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Prost takes technical role at McLaren

ALAIN PROST has finally rejoined the McLaren F1 team to take on a rather vague role to help the team return to its winning ways of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The four-time World Champion - who is now 40 - doesn't have a job title and team boss Ron Dennis's description of Prost as "a fully-integrated part of the design and development technical group" does not really help to explain what the Frenchman is going to be doing.

It is already too far into the design and production timetable for Prost to have any major effect on the design of the car. He is not a designer, nor is he a technical manager. He can, however, provide a useful insight once the new car has been built, and can also play an important role in helping the team to debug and develop new systems. But if the MP4/11 is not a good car, he cannot fix it.

The implication in the appointment is that McLaren management does not believe that the team's problems have been caused by a bad chassis. It suggests that they still believe that the problem is one of a failure to understand and engineer the car. This theory is backed up by the recruitment in recent months of engineers Steve Nichols and David Brown, both acknowledged as topline race engineers.

In the circumstances, however, there is not actually a great deal to announce because Prost has been testing for the team in recent months - trying to help develop the MP4/10 derivatives. The conclusion, therefore, is that it is largely a smokescreen, a piece of positive news at a time when McLaren is struggling. Last week Ron Dennis announced that the McLaren Cars "F1" road car production is to be stopped with Dennis being forced to admit that it did not make a profit.

Ron argued last week that the road car program has raised the profile of McLaren as an engineering company, particularly as the car was able to win the Le Mans 24 Hours at its first attempt. With the nicest will in the world, however, it seems to have been a very expensive form of marketing tool.

At the McLaren Cars announcement, Dennis confirmed that Gordon Murray is now switching his attention to the BMW British Touring Car Championship program, which will be run from McLaren premises.

Dennis continues to insist that there are no medical problems with Mika Hakkinen - which is curious given the comments of the doctors in Adelaide - and that the Finn will be back in action in Melbourne in March.

Prost has poured cold water on speculation that he will be standing in for Hakkinen in 1996. He says that he is not planning to come out of retirement as a racer. He will, however, test a hybrid McLaren - an MP4/10 fitted with an MP4/11 gearbox - before Christmas helping to check out new electronic systems for the new arrangement.

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