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Prost and DaimlerChrysler

MERCEDES-BENZ's motorsport chief Norbert Haug said at the Nurburgring that the company will not be giving its Formula 1 engines to Alain Prost next year. "Why should we give engines to a second team?" he said. "It was never the plan. There was a discussion. These are rumors." Haug added that Ilmor Engineering does not have the capacity to do it at the moment.

But the rumors will not go away and, judging by the amount of time Alain Prost spent in the McLaren and Mercedes-Benz motorhomes over the Nurburgring weekend, he does not think the cause is lost. Mario Illien of Ilmor said recently that he would need six months warning to be able to supply another team and so time is definitely running out if Prost is to get a deal but it is still not too late and our spies in the paddock suggest that Mercedes-Benz is considering using Prost to help develop a completely new generation engine in 2001 while McLaren will run the current units. This would reduce the risks of mechanical failure for the main Mercedes team while developing a new engine in racing conditions.

The arrival of major competition from rival car manufacturers is causing some of the big players to re-evaluate what is going to be necessary to win in F1 in the years ahead and Mercedes-Benz has been surprised (and worried) by the immediate success of the BMW F1 program and is now looking at ways to stay ahead. In addition to BMW, competition is expected to intensify from Honda and Renault and (probably) from Jaguar as well.

Whether a deal can be stitched together for Prost in the time available remains to be seen but if not the French team will almost certainly use Supertec or Mugen engines in 2001 and prepare for Mercedes-Benz engines in 2002. In the circumstances the team will almost certainly run with Michelin tires in the hope that this will produce one or two unexpected results while at the same time providing Mercedes-Benz with a good idea about how competitive the tires are so that if necessary McLaren can switch to them in 2002.

The other issue which may be delaying a deal is that McLaren's plans to move into the new Paragon Technology Centre are running a little behind schedule and the team may not be in a position to hand over use of the National Physical Laboratory windtunnel to Prost until the start of the design process for the 2002 cars.

The fact that Prost's close friend and advisor Hugues de Chaunac has taken over the running of the Chrysler Le Mans 24 Hours program for 2001 with backing from Prost sponsor PlayStation is not a coincidence and it may be that de Chaunac will also be moving in to help Prost in F1 in the future as part of the deal. De Chaunac has very good relations with Chrysler thanks to the success of the Dodge Vipers which are prepared by his ORECA company.

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