The Difficulty of Becoming a Formula One Team Manager: Alain Prost - A Case Study
Created | Updated Nov 8, 2006
In the world of Formula One, a good driver who becomes a good team owner is a rare thing. People like Eddie Jordan and Alain Prost have tried, but have either failed at the driving (Jordan) or the management (Prost) side. This Entry looks at the case of Alain Prost in order to examine why good drivers don't make good managers, and vice versa.
Alain Prost began his racing career in 1970, when he bought an old go-cart, and eventually he became a Formula One racing driver, and subsequently a team owner. His first Formula One Grand Prix as a driver was in 1980, and in his career as a driver he won 51 Grands Prix - which was the record until Michael Schumacher won his 52nd Grand Prix on 2 September, 2001. People in the world of Formula One called him 'The Professor' because of his almost perfect driving style, but his own team was not a success. Team Prost was put into receivership at the beginning of 2002.
Alain Marie Pascal Prost was born in 1955 in Lorette, in Lyon in France. His father, André Prost, was a craftsman, and his mother, Marie-Rose, was a housewife. Football was the preferred sport of Alain between the ages of 10 and 17, but on 10 May, 1970, Prost and his family went on holiday to the French Riviera. There, they saw the Monaco Grand Prix. It was the first time that Prost had seen a motor race, and he liked it a lot. Then, in September 1970, he enrolled in a karting club and he bought himself an old go-kart, but it was a little too old and his first years were difficult. In 1972 Alain abandoned football to concentrate on motor racing, and quit his studies to become a teacher of physical education. In 1976 he drove in Formula Renault, and at the end of this season he had won twelve races out of thirteen, which was a new record. He won a lot of races in Formula Renault, and then in Formula Three, but all the time he was thinking about Formula One. Finally, in 1979, he signed his first professional contract to drive for the Formula One team of McLaren. In his career in Formula One Alain Prost took part in 199 races, and he won 51 (which is 25.5%). He was world champion four times. In 1997, he bought a French team called Ligier, which he renamed Prost. With his own team he entered 83 races, but won none of them.
Alain Prost seems like a typical Formula One driver, but what character traits are necessary to be a driver? According to the The Racing Report the drivers are all very intelligent - in one survey of 500 novice drivers the results showed that the drivers were more intelligent than 89% of the population. Also, the results showed that the drivers have a need for success, that they have strong heterosexual needs, that they are exhibitionists, that they have a higher need of change than average, and that they are very self-sufficient - and if one looks at the drivers of Formula One of today, one sees that it is probably the case:
The drivers must be intelligent because they must indicate what the problems are with the car, and they must know what they need to do if there is a problem or an accident on the circuit. They must have a need for success, because one must take risks (which can be dangerous) to win, and the teams don't want to have a driver who doesn't want to take the risks to have the success. There are some drivers now who are not exhibitionists when they are not in the car, like Kimi Raikkonen, but even the drivers like Raikkonen are not shy in the car. It is necessary that drivers, especially in Formula One, are self-sufficient because when they are on the circuit nobody can help them if there is a problem. One can see why a good Formula One driver, who has the above characteristics, would not necessarily make a good team manager. Even though an ex-Formula One driver knows a great deal about the world of Formula One, he is generally self-sufficient and doesn't want to rely too much on others, whereas to be a successful manager the art of delegation is necessary. Drivers who become managers tend to get very angry with any member of their team who doesn't do their job quite right, as drivers know that one small mistake by one person could cost them their life when they get in the car. This volatility is not always a good thing in a manager. A team manager must also know a lot about the world of business, and it's men such as Eddie Jordan, who was a businessman before he was a driver, who are the good managers. One might imagine that drivers need to know about business too, to negotiate their contracts and son on - but drivers, especially in the higher echelons of the sport, tend to have managers to look after this side of things. There have been some Formula One drivers who have become managers, but even Bruce McLaren, the founder of the highly successful McLaren team, didn't have a lot of successes while he was managing the team.
Nobody believes that Alain Prost was not a good driver - the statistics prove that he was one of the best drivers in the world at that time, but he didn't possess the character traits that are needed to be a team manager. But it's not all Alain's fault - it would be very difficult to have the personality to be both a good driver and a good manager.