Features - Interview

JANUARY 26, 1999

Alain Prost


Alain Prost did not much enjoy the 1998 Formula 1 World Championship.

Alain Prost did not much enjoy the 1998 Formula 1 World Championship. The Prost-Peugeot AP01 was not a good car. It had an unreliable gearbox and in order to strengthen that the weight distribution of the car had to be altered. In modern Formula 1 if you have a problem you are left behind. It did not help that in the course of the year the team grew from 80 to 200 and that the entire operation was moved from Magny-Cours to an impressive new factory at Guyancourt, in the Paris suburb of St Quentin-en-Yvelines. Jarno Trulli saved the team the embarrassment of failing to score a single point when he staggered home in sixth place at the Belgian Grand Prix. It was a difficult year. But was it more difficult that Alan Prost had expected?

AP: "It is not more difficult than I thought it would be. It is about what I thought. Formula 1 becomes more and more difficult with each year and when you start from zero it is a long way to climb. Some people understand that, some people do not. That is the difficulty of Formula 1 and so I have not been surprised. Every day I say the same thing to myself: "Be careful. We are improving things dramatically day after day but all the teams are doing the same thing. What is true today may not be true in six months from now. We have to always adapt". That is a part of the F1 business but there is no doubt that it is becoming more difficult. There are more competitors, more factory teams and more money. It is not made easier when you do what we have done in 1998."

Q: But, whatever the background, last year was pretty bad.

AP: "It was awful. But as I always consider myself as part of the group, I cannot say it was difficult for me in particular. It was difficult for everybody. I think it was very difficult to understand exactly why the car was not competitive: was it because of the technology? Or was there bad decision-making or strategy? We built the car when we had only 70 or 80 people in the team. We had 60 people for the race and test teams and only about 20 people for administration, research and development and so on. We had nothing. How much of the problem was caused by that? It was not easy. And at the same time we had to build a new factory, get new people. In a way I am actually more nervous this year than I was last year. I want to see if we have made the progress I think we have made. I also think that we can achieve at least the same progress between 1999 and 2000 as we have made between 1998 and 1999 as we have a lot of things which are now ready to be used. We are beginning to have a good production capacity and we have a little stability now. With the 30 people who work with John Barnard at B3 Technologies we have 200 people - which is starting to be OK. Let's see what happens on the race track."

Q: Would it be right to say that 1998 was a transition year and that much of the necessary work has now been done?

AP: "My ambition since 1997 has been to give the team some size and the means to start playing with the big boys. For a year we have learned the laws of the jungle in F1. In my view we did what we had to do: preparing our future. We have gone through the most difficult and frustrating stage during which we had to face the consequences of our strategic choices of change in a short period of time. Today we are starting to see the first fruit of our labour. We have the necessary tools. We have a young team and thanks to better organization we can begin to show what we can really do. The 1999 season must bring us rewards for the work because of our intrinsic strengths and the impetus of our partners."

Q: The partnership concept which you have adopted looks very similar to the philosophy which they use at McLaren. Before buying the team you spent a year with McLaren, is the concept of partnerships one you learned with them?

AP: "I think it is a coincidence... No, I have more or less the same views in some areas and to be honest McLaren is sets a very good example in some respects. But it is different because normally the English teams want to do everything themselves. They have partnerships but they do not use them. They are opening up slowly but I think we are ahead of them and that could be the advantage of being of France, not perhaps in the short-term because it takes time to build things up but at some point in the future."

Q: The new car is aerodynamically interesting but Prost Grand Prix does not have the same kind of aerodynamic facilities as some of the other big teams. What are the plans for the future to improve this aspect of the team?

AP: "We have the windtunnel at Magny-Cours and we did a retro-fit on that tunnel throughout last year. We do have plans to build a new windtunnel here at Guyancourt and we will make the final decision in a few weeks. We have different projects under consideration but I think we will start from scratch and build a new tunnel. If we do that we will then use the two windtunnels."

Q: So what are your hopes for the season ahead?

AP: "It is always difficult to say exactly what a team's objectives are and I don't want to be too specific. But if we have Ferrari and McLaren within reach, that will be reasonably good. We have a terrific team spirit now. We have made a big leap forward with the team and the car and we all know it."