You do not pass up an opportunity to spend 20 minutes with Alain Prost. A four-time Formula One world champion, winner of 51 Grands Prix, possessor of the silkiest of driving styles coupled with a ferociously clever, almost forensic approach to motor racing, Prost's legendary status in the sport hovers close to God-like.
In town to open an exhibition he's curated with TAG Heuer celebrating his long career, TG.com pulled up a comfortable armchair and quizzed the great man on F1, Ayrton Senna and this weekend's British Grand Prix.
TG.com: So, what's the Alain Prost take on the current state of Formula One?
Alain Prost: Everyone says the cars aren't that nice, that the races aren't that great. I really don't agree. Of course, they are not as beautiful as an old Lotus or Matra. But motor racing has to evolve, and every era has its advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I liked the cars with the big tyres, but look at the details on the current generation of F1 cars... it is something unbelievable! Maybe on TV the cars I raced were more aggressive looking or had more purity, but technically and in terms of detail, right now it's very good.
TG.com: The issue of tyre degradation is dominating the sport. It's odd sort of season, isn't it?
AP: I'm not in the car or racing, so it's difficult to say for sure. But it looks like the guy who is usually good at taking care of his tyres - Jenson - isn't doing a better job. I really don't understand it. It looks like the optimum window for making the tyres work is so narrow. Temperature is an issue, the aerodynamic package of certain cars seems to be a factor... I don't know. I talk to engineers in different teams and they don't know... And this is my only problem. I don't like it when I don't understand. When you see a car suddenly losing two or three seconds a lap... [shrugs shoulders] Pirelli were asked to create this ‘indecision', but maybe it went too far. A team that might have an advantage in its car, doing a good job, maybe doesn't do a good job on the track because of this range on the tyres.
TG.com: DRS? I suspect it's not your thing...
AP: I cannot like it. But at least it creates more movement, more overtaking, more ‘show'. The question is, should F1 be more technical and more open? We will have new engines and new technology in 2014 [when the 1.6-litre turbo V6 arrives] but the people who do the best work should have an advantage. If my engine is better, I should have an advantage on the track.
TG.com: What of the bigger picture?
AP: Well, we have a lost some of the culture of F1. We have less European races, more races in other places. If you have less culture and less tradition, there is more emphasis on the ‘show'. Is the drift away from its European core a good thing? No. There is no race in France, Spa is struggling. But having said that, F1 could have collapsed, so Bernie [Ecclestone] made the right move for F1. Look at the financial situation at the moment. It is difficult to organise races in Europe now. Of course Bernie makes money from it, but the teams get revenue from the television coverage and from race organisers. So I suspect that if we only had races in Europe we would not have 10 or 12 teams in F1. It's a transition, the start of a new cycle. Maybe it happened too quickly, but is it a better or worse situation? I think it is better.
TG.com: The greatest thing for any sporting ‘show' is to have two great rivals, who co-define each other, like you and Ayrton did so memorably. The film helped enshrine that.
AP: Sure, sure. But I cannot be positive about the film. I know the story about Ayrton and myself... obviously I am the only one who can really judge that. [pause] The film was not honest. They had more than 10 hours of interview rushes with me. But there were discussions I had with Ayrton in the last few days that I will never tell anybody. It is my secret, and I want to keep it for me. What I will say is that on the day I retired I realised we had almost three different people [in Ayrton] and at least two different mentalities. They wanted to do a good guy and bad guy because it is probably more commercial. I cannot consider this film as a good film. After I retired, Ayrton talked to me every week, sometimes more. Asking me questions about the car, about Williams, about everything...
TG.com: Do you have any special memories of the British Grand Prix?
AP: The best memories for me are of Silverstone, the old layout. Now that was a track I really loved. It was really particular. Often we had come from Monaco to Silverstone and we had to change everything, it was a different car. I liked that. Setting the car up for very fast corners - technically it was very interesting. Hangar Straight and Club... that was one of the most difficult corners in F1. I remember Nigel winning a race there and I could not get my car through the crowd. We never had that in France, you know. I was a little bit jealous, not to have those kinds of fans...