“Win without boasting. Lose without excuse.”
~Albert Payson Terhune~
Racing drivers love to win. There is the thrill of setting the fastest time in qualifying, outpacing all their competitors. This is followed by the drama of being the first to get the car through that first corner, every car wheel to wheel and fighting for track position. Lastly there is the consistency required to get the car around multiple laps, coping with changes in tyres and weather, passing assorted unobservant or unskilled backmarkers, and eventually to be the first car to sight the chequered flag.
The first racing driver to win 25 races in Formula One was Jim Clark, and his total was cut short before it’s time with his untimely death in 1968 at Hockenheim at the age of 32. He had won his previous three races in his Lotus 49 and his teammate Graham Hill went on to win three races and the Drivers’ Championship that year. The previous record had been held by Juan Manuel Fangio, who had won his 24th race in Germany in 1957. Clark’s 25 wins were from 73 races; the only drivers with a higher percent of wins from total races have been Fangio and Alberto Ascari.
Jackie Stewart would raise the bar in 1973 when he won his 27th race at the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, beating his teammate Francois Cevert by less than two seconds. He had won five races that year but at the last race of the season at Watkins Glen his teammate Cevert crashed during Saturday practice and was killed instantly. Tyrrell and Stewart withdrew from the race and Stewart retired, leaving the sport as the reigning world champion at the age of 34. Stewart’s record would stand for the next 14 years.
Prost’s first grand prix win was in France in 1981, and in 1987, after 108 Grand Prix, he would tie Stewart’s record at Spa in Belgium. Prost would go on to shatter Stewart’s record, retiring in 1993 with 51 wins in total. This record would stand until Schumacher would beat it in 2001, though Schumacher would have the benefit of a less dominant teammate to take wins off him, while Prost had to share his race wins with Ayrton Senna who would take the top step of the podium 41 times.
After Prost tied his record Jackie Stewart said, “To be the winner of more Grand Prix than any driver in the history of motor sport is something I’m very proud of. But I knew it had to be beaten, records are made to be beaten. Alain Prost at the present time in my opinion is probably the finest race driver in the world, and therefore I’m very happy that it’s him that’s taking it and not someone who I would not have been proud to have it.”