High Hopes For Frenchman On French Team
The pressure was high for Prost to become the first French World Champion driving a French car. He won his first F1 Grand Prix in France in 1981, and finished the season in fifth place for the World Championship, a respectable finish for a second-year driver. Prost began the 1982 season with impressive back-to-back wins, but the season quickly disintegrated for him. He took the top spot on the podium at the South African Grand Prix. He was third crossing the finish line at the Brazilian Grand Prix, but won the race when the first and second-place cars, driven by Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg, were disqualified. His winning streak ended in Brazil. Renault's turbocharged engine technology was quickly becoming eclipsed by that of the Ferrari and Honda teams. Prost's most searing disappointment of the year was personal. He was second behind teammate René Arnoux in the French Grand Prix when it was agreed that Arnoux would give Prost the lead, as Prost was closer to a Championship than his teammate. Arnoux reneged and held Prost in second, leaving him to finish third in the 1982 World Championship.
In the highly competitive world of F1, the deal made on the track in France between Prost and Arnoux was not an unusual one. When a race comes down to being won by one of two teammates, it is common to let the one who has scored the most Championship points during the season move ahead. In a fickle turn of publicity, however, Prost was villainized, and was characterized as a poor sportsman. Arnoux, in comparison, was depicted as the hero. Furious at the turn of events, Prost was fed up and even considered retiring from F1. He moved his family from France to Switzerland not long after.
After his strong performance in 1982, Prost was a legitimate contender for the 1983 World Championship. He finished "in the points," or in the top six, in nine of the first eleven races. The Brabham team became a serious threat halfway through the season, however, after engineers improved the BMW engine. Prost clearly saw that Brabham's Nelson Piquet could succeed in upsetting him on the points table. He stressed to Renault engineers that an immediate improvement was necessary to remain competitive, but Renault did not consider the Frenchman's pleas seriously. Prost's fears played out. He was the points leader until the very end of the season, when Piquet and his new engine narrowly edged him out. Feeling Renault had miserably mismanaged the season, Prost again found himself in an adversarial position with an F1 team. In an unforeseen turn, Renault responded by replacing him.