DECEMBER 23, 2000
Prost and PSN
LANDING a major sponsorship deal from the Pan-american Sports Network is a coup for Alain Prost but it is almost certain that there will be strings attached to the deal. In all probability it will mean that Alain has to take on a Spanish-speaking driver and with Marc Gene under contract to Williams, Fernando Alonso having been locked up by Flavio Briatore and (probably) Flavio Briatore and Pedro de la Rosa at Arrows, the choice is rather limited. PSN would like to have Gaston Mazzacane from Argentina but Prost is not keen. Mazzacane did not really impress during his year with Minardi. There are no other Argentine drivers worth getting excited about at the moment and so Prost may be left with Oriol Servia, who tested for the team a few days ago in Barcelona. That test was something of a surprise as a number of other young drivers had been expected to be tried out but clearly the PSN deal was on the cards at the time.
Servia should not be written off, however. He was the top prospect of the Elf Formula Campus series in France a few years ago and with Elf backing competed in French Formula 3 while finishing off a mechanical engineering degree in his native Barcelona). In 1998 he went to America to race in Indy Lights with Dorricott Racing. He won the Indy Lights title in 1999 and this year moved to CART with backing from Telefonica. Racing as team mate to Cristiano da Matta in Cal Well's Precision Preparation Inc. Motorsports team. The season resulted in one impressive third place in Detroit.
Servia has never made any secret of his desire to race in Formula 1, his decision to go to America being occasioned by the fact that Elf did not have the money to support him in Formula 3000. A friend of Pedro de la Rosa, Servia was signed up by de la Rosa's manager Julian Jakobi, who is a close friend and advisor of Alain Prost.
Servia would be a good choice for PSN as it tries to expand its subscribers in Latin America where the company broadcasts Bernie Ecclestone's digital Formula 1 programs to both Spanish and Portuguese audiences. PSN is owned by the Dallas-based venture capital company Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst which recently tried to buy Minardi. It is not clear from the Prost statement as to whether PSN has bought a share of Prost but it is interesting to note that the statement did say that PSN becomes "not only an important sponsor" but also "joins and strengthens the solid structure Prost Grand Prix has formed with its partners Pedro Diniz, UFA Sports and LVMH".
The company structure of Prost Grand Prix is, we are told, extremely complicated but allows for different companies to buy shares in different areas of the business and it may be that PSN has taken a share in one of the Prost companies. This would have been a much more attractive step than simply being a sponsor of another team.
Alain Prost says that he will name his second driver in the first two weeks of January but it looks likely that Servia could be that man. If the F1 Commission is willing to grant Kimi Raikkonen with a superlicence there is no reason why there should be a problem for Servia, a man with a full season of CART racing behind him.
The announcement of the Prost-PSN deal would seem to suggest that there is not going to be a deal between Arrows and Gaston Mazzacane and this means that Tom Walkinshaw is most likely to name Jos Verstappen as de la Rosa's partner in 2001. Verstappen and Walkinshaw have been negotiating for several months but seem unable to agree on money. The Dutchman seems to be confident that eventually Walkinshaw will give way because there are no other experienced F1 drivers left who are available to drive for the team.
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