The Power And The Glory by David Sedgwick – Review
By Liam Bird
Ever since the advent of the motorcar arguments have raged over who exactly was the best driver – and never more so than in Formula 1. Every generation has its idols, and no doubt on Monday mornings, school yards these days echo with “discussions” over whether or not Lewis Hamilton is better than Max Verstappen, or whether or not it’s the car that makes the difference.
It has been the same for decades; in the fifties, Moss vs Fangio, the sixties saw Clark vs Hill (not to mention Stewart, and Surtees), in the Seventies, it was Hunt vs Lauda, and when I sat my GCSEs it was Senna vs Prost. The difference however, was that for a few tumultuous years Senna and Prost were in the same machinery: yes, infamously, they were in the same team.
It’s the rise to fame of both the calculating Alain Prost – he of the curly hair, nasally French accent and the bent nose to go with it – and the emotional, tempestuous, and devoutly religious Ayrton Senna, and their eventual coming together (literally, in Suzuka) that author David Sedgwick delves deep into in his book, The Power and the Glory.
If like me, you got your motorsport fix on a Sunday afternoon in the mid 1980s, the sight of a red and white Malboro sponsored McLaren with a yellow and green helmeted driver, going wheel-to-wheel against an identical one – albeit with a blue and white helmeted driver – surely sums-up one, if not the, golden era of Formula 1 racing. But, were those McLarens identical? Were they ever racing as a team? What deals were behind the scenes? And which driver’s temperament, luck, ability, or sheer cunning, would eventually win the day?
When it came to winning, either the race, the world championship, or just the press conference, neither Alain Prost, or Ayrton Senna was willing to give an inch. Senna picked out Prost as his arch rival right from their very first meeting; he would do anything to beat him. Prost on the other hand played the long game, sometimes doing just enough to score the requisite points to stay ahead in the overall standings, even if it meant conceding the race; something Senna just couldn’t understand.
Senna thought FIA, as they were based in France, favoured the Frenchman, whereas Prost thought Senna – a near cult-hero in Japan – was getting preferential treatment from Honda, the then engine supplier to McLaren. Ron Dennis, McLaren’s CEO knew he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, have the success his team was having without both drivers – no matter how difficult they, or the situation their respective relentless ambition to be the best, would become.
There is perhaps a slight bias towards Ayrton Senna in Sedgwick’s writing, perhaps too a little artistic licence – when trying to convey certain circumstances or situations; those who have watched the 2010 Asif Kapadia documentary Senna, may even feel they’re reading the screenplay in places. Nevertheless, few if any of us at all will ever really know what went on behind those McLaren pit garage walls. What can’t be argued is that the Alain and Ayrton Show attracted audiences the size of which Formula 1 has never seen again.
Like all the best plays, we all already know that ultimately this one ends in tragedy. What we’ll be left debating for decades to come however, is who was really was the hero, who was the villain of the piece, and which one of them had the most accomplices?
‘The Power And The Glory: Senna, Prost and F1’s Golden Era’ by David Sedgwick is published by Pitch Publishing, £19.99 hardback