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MARCH 17, 1997

Fighting over Alain Prost

ALAIN PROST says he is tempted to move his team from its base at Magny-Cours but that he is still to decide whether it is really necessary.

"That is the key question at the moment," he said. "I want to see a little bit more before I decide. If we do change we will have to do it as quickly as possible."

One of the reasons that Prost has not yet decided whether to move is that several regional authorities in France are competing to attract the team to their area, hoping to gain from the fast-moving image of F1 and from the fact that Prost will be employing people wherever the team chooses to settle down. As a result several local authorities around Paris are offering incentives to Prost. These include the communes of Mantes-la-Jolie, on the Seine, downstream from Paris, and Sannois, in the northern suburbs of Paris.

The favorite site, however, now appears to in the commune of Versailles, close to King Louis XIV's famous chateau. The town of Versailles is believed to be offering Prost access to a 10-acre site at Satory - which was formerly used by the telecommunications company GIAT. This is just four miles of fast roads from Peugeot Sport's headquarters at Velizy.

If he moves the team to Satory, Prost is planning to build a 70,000 sq ft factory. This would be a sensible location as it has direct access to the French motorway system and is within easy reach of Orly airport. The area also boasts several aeronautical schools of note, a very useful source of new recruits. Chief among these is the Ecole Speciale Militaire at St Cyr. This is France's most famous military college and its facilities include a rare 100% windtunnel. This has been used in the past by several racing teams - notably Renault Sport - and was used by Ligier until the disastrous JS31 in 1988.

It is has since been largely discredited in F1 terms, Ligier aerodynamicist Max Sardou commenting in mid-1988 that the facility might be good for designing railway locomotives but was no good for F1 cars.

With F1 teams now looking increasingly to big windtunnels - Benetton is in the process of building F1's first full-scale facility at Enstone - Prost may have concluded that although St Cyr is not perfect it can be modified into a state-of-the-art facility at relatively little cost compared to the construction of an all-new 100% rolling road tunnel.

Several F1 teams are currently involved in similar arrangements with aerospace and defense companies, notably in England with British Aerospace (Ferrari and McLaren) and the Defense Research Agency (Benetton). Sharing the cost of upgrading with the French military would be a very sensible idea, particularly given that Prost has powerful friends in the French government.

The Satory site is also not far from the headquarters of French weapon and aviation company Dassault, with which Prost last week signed a contract for CAD/ CAM software, identical to that used by Peugeot Sport.

Dassault Industries - which is 45%-owned by the French government - will be a useful partner to Prost as it has access to highly-advanced technologies from its combat aircraft business, which designs and builds the Mirage, Jaguar and Rafale warplanes.