3 June 2011 by Keith Collantine

Alain Prost says he hasn’t watched the Senna film. He told the BBC he is “suspicious” of it.

But while Prost’s identity as Senna’s ultimate rival is not in doubt, he is arguably not the real villain of the piece.

“I’m not going to watch the movie,” Prost told the BBC in an interview aired yesterday. “I have it on CD, maybe I will watch it one day.

“I have done the story myself. I know everything about the story. So it’s like when you have a nice dish, you don’t want to eat it cold, and I don’t want to answer all the questions.

“It’s a very difficult time. The way the movie is done, I am very suspicious. But I don’t want to answer more questions about that.”

Writer and an executive producer Manish Pandey met Prost, who he describes as “a very intelligent man”. While the film has plenty to say about the rivalry between Senna and Prost, Pandey offered these thoughts on their battle for supremacy within McLaren:

“Prost was very clever. For example, people time themselves in very different ways on the circuit. So, in other words, you don’t do sectors one to three, you might do sectors three to three. “Prost, apparently, was an absolute genius at that. I’ve very, very rarely met a man as intelligent as Alain Prost. An absolute perfectionist.”

He shared an interesting anecdote from a former tyre technician about how Senna responded to Prost putting one over him at a test session:

“Prost was very clever about how he would test parts. They would very seldom test together.

“This Goodyear tyre man told me that Senna turned up [at Silverstone] and he was really pissed off because there were some parts on [Prost’s] car that Senna knew must have been faster and he wasn’t given them.

“Senna had been led to believe that these parts were no better but, of course, they were.”

Senna responded in kind the next time he was called on for testing:

“Apparently he turned up, put on load of parts, came back and said none of them worked.

“So that turned the tables for the next Grand Prix: Prost didn’t choose the parts, Senna bolted them on and off he went. There was that level of rivalry.”

But Prost isn’t treated as the villain of the piece: he’s the perfect rival, rather than the perfect bad guy. That role falls to someone else.
Jean-Marie Balestre

If any figure is drawn as a pantomime villain in Senna it’s the late Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA (now the FIA) until 1991.

“With Balestre you have the perfect bad guy” says Pandey. “He’s French – Vichy-French – with a black leather jacket, black shirt done up to here and likes to wear his FIA badge on his left arm like a swastika.

“If I’d written that you’d say ‘no-one’s going to believe this – go and write me a better villain!’”

Balestre’s autocratic, table-thumping style speaks for itself – he is seen telling the drivers at one briefing “the best decision is my decision!” Pandey says: “We could have been much tougher on him.”

He refers to an incident at Interlagos in 1990, following the controversial conclusion to the 1989 championship, where Balestre reacted to abuse from the crowd saying: “This is our championship, if you don’t want it we don’t have to give it to you, you need to learn some manners.”

Balestre’s perceived closeness to Prost was the subject of much speculation at the time: “I think he was definitely biased, and part of his bias was a French bias – it wasn’t necessarily [just] Alain.

“You have a championship which has got rules in French, at that time, the Concorde Agreement is in French, signed in Paris, the FIA and FISA were in Paris. [Until 1985] there had never been a French world champion.”

In 1988 Senna won his first world championship despite Prost having a higher total points score. Prost had to discard more points under the “best 11 scores” rule.

In Pandey’s view, that rule had been introduced after Prost narrowly lost the 1984 title to his team mate:

“Prost had a real problem with the ‘best 11? rule. The rule came in after 1984 when he’d won seven races to [Niki] Lauda’s four or five. The “best 11” rule was put in to stop consistency being the key to a championship.” Pandey describes Balestre as someone who “[loved] acting up and playing up”.

“But people have looked back on his presidency and said ‘maybe it wasn’t that bad at all’. He did care very passionately about Senna.

“He was definitely someone who championed the drivers. Bernie [Ecclestone] said to us that he really cared about the drivers.

“He was the guy who banned [ground effect] skirts because he felt they were dangerous.”

Balestre died three years ago, but would Pandey feel comfortable if he was able to watch the film? On balance, he says: “I think we got it right”.

“If he was alive I think I’d be able to sit in a room and say ‘that’s how it was.’”

Senna opens in the UK on today. If you’ve seen the film and have a view to share on how it treats Prost and Balestre, please share it in the comments.

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