Prost: Modern-day drivers know nothing of danger
Alain Prost's eyes drift into the middle distance, somewhere between the Grand Casino and Hotel Hermitage, as he contemplates a dark past seldom glimpsed at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Cote d'Azur might be radiant in its turquoise splendour but 'The Professor', studying a gun-barrel view of the principality from his balcony, recalls how his four triumphs around these streets all came when the danger of death lurked around the next corner. "We are survivors," he says, quietly.
At 58 and still the embodiment of Gallic spruceness, Prost resists wallowing in nostalgia, but speaks out of certainty that tomorrow's race, the most evocative on the calendar, cannot replicate the terrors that Monaco once held.
"I was in Cannes this week to watch the new film about Jackie Stewart," he explains. "Every time we see drivers of our generation, we look into each other's eyes and say, 'On est survivants'.
"Today there is not the same attitude, the same mind. You cannot reproach it, but if you ask young drivers now about the danger and the risks, they do not think the same way. From their karting careers to Formula One, they have not known a bad accident."
Prost, one of only three drivers to have won the World Championship four times, is resolute in his theory since the death of former nemesis Ayrton Senna at Imola's Tamborello curve in 1994, F1 circuits have become less lethal but also less challenging.
In his eyes, Monaco, where crash barriers at the swimming pool rush into the field of vision at 160mph, is a blessed dash of colour in an increasingly monochrome landscape.
"When I first won here in 1986, it was the first time I truly felt communion with the car," he says.
"From the first lap to the last, it was like a dream. You can only have that on a track like this."
Employing a subtle, calculating style to which Jenson Button has often been identified as a direct heir, Prost found that the greater the complexity he encountered at Monaco, the more he relished the task.
"When you have many more parameters you need to fix, that's what I like," he agrees, grinning. "You also feel the danger in Monaco. The start always used to be a very tense moment.
"Going up towards the casino, it was a worry if you were in the middle of the pack. I remember the tunnel, too, when it didn't even have the lights inside.
"Nowadays you have nothing to compare to the old Monza or Silverstone, where you knew that, if you made a mistake, you could have a major problem.
"I love the atmosphere of Monaco most of all, but it is also a much more difficult race to approach. The driving is far more complicated."
That perfectly suited a man renowned for his consummate slickness behind the wheel, whose Monte Carlo duels with Senna all but defined the sport in the late 1980s.
As one half of motorsport's most engrossing human drama of modern times, Prost casts his eye across this year's grid and laments the paucity of personality on display.
Who, then, does he consider to be the finest driver of the 2013 vintage?
Prost is drawn, understandably, towards Sebastian Vettel, who stands to emulate him as a quadruple champion at the tender of age of 26.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
Monaco Grand Prix,
Live, tomorrow, Sky F1/Setanta Irl, 1.0