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Wee Frenchman the biggest wheel on world auto racing circuit

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Alain Prost, the diminutive French race car driver known as the ``Professor,'' is teaching the Grand Prix circuit a lesson and rewriting the Formula One history books. Having engineered a shrewd come-from-behind victory in this year's Adelaide Grand Prix before 800 million television viewers worldwide, Prost became the first driver in more than a quarter century to win the overall championship two years running. In a riveting, 4-second triumph ahead of two-time world champion Nelson Piquet of Brazil, Prost clinched the 25th Grand Prix win of his career, surpassing Juan Manuel Fangio, the legendary five-time world champion. The Frenchman is now even in the record books with such greats as retired Austrian driver Niki Lauda and the late Jim Clark of Scotland - and only three wins away from eclipsing Jackie Stewart's record of 27 Grand Prix victories. At the rate he is accelerating, Prost could well achieve that milestone by the end of next year.

Ironically, it was only a few years ago that cheeky pit mechanics scribbled ``Tadpole'' (for little frog) on the side of Prost's car. Today, however, they all respectfully call him ``Professor'' - not so much for for his bushy Einstein haircut as for his sheer brilliance as a tactician on the race course. Prost is a private, religious man with a cheerful spirit and quiet wit. The other Formula One drivers speak admiringly of his ``remarkable reserve of stamina'' and ``single-mindedness.''

Prost happens to drive a car that fits his personality, a British McLaren Formula One with a Porsche V-6 twin turbo engine; it may not be the fastest in sheer qualifying time, but it's highly reliable and fuel efficient.

Like his car, Prost is the epitome of smoothness going around the track. Never reckless, always calculating, Prost drives like a grandmaster of chess, visualizing his opponents' moves and his own possible mechanical failures in advance. Twice this year, Prost's computerized fuel gauge went on the blink, yet he had mentally worked out his fuel consumption to the last drop and took the checkered flag just as his tank ran dry.


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