DECEMBER 9, 2000
Prost looking for fast cheap labor
PROST GRAND PRIX is going to be busy this week in Barcelona, running a number of young drivers to see who would be the best recruit to partner veteran Jean Alesi. The team is no longer under pressure from French sponsors to take a young French driver and with Pedro Diniz deciding to go into a management role there is no obvious candidate for the second drive. And so the team will run rising stars Giorgio Pantano, Antonio Pizzonia and Enrique Bernoldi and wild French Formula 3000 driver Soheil Ayari. The tests will be short and sweet as there is not much time left on the old Peugeot engines. Once the test is finished the team is not expected to be seen again until January when the new Prost-Ferrari will be ready.
Thus the Barcelona test will be an important one for the team to get an idea of which driver to take. Pantano and Pizzonia have both proved themselves in Formula 3, the former winning the German title this year and the latter taking the British title. Both have tested for Benetton but Pizzonia did not impress much (the team felt it was too early for him to be in an F1 car) while Pantano was never really given a fair test.
Bernoldi is included because Sauber does not want him. He comes from South America which would be a bonus for the Diniz family, which is now an important shareholder in the Prost team, and there is some suggestion that Bernoldi might be able to bring some money for Prost from Red Bull.
This does not sound very likely as Dietrich Mateschitz of Red Bull owns the Sauber team. He does not control it and is reportedly less than happy with the Swiss team's results in recent years. What is clear is that Mateschitz has reduced the amount of money he is paying to the team (without reducing the signage that Red Bull gets) but for him to switch to Prost would be a complicated business. However, with Bernoldi driving Mateschitz would be hitting Red Bull's target market: the youth of Brazil. This is a bonus for Pizzonia as well.
The presence of Ayari at the test is curious. He is quick but he is not young any more and he does not seem to have calmed down much over the years. But he is French. Alain knows that you can tame wild men but you cannot make slow drivers go quickly but a deal with Ayari would be a very long shot.
The smart money in Formula 1 seems to think that Pantano will impress Prost the most and the Italian could end up with the drive. And if all goes to plan with a better chassis and good Ferrari engines, Pantano could become a very hot property, which is just what Alain Prost needs right now.
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