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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Nicolas Prost has his own F1 ambitions

Being the son of a four-time world champion has its pros and cons, he tells Gary Meenaghan.
Nico Prost, son of Alain, test drove the Lotus car in Abu Dhabi. Sutton Motorsport Images
Nico Prost, son of Alain, test drove the Lotus car in Abu Dhabi. Sutton Motorsport Images

ABU DHABI // A famous surname is the ultimate double-edged sword. It brings with it opportunities otherwise out of the owner's grasp, but it is also sure to bring unrealistic expectations and unfair comparisons.

Nicolas Prost took part today in the first of three Young Drivers Test days at Yas Marina Circuit. At 31 years old, the Lotus reserve driver can no longer be classed as young, but in the world of motorsport, his surname will never grow old.

The Frenchman is the oldest son of Alain Prost, the four-time Formula One world champion, and so when he sits down to discuss his afternoon behind the wheel of the car that won Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it does not take long until his father's name is mentioned.

Yet "Nico" Prost has, despite not starting professionally until after his 23rd birthday, carved out a racing career for himself, winning the 2008 Euroseries 3000 and twice finishing as the leading petrol car in the illustrious Le Mans 24-hour race.

This year, he also won the Petit Le Mans in the United States.

It is safe to say, his father no longer offers driving advice. In fact, when Alain tested the Red Bull RB6 earlier this year, it was father who approached son for help.

"The cars have obviously changed massively since when he was in Formula One," Nico Prost said. "So he actually asked me for advice."

Such a scenario would have been unimaginable at the turn of the century when the younger Prost was a talented collegiate golfer who had never raced a car.

Alain and wife Anne-Marie had actively steered him clear of motor racing after witnessing the fatal dangers of the sport all too frequently. Nico was 13 when Ayrton Senna, his father's fiercest rival, died during the San Marino Grand Prix.

"My parents lost many friends in racing," Prost said. "Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve were my dad's two best friends and very close to my parents and, believe it or not, Senna's death was a massive shock for my family.

"Yes, they were the biggest nemeses, but they were also best friends. Ayrton was part of our life, every day and by the end they were getting quite close.

"So, for me, when it came to racing, for a long time it was never talked about."

That changed when Prost Jr finished college and "asked to try a car just to see".

He ended up showing his father's ability behind the wheel and has been racing ever since.

"It's not like one day I just decided I wanted to be a race car driver," he said. "I just wanted to drive to see what it was like – which is natural coming from my family with my background."

On the track today, the younger Prost completed 52 laps and set a quickest time of one minute, 44.194 seconds as Lotus tested various aerodynamic parts and completed a full engineering programme.

The McLaren-Mercedes of Kevin Magnussen proved 1.5 seconds faster and it is not unfair to suggest Prost, who stopped driving single-seaters in 2009, would not be testing in Abu Dhabi were he not the bearer of such a famous French name. "It opens doors and closes others," he said.

"You get more attention, which can help, but also people expect a lot. I think in the end it levels off: advantages and inconveniences. For sure, it's not something always easy to live with.

"Anything you do, you have more pressure because people will always watch you. Having a famous name has its pros and cons, but it's the same for everyone. It's my name and I will always live with it; I can't change it."

The idea of Prost joining Bruno Senna in F1 next season is a marketeer's dream, but it is likely to remain just that – a fantasy.

"For me, everything is a bonus," he said. "Whatever life gives me will be good. I'll fight as hard as I can to get into Formula One, but it is a difficult world."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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