Quietly at first, but with growing conviction, Alain Prost leafs through the stack of questions supplied to us by the great and the good of Formula 1. This method means we're not starting at the beginning and working to an end; we're diving in, focusing on highlights and stepping off into questions of character.
And, on this hot-baked Abu Dhabi afternoon, Prost seems to have all the time in the world to answer questions and share a personal account of some of the most memorable moments in F1 history. Ayrton Senna and Ron Dennis, of course. But also cycling and parenthood. Then the business of competition, of winning, and articulating what it takes to become a champion.
Every now and again a living legend just wants to open up and start talking. And when they do, F1 Racing is here to listen...
You and Senna at the chicane at Suzuka in 1989? Whose fault was that?
Martin Brundle, Sky Sports F1 commentator and ex-F1 racer
There is no fault. I know a lot of people... maybe they don't understand. It depends whether they are fans of Ayrton or fans of mine. But during this race, I was under control. I was really, really under control. Before the race I said to Ron [Dennis, McLaren team boss] and I said to Ayrton that if I'm in a situation where I have to, I'm not going to open the door, because I had done so many times already in 1988 and '89.
If you remember I worked really hard on the race set-up, but Ayrton was much quicker in qualifying, which was not a problem. I was much, much quicker in the warm-up and I really had the race under control. And when he went through the chicane... [Prost puts both his hands in front of him and shoots right in front of left, to indicate Senna's manoeuvre] he really came very fast.
At that point, if I had opened the door [to let Senna pass] I would not have made the chicane myself. And that was not a possibility for me if I wanted to be world champion. So there's no 'fault' - he tried and I did not put the car in front of him enough. In fact, I was surprised by the speed he was coming, so obviously we touched.
It was not a big impact but I think it's very important to say this: people still say that Senna wasn't world champion because of that moment, but if you look at the results, he also had to win the Australian GP to be champion. So even with this win it wouldn't have made any difference in the championship.
What advice do you have on how to manage two championship-contending drivers within the same team?
Paddy Lowe, former Mercedes executive director (technical)
You have to be very careful in Formula 1 about giving advice, because every situation is very different. In my time with Ayrton I didn't think it was fair sometimes. It's all relative to psychology.
And when you start to show that you have a preference - even if it's not very concrete - then you make it difficult to keep a balanced system, and it doesn't work.
Having said that, it's very difficult. I remember in 1989 that some of the people close to us, and often some media, could make an unbalanced feeling.
And that was then. Imagine what it's like now with social media all around us. You have to adapt yourself all the time and what Mercedes have done is not bad at all.
F1 Racing: Do you see parallels between Lewis [Hamilton] versus Nico [Rosberg], and you and Ayrton?
AP: Yes, because of the domination. If Mercedes weren't dominating the world championship, and they were fighting really closely with another team, the situation would be a little bit different.
And I would not give any advice except, 'Be careful not to show one of the drivers a preference'. Because when you do, you destroy the whole team.
Is there anything you regret about your years with Senna at McLaren?
Jo Ramirez, former McLaren team coordinator
I think that if I regret something, it is that I had a bad relationship with Ron at the end of 1989, considering that he's a person I really had - and still have today - great respect for. Ron was even an example for me when I ran my own Formula 1 team [Prost GP].
That's what I regret most about my time at McLaren, to be honest. Five or six years later I came back to McLaren to work with him. But I regret that I finished with bad relations in 1989.
Did the turbo era suit your style, or did you make the car suit you?
Allan McNish, Le Mans winner and ex-Toyota F1 racer
I think I made the car suit me. The most important thing was to have the maximum of elements you could change on the car - chassis, engine, and so on - for me, that was the best. Today, I don't know that I would suit this situation where drivers can't change things.
Would you have enjoyed driving this generation of Formula 1 cars?
Anthony Davidson, Sky Sports F1 pundit and former BAR F1 racer
In Austria last year, I drove my car from 1985. And I've driven a few times a Red Bull and the Lotus-Renault at Paul Ricard. For sure, when I get back in the car, I really enjoy it more in my car.
Is it because I remember and I knew what it was? To answer this question honestly, I would have to adapt myself to the new systems. But if you ask me which car I prefer to drive, then it's the one from my generation.
F1R: A few weeks ago we were at Silverstone with Damon Hill, to watch him test his title-winning FW18 and he got out of the car with the biggest smile on his face saying it felt exactly the same as when he was racing.
AP: That's because you feel everything. It's very different now.
As a driver you always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. How did you manage that?
Ivan Capelli, ex-Ferrari, Tyrrell and Jordan F1 racer
Ha! Well maybe I was in the right place a good percentage of the time - but not all the time. It's also a question of your basic philosophy. First of all, it very often depends on your education. It's crazy to say that, maybe, but I had to work hard to become a racing driver.
I had no money and nobody helped me so I had to do everything myself and had to learn how to prepare the kart, the chassis - everything. That gave me a perfect respect for the technical aspects of everything.
Then my brother became very ill when I was racing [Prost's younger brother, Daniel, died from cancer in September 1986] and I had to consider these kinds of things for my family.
The 1982 accident with Didier [Pironi drove into the back of Prost's Renault at the 1982 German Grand Prix and sustained career-ending leg injuries] did make me think 'how can I do this?' because I didn't like crashing - not because you lost the race, but because you had to fix the car!
Even damaging the front wing was a bad feeling for me, so I used to say to myself: 'I need to do the best work possible, to be able to drive only at my preferred % - not 101%'.
That led me to prepare better. If I was racing now, maybe my philosophy would be different. But we used to change everything - brakes, fuel, engine, set-up - between qualifying and race, so I really worked much more on the race set-up.
Was I the most scary team-mate you ever had?
Jean Alesi, winner of the 1995 Canadian GP and Prost's 1991 Ferrari team-mate
Scary? Well I was scared by Ayrton sometimes, because of the way he behaved around God. It gave the perception, especially at the start of a race, that we weren't exactly the same and sometimes I was feeling sick. But scared with Jean? No.
How much did you weigh when you were racing, and did that give you an advantage?
Valtteri Bottas, Williams-turned-Mercedes F1 racer
When I was racing I was heavier than now. I was around 60-61kg. Now I am 57kg.
F1R: It's all that cycling.
AP: People who work in Formula 1 know that weight has always been an advantage. I remember testing with McLaren and Ferrari and there were some places where even a 10/15kg increase didn't make any difference. Today, if you do that, you're an idiot, because the whole car is so optimised. Extra weight makes a much bigger difference.
The advantage I had from being small wasn't always so great. I remember one year at McLaren, with the gears here [Prost makes a fist from his right hand and raises it in front of him] I had to put myself more at the front of the cockpit. And very often I was like this [he hunches and contorts his body forward, right shoulder down] and I still have - look at that [he indicates a nodule of knotted gristle, the size of a marble, on his right shoulder blade] - 25 years later. Just because I had to change gear in a different way.
And because I was sitting further forward, I really had my feet in the middle of the suspension, so I had much less space. But I can understand that some people like Nigel [Mansell], who was 75kg, sometimes had a disadvantage. But that is our sport [laughs].
Is it true that when you were at Williams in 1993, the team had an option on Senna and you refused to let them take it up, so they couldn't have Prost and Senna at Williams at the same time?
Emerson Fittipaldi, F1 world champion in 1972 and '74
No, not true. The truth is that when I signed the contract with Frank [Williams], it was a three-year contract and I said to him: "I don't want to be number one, I don't care, I've never been number one in a team.
"The only thing - which I'm sure you understand - is that I want to fight against Ayrton, because he is The Man. But I will never accept Ayrton in my team any more."
And he said: "Yeah, no problem, we understand that." So I signed the contract saying that I'm not number one, but that Senna cannot be with me.
But during the season we were pushed by [engine supplier] Renault, who wanted Ayrton. Frank came to me, I remember very well - I was in the south of France, he came specially with a private plane - to say: "Alain, I'm sorry, but I have a lot of pressure. I have pressure to have Ayrton in the team."
And I said: "No, you cannot have my agreement to this, because that's the key of everything."
Then, eventually, during August, I picked up the phone to Frank and said: "OK, if you want to have Ayrton, you take Ayrton, and I'll retire. If I retire I want to have my contract paid for next year . If Ayrton wants to come, and it's going to be free for him, I want the money as if I was world champion."
And that's how it was. I let him go; I'd had enough of this situation.
Frank Dernie [ex-F1 technical director] says that you were unbelievably quick when you tested the Ligier at the start of 1992. Was there any chance of you racing for them that year, and how competitive would you have been?
Karun Chandhok, ex-F1 racer and Channel 4 technical expert
I do remember the car was really good and the engine was good. I was talking at the time to buy the team and be a driver and we did not manage to find the right package, for different reasons - not just financial but more political. And at that time I didn't want to be only a driver.
Why is it that no French driver has ever won a world title with a French team? [Prost, the only French Formula 1 world champion, won three titles with McLaren - in 1985, '86 and '89 - and one with Williams in 1993.]
David Coulthard, GP winner and Channel 4 F1 commentator
Formula 1 is an environment that's really English. The relationship between the English and French is sometimes difficult, but when they're working well, they work very well together. But it's not that easy.
Speaking for myself, I don't feel French, I've never felt French and I think that's why I was successful. But I really love working with the English, Japanese people, Germans, Italians, Americans, Indians... I sometimes found the Japanese mentality difficult, but it's not a question of preference, and a lot of French drivers did not manage to do the right thing to become a top Formula 1 driver in this kind of environment. Having said that, for sure Didier Pironi deserved to be world champion at Ferrari.
It's a question of mentality, of managing the people inside. It's almost a closed world that you have to get in. You have to be accepted. For me, OK, I was a Frog [laughter] but they knew that I didn't have the 'Frog' mentality.
What were the most surprising things you learned when you changed career from racing driver to team owner?
Pat Symonds, former Williams chief technical officer
That's a good question, because a lot of people think I was surprised - I was not surprised. The only thing I was surprised about was the difficulty of the politics in France.
When you have a company in France, first of all you are competing against a lot of teams that are English, and you are not fighting with the same rules. In five years with my own team, 95% of my time was spent trying to fix all of these problems with the structure, taxes and everything and finally trying to find sponsors.
And I was not surprised at all by the work itself. Because I knew it would take a long time. It's a shame, because after the fifth year I think my team was starting to be at the right level with the organisation.
But I knew it would be difficult: I said to my close people, three months after starting: "I am dead." We had a change of politics in France and all the people who had wanted to help the project did not help any more.
If you could have signed any driver for your Formula 1 team, who would it have been, and why?
Gunther Steiner, Haas F1 team principal
I don't remember who was available at the time, but, in fact, I wanted to sign Alonso very early, when he was still in F3000. We were close to making a deal in three parts, between Fernando, Ferrari and myself, because Prost GP had a Ferrari engine.
I don't remember the other drivers at the time. In my position, then, you had to consider the best drivers are not so cheap.
Have you found it difficult to adapt to life after racing? Are you over your career?
Damon Hill, F1 world champion in 1996
I had two or three months when it was very difficult, I must say. When you retire you have one week that's a dream. You wake up at 10 o'clock in the morning, you rest, you do different things and then after one week you say: "Shit, I'm not going to wake up at 10 o'clock every day."
My son was going to school at 7.30 in the morning and I was still sleeping. So you are in a different situation. I never knew this kind of situation. I started working when I was 14, around school.
So there was a time when it was difficult for me to manage everything, because I had no objective any more, no goal. And you need to have a goal in life, or a passion - you always need to have something.
But I think that the most important thing to understand is that when you have been in Formula 1 as a winning driver, winning championships, you can never have anything as good as that. So you have to forget that and just look at being a little bit different.
And that's where I am now. I still do something with passion [Prost remains actively involved in motorsport, through Renault F1 and Formula E], I still have my hobbies and my family - I work maybe a little bit more than I should because I am a lot happier when I am involved in something.
But the most difficult thing is to compromise and balance the time you want to spend on your life, your family and for you. It's the most difficult thing, but if you are passionate and professional, it always goes like this.
What made you more nervous: racing, or watching your son [Nicolas] race?
Nico Rosberg, Formula 1 world champion
[A long, rueful grimace passes across that so-expressive, famous face] Watching my son race - especially at the beginning.
I remember one huge crash he had at Le Mans, but he's getting better and better. To be honest, there was a time in Formula 1 where we were really stressed, because there were of a lot of accidents, but the feeling was never the same. Some races with my son were very difficult.
F1R: So that's the parent in you?
AP: When you are a racing driver, you want to be in complete control. In 1982, when Didier Pironi had the accident with me I was Alain Prost, racing driver, and under control. When my son is driving, I have no control.
What would you most want to change about Formula 1 now?
Sergio Perez, Force India F1 racer
That's the question that everybody asks. There have been so many changes over the past few years that it's very difficult to change something radically.
I read an interview with Ross Brawn saying we need to have a strategy for the next three or five years. I agree with that. Because as soon as we change one thing you can introduce a negative aspect, so you need to have a strategy.
And you also have to be very humble. I remember when we were introducing the new Formula 1 engine three years ago, I was part of supporting this engine, and I was really, really disappointed by the fact that the perception of the public and fans was not very positive.
If you saw a manufacturer's new road car and it had the same power - or even better - with 30% cent fuel consumption, that would be interesting, wouldn't it? You would want to understand how it works. But all the communication we did around the hybrid engines was not good - that's just one example.
The one thing I would really change if I could is the overall philosophy - the fact that we need to show people that the job of a Formula 1 driver is much more difficult than it's perceived to be by the people outside.
That's why I have never been in favour of live radio communication, because I don't think it gives a very good perception of the situation.
Which drivers most inspired you when you were young?
Marc Gene, ex-Minardi racer, Ferrari tester and TV pundit
When I was younger, there were quite a lot of them. Maybe Jackie Stewart was the biggest inspiration of all to me, because I didn't know Jim Clark's generation. But I was also a big fan of James Hunt when he started out in Formula 1 and obviously Niki Lauda when he was at Ferrari.
When I started out in Formula 1, we had Clay Regazzoni, Jody Scheckter, Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Reutemann, Alan Jones - all the French guys, and a huge amount of strong characters. And this builds you. I remember at my first race [the 1980 Argentine GP] being accepted by these guys.
We were talking and they were almost giving advice - they were very open and very helpful. For sure, people like Jackie, like Niki, all these guys, Emerson and Carlos - I was looking up to them.
Being team-mates with Niki [in 1984] almost 10 years after his first title was, for me, unbelievable, because 10 years before that, I was still a child.
How many girlfriends have you had?
Niki Lauda, three-time champion and Mercedes chairman
F1R: We're very sorry, but that is actually Niki's real question...
AP: No, no, no! Niki was my hero! How can I answer...? Never enough!
Which of your world championships is your favourite?
Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso racer
It's 1986, for one reason: my car was not as good as the Williams-Honda.
I had a good team-mate, Keke Rosberg, and this championship was a really good example of how you can optimise almost everything with the team and drivers and we finished by winning the title.
Do you think you could you beat every current F1 driver on your bike: (a) on the flat; and (b) in the mountains?
Alex Wurz, F1 consultant and chairman of the GPDA
On the flat maybe not, because my power and my size would not help me. But in the mountains, yes - especially if they are longer.
Why did you come back in 1993 and did you feel sure that you would win the world championship?
Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 racer
You know, I did not want to leave Ferrari in 1991. I had a proposition, I was talking at the time about being a driver and a sporting director at the same time and, for sure, there were a lot of politics. Nobody knows exactly what happened at Ferrari because it was absolutely unbelievable.
I was fired only because of that and they only found the excuse of 'the truck' because they had to find something. Did you see the interview yourself?
F1R: You're talking about when you called the 1991 Ferrari "a truck", giving them an excuse to fire you...?
AP: Yes, but have you ever seen the interview? Try to find someone who did. Because when we wanted to go to court [over Prost's dismissal] we asked for it, but the team could never find it. That's interesting, don't you think?
So, in fact, to answer your question, I did not want to stop. I almost signed for Williams immediately - very, very quickly - but it couldn't happen and maybe it was the right decision for me to go on a sabbatical year and then come back. I wasn't sure - you're never sure that you are going to be world champion - but the break was a good thing for me and I also saw Formula 1 with a little perspective.
If you could turn back time, is there any one thing you would have done differently?
Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz motorsport
I suppose the easy thing to say is: "OK, I would not accept Ayrton at McLaren."
But, at the time, I remember being in Japan with Ron, and I was the one saying: "OK, you want to take Nelson [Piquet]... why Nelson? I like Nelson, we're quite good friends, he's the same generation as me. But why don't you take Ayrton? He's the future."
And I pushed McLaren because at the time they were my family and I was doing everything possible for sponsors and for the team. So yes, to answer the question, maybe I would have changed that. But when you are in your racing career, decisions you make are like decisions when you're driving. You think it's for the best.
I have never thought only for myself. I focus on the team, on the interests of people around me, and when you have this kind of philosophy, you never regret anything.
Although to answer the question, I would say: "Yes, maybe this one thing."