SEPTEMBER 8, 1997
Hill and Prost
DAMON HILL is rumored to be close to signing a deal to drive for Prost Grand Prix next season - but the deal has yet to be confirmed and there are a number of sticking points in the negotiations. Prost wants Hill because he appreciates Damon's abilities as a development driver - which he witnessed during their year together at Williams in 1993.
When Prost and Hill began negotiations Hill was asking for $9m which Prost rejected out of hand. He had a budget for $4.5m and said he was not willing to go beyond that. Hill is understood to have come back with a demand for $7m but does not want to have to do very much in the way of public relations and sponsorship functions. In addition he is believed to want a deal which will be for three years - which will finish of his career in F1. Prost is happy to accept a two-year deal but wants to keep his options open in the year 2000, by which time he may have lost Olivier Panis.
We understand that the problems over money have been solved with Alain's backers Peugeot, Bridgestone and Total all happy to chip in extra money to secure a driver of Damon's stature.
We expect that the deal will be concluded within a matter of days and at Monza Hill hinted that a deal is close. "I have a very good idea where I will be next year," he said. "It's just a matter of getting a few things sorted out before an announcement is made. I am looking for the environment that gives me the best opportunity to give my best. That's more important to me than anything else."
Prost denies that a deal is already done but admits that he has been talking with Damon and Jarno Trulli.
One of the drawbacks to having Damon in the team was the worry that Hill's arrival will destablize Olivier Panis, who has long been the team leader. Prost's logic appears to be that if Panis cannot compete with Hill then he should not be there and is hoping that Olivier will react positively and push Hill. Panis did not react well when Tom Walkinshaw insisted that Martin Brundle drive for the team in 1995 but he is a stronger driver now and this may not have the same effect as before.
Prost remains on the lookout for a talented young Frenchman for the long-term future and our sources suggest that this will be the French Formula 3 Champion Soheil Ayari, who is currently doing very well in Formula 3000 and will be looking for a way into F1 at the end of this season. Prost is expected to offer Ayari a test early next year and will then decide whether he wants to sign him up. It is likely that Prost will also test another French F3000 driver Laurent Redon, a family friend of Prost.
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