Trivial pursuits

Now I may be a bit odd, but I love useless information and unlikely stories. I find it fascinating, for example, that they grow bananas in Iceland, using greenhouses heated by the island's hot volcanic springs.

I am enthralled to know that the most destructive car chase ever filmed - in a 1982 movie called "Junkman" - resulted in a total of 150 cars being totally written off.

I was amazed when I found out that during the chariot race in Ben Hur - a movie which, incidentally, won a record-breaking 11 Oscars - a small red car can be seen driving by in the distance.

Having worked in the unlikely world of Formula 1 for a lot of years I will quite happily accept most silly stories. Yes, I am sure an American jet did shoot itself down with its own missiles during the Vietnam War. I can just about accept that in China in 1986 twelve schoolchildren were sucked up by a tornado and dumped - unhurt - 12 miles away. I might even be persuaded that in 1987 the little English village of Cerney Wick was showered by tiny pink frogs.

But, I cannot accept that McLaren boss Ron Dennis is pacing the car park at his headquarters in Woking, looking skyward in case one tiny pink Frog - Alain Prost - falls out of the sky and lands in a McLaren-Peugeot MP4/9 this season.

I heard the first "Prost to McLaren" story about 20 minutes after Alain announced he was retiring in Estoril last September. If I remember correctly the theory was being put forward by former GP driver (and ex-Prost team mate) John Watson - who is now a sleuth reporter with the Eurosport TV channel. I was impressed but then I remembered that Sherlock Holmes's sidekick Dr. Watson was actually called Dr. John Watson - and his detective work was often elementary.

I have my own theory. It may be unlikely, but here it is...

Prost is intelligent. His ego may be urging him to come back and try to beat Ayrton Senna, but his brain will tell him that there is no better way to retire from F1 than as the reigning World Champion. He also knows that Senna will be driving a Williams-Renault this year and no-one is likely to beat that combination.

There is no question that the deal on offer from McLaren is an interesting one, but it will take Peugeot two or three years before its new V10 engine is in a position to offer him the chance to win another World Championship. And that is too long to wait because he has just celebrated his 39th birthday. He knows that 40 has long been accepted as the retirement age for F1 drivers. It is normal for drivers to slow down a little as they get older. Prost is still super-quick but he does not take the same risks that he did when he was a hungry young man. He has two young sons and has often said that he wants to spend more time with them. They mean a lot to him and the dangers of F1 - which younger men accept without question - are now more of a worry. Experience and maturity compensate for the loss of raw speed, but the fact remains that you must have 100% commitment if you are to win F1 races on a regular basis.

The promise of untold amounts of money should not sway his decision. He is rich beyond his wildest dreams and has been careful with the money he has earned.

In addition, when he retired he made it plain that he was very disenchanted with the way the FIA was running the sport. The FIA has not changed since Prost retired and if Alain were to come back the governing body would probably have an even stronger dislike of the Frenchman.

But all this doesn't mean that Alain no longer has ambitions in Grand Prix racing. He is looking for a new challenge and, I think, this hunger will be satisfied by building a team capable of winning races. I believe that ultimately he will gain control of Ligier and that his testing deal with McLaren-Peugeot is, unlikely as it may seem, related more to a Ligier takeover than a racing comeback.

On a totally practical level, there are existing contracts which mean that Prost cannot race for McLaren-Peugeot this year. He is under contract to Williams-Renault. He knows it and so does McLaren's Ron Dennis. He may be able to help McLaren test with the new Peugeot, but he cannot race.

So why the testing deal with McLaren? That is simple. As we have said Prost wants to take over Ligier with all its sponsorship deals and its Renault V10 engines. Renault does not want this to happen because it sees Benetton as a better team to supply in the future. As I see it, Prost is using his testing deal with McLaren to put pressure on Renault by threatening to join Peugeot. In France this is big news because Prost is a household name. Renault and Peugeot are major rivals in the car market. Renault cannot afford to lose Prost.

Prost's deal with McLaren is also useful for McLaren because it puts Peugeot under extreme pressure in France to produce a competitive engine because when Prost drives the car, the world's press will want to know what "The Professor" thinks of the new V10.

So the McLaren test deal is a double-edged sword for Alain and Ron. It may sound devious and unlikely, but remember this is F1. Anything can happen.

You shouldn't necessarily believe this column but you never know. Would you believe someone who told you that Sir Winston Churchill had Red Indian blood.

I would if I were you, because it is true...

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