What now for Alain Prost?

ALAIN PROST was commentating for the French TF1 television channel at Estoril and announced that he will not be returning to racing in 1996. Prost has done a couple of tests for McLaren in recent weeks and is expected to continue to help out next year with development work. Some sources suggest that this may include tire development work for Michelin - although the McLaren team continues to deny that it has had any involvement with the French tire company.

Prost had wanted to run his own racing team but he was unable to get agreement from the French companies which he hoped would support his bid to either buy Ligier or set up his own operation. So what will Prost do in the future?

We have heard suggestions that Alain's new relationship with McLaren may involve rather more than meets the eye, with his long-term plan being to take over the McLaren F1 team with the support of Marlboro, Mobil and Mercedes-Benz. There is no question that Marlboro's patience is not limitless. The cigarette firm wants to sell cigarettes and believes that racing success is a good marketing tool. If McLaren is not successful, the Marlboro men are willing to move to a team which will be successful or change the existing team they have. It was Marlboro which engineered Ron Dennis's arrival at McLaren in September 1980, when it forced McLaren Racing into a merger with the Formula 2 team it was sponsoring as the time - Dennis's Project 4 Racing. McLaren International was formed as a result and two years later the Team McLaren men sold their shares and quit.

At the time, Marlboro was unhappy with McLaren Racing because it had not won a World Championship for four seasons and there had been no race wins for three years. Dennis will be well aware that at the end of the season it will be four years since McLaren's last World Championship and two full seasons without a race victory.

Similar takeover rumors emerged earlier this year, linking McLaren with Roger Penske's racing operations in the United States - which are also backed by Marlboro, Mobil and Mercedes-Benz. Ironically, Penske personnel were much in evidence at Estoril with Penske Cars's managing director Nick Goozee "on holiday" at the Portuguese GP and Penske Racing's public relations chief Susan Bradshaw also present. Roger Penske, himself, is rumored to be showing up next weekend in Germany for the European GP.

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