Prost discovered karting at the age of 14 during a family holiday. He progressed through motor sport's junior ranks, winning the French and European Formula Three championships, before joining the McLaren Formula One team in 1980 at the age of 24. He finished in the points on his Formula One dbut at the San Martin Autodrome in Buenos Aires, Argentina (where he took his first podium a year later) and took his first race victory at his home Grand Prix in France a year later, driving for the factory Renault team.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Prost formed a fierce rivalry mainly with Ayrton Senna, but also Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell. In 1986, at the last race of the season, he beat Mansell and Piquet of Williams to the title after Mansell retired late on in the race, and Piquet was pulled in for a late precautionary pit stop. Senna joined Prost at McLaren in 1988 and the two had a series of controversial clashes, including a collision at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix that gave Prost his third Drivers' Championship. A year later at the same venue they collided again, but this time Prost, driving for Ferrari, lost out. Before the end of a winless 1991 season Prost was fired by Ferrari for his public criticism of the team. After a sabbatical in 1992, Prost joined the Williams team, prompting reigning Drivers' Champion Mansell to leave for CART. With a competitive car, Prost won the 1993 championship and retired from Formula One driving at the end of the year.
In 1997, Prost took over the French Ligier team, running it as Prost Grand Prix until it went bankrupt in 2002. From 2003 to 2012 he competed in the Andros Trophy, which is an ice racing championship, taking 38 race victories and winning the championship 3 times.
Prost employed a smooth, relaxed style behind the wheel, deliberately modeling himself on personal heroes like Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark. He was nicknamed "The Professor" for his intellectual approach to competition. Though it was not a name he particularly cared for, he would admit later that it was an appropriate summation of his approach to his racing. Skilled at setting up his car for race conditions, Prost would often conserve his brakes and tyres early in a race, leaving them fresher for a challenge at the end.
Alain Prost was born near the town of Saint-Chamond, close to the cities of Lyon and Saint-Etienne in the dpartement of Loire, France, to Andr Prost and Marie-Rose Karatchian, born in France of Armenian descent. Prost had one younger brother called Daniel, who died of cancer in September 1986. Although short, standing at 1.67 m (5 ft 6 in) Prost was an active, athletic child, who enthusiastically took part in diverse sports, including wrestling, roller skating and football. In doing so he broke his nose several times. He considered careers as a gym instructor or a professional footballer before he discovered kart racing at the age of 14 while on a family holiday. This new sport quickly became his career of choice.
Prost was married to Anne-Marie (born 14 February 1955), but they divorced sometime later. They have two sons, Nicolas (born 18 October 1981) and Sacha Prost (born 30 May 1990). Prost also has a daughter, Victoria. As of 2017, Nicolas races in Formula E for e.dams Renault, a team partially run by his father. Prost lived in his hometown, Saint-Chamond, until he and his Renault team fell out in the early 1980s. In April 1983 the Prost family moved to Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, and shortly after to Yens, Switzerland. They moved to Switzerland after Renault workers went to Prost's house in France and burned his Mercedes-Benz and another one of his road cars. They lived there until November 1999, when they moved to Nyon in the same country. In December 2015, Prost became a grandfather with the birth of Nicolas Prost's son Kimi.
In 1985 Prost was awarded the Lgion d'Honneur by President Franois Mitterrand.