Villadelprat to head operations at Prost

JOAN VILLADELPRAT is expected to be named as chief of operations at Prost Grand Prix within the next few weeks - but only if Prost can put together a sensible budget for 2001. The Spaniard has been out of Formula 1 since he left Benetton in January, his intention being to put together a Formula 1 team for Telefonica. This effort failed. Telefonica was in talks with Prost in recent months and we hear that Villadelprat acted as the middle man in negotiations. The Spanish telephone company has now decided to leave F1 completely. Villadelprat and Prost go back a long way in Formula 1. He was a mechanic with Ron Dennis's Project Four when it took over McLaren. Joan then worked with McLaren when Prost and Niki Lauda won three consecutive World Championships. In 1987 he was lured to Ferrari by former McLaren technical director John Barnard (who is also currently involved with Prost) and he stayed there until 1990 when he moved to Tyrrell for a couple of seasons before he joined Benetton as factory manager. He was appointed operations director in 1993 and ran the team for Benetton throughout the late 1990s. The team's sporting director John Walton is expected to remain at Prost working with Villadelprat.

It is worth noting that there were rumors in the paddock in Malaysia that another former Barnard associate Giorgio Ascanelli is working at Ferrari, designing a gearbox for Prost Grand Prix. When the Ferrari engine deal was announced Prost said that the Italian company would not be supplying the team with gearboxes but Ascanelli remains a Ferrari employee so presumably a further deal has been agreed.

Prost's biggest problem remains money and with Telefonica deciding not to continue in F1 he is being pushed towards a deal with Pedro Diniz. The Brazilian has money to spend next year but Peter Sauber is not showing much interest. This may be because Sauber is trying to raise the amount of money that Diniz needs to pay but there are also signs that the Swiss team owner will decide to take on Finnish youngster Kimi Raikkonen if he can find the budget he needs to replace Diniz. This is not easy at the moment as Sauber's results have been disappointing this year.

Although Sauber is very conventional and not prone to making radical decisions there are a number of important members of the team arguing in favor of the young Finn, including technical director Willy Rampf, head of engineering Jacky Eeckelaert and team coordinator Jost Capito.

The final decision will have to be based on money because Sauber needs more to run an effective program next year. If he can find enough from Diniz, he is likely to sign up Raikkonen as test driver on a long-term contract, which would be a more conservative route.

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