in 1986. 1987 was poor for McLaren and Prost, with only three wins and fourth in the championship, but then came 1988.

A new dawn came, as Prost would drive alongside young hotshot Brazilian Ayrton Senna at McLaren, who was the polar opposite of Prost. Prost was calculated and relaxed in his driving, whereas Senna was aggressive with the car and incredible over one lap, less so over race distance. These two would dominate F1 and the motorsport world for the next three years.

Senna and Prost dominated, winning all but one race that year. In the end, Senna won after a phenomenal drive in Japan in which he came from 14th at the end of lap one to win by 13.3 seconds from Prost.

They would collide in Japan the following two seasons, with Prost closing the gap on Senna in 1989 when Senna attempted a move through the chicane. Senna was disqualified from the race win, and Prost became champion in one of motorsport’s most infamous moments.

1990 came, and Prost moved to Ferrari, but once again, Senna and Prost collided in Japan, but at the first corner, with Senna causing them to crash by going for a gap that did not exist. Senna became world champion, and Prost would not win another race until 1993. In 1991, after calling the Ferrari a “truck”, Prost was fired.

After a year out of motorsport, Prost came back in 1993 with Williams, and he would claim his fourth and final title after dominating the season, winning seven of the 16 races that season.

Prost retired from F1 and motorsport at the end of 1993. He has become an icon in F1 history due to his rivalry with Senna and his incredible driving style, which he got from Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark.

He held the record for most F1 wins for 14 years until Michael Schumacher surpassed him at the 2002 San Marino GP. Prost is one of F1’s greatest drivers due to his tactical approach to races and the results that followed.

25th February – Tony Brooks’ birthday
Tony Brooks in his Vanwall at the Italian Grand Prix in 1958 (Image Credit: Sky Sports)
Tony Brooks in his Vanwall at the Italian Grand Prix in 1958 (Image Credit: Sky Sports)

A driver with a short but illustrious F1 career, Tony Brooks was born on February 25th, 1932. When he got his first F1 drive in a non-championship event at Syracuse, he was with a patient at dental school. Brooks did dentistry as he initially believed he could never make a living from motorsport.

Motorsport’s “Racing Dentist” made his F1 debut at the British Grand Prix for BRM and qualified ninth on debut. He was four seconds ahead of teammate Ron Flockhart but two seconds behind winner teammate Mike Hawthorn.

Brooks had a brilliant start and briefly ran in the podium places before settling in fifth until retirement on lap 39 after a crash.

In 1957, Brooks signed to drive for Vanwall alongside Stirling Moss and Stuart Lewis-Evans. These three would be the core of the Vanwall team until the end of 1958.

Life started well with Vanwall as he qualified fourth and finished second in the 1957 Monaco GP, his second race. Brooks could have won had he not collided with Hawthorn, who was trying to avoid hitting Peter Collins.

He then took his maiden Grand Prix victory in Britain with Stirling Moss in a shared drive. Points wouldn’t come for the rest of the season, but his qualifying record remained strong.

Brooks’ second season with Vanwall came in 1958. It was a highly hit-and-miss year as the Vanwall was unreliable. Out of 26 starts for the Vanwall trio, they endured 14 mechanical retirements. Brooks retired four times because of mechanical issues. He would have won in Monaco, potentially scored a podium in Holland, France and Morocco, and could have scored points in Portugal.

But despite his reliability woes, he won in Belgium and Italy. Taking what he declared his best win at the German Grand Prix, he passed both Hawthorn and Collins to victory. He finished third in the standings with three wins being his only points finishes.

In January 1959, Tony Vandervell, owner of Vanwall, announced his retirement from F1 and motorsport. Brooks now needed to find a drive. According to Brooks, there were two main reasons for Vandervell’s retirement.

The first was the tragic death of Lewis-Evans, as Brooks believed Vandervell felt responsible. The other was the rise of the rear-engine cars, as Vandervell could not run a team with a rear-engine car due to the resources needed.

Ferrari Team Principal Romolo Tavoni offered Brooks a lifeline to drive for the most legendary outfit in motorsport for 1959. Now at Ferrari, Brooks raced alongside Jean Behra, Phil Hill, and Cliff Allison initially, and later Olivier Gendebien, Dan Gurney, and Wolfgang von Trips. Brooks said Gurney was the quickest of his teammates, followed by Hill and Behra.

1959 started well with second place in Monaco, and Brooks would win in France and Germany. The win in France was imposing as the conditions were uncomfortably hot. While other drivers collapsed due to the heat, Brooks excelled.

Jack Brabham, Brooks, and Moss would contest the finale in America, but things did not go to plan throughout the season for Brooks.

Ferrari went on strike at the British Grand Prix, and Brooks raced an uncompetitive Vanwall that Vandervell lent him. The Belgian Grand Prix was cancelled. Brooks believed he could have done well in Belgium as he had won the previous year in F1 and twice in sports cars.

The final issue was in Italy. Despite complaining of brake issues, his clutch was replaced and burned. Brooks qualified second, and teammate Hill finished second, meaning Brooks believed he could have scored a podium.

Brooks collided with von Trips in America and lost minutes in the pits. He finished third, but Brabham became champion, and Brooks finished runner-up. The following two years could have been better, with only one podium in his final race in 1961.

He later said he should’ve retired after 1959 at only 27. Brooks was never upset that he failed to win the world championship, and at the time of his retirement, only Juan Manuel Fangio, Moss and Alberto Ascari had more Grand Prix wins.

He died in 2022 at 90, being the last surviving Grand Prix winner from the classic motorsport era of the 1950s.

 

Feature Image Credit: @McLarenF1 on X 

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