JUNE 30, 1997

Trulli replaces Panis

PROST GRAND PRIX announced on Monday that Jarno Trulli would be its replacement for the injured Olivier Panis. The 22-year-old Italian - who is on loan from Minardi - will stay with Prost until Panis is fit enough to race once again. AlainÊProst had been impressed by Trulli's speed and consistency during testing at Magny-Cours and picked Jarno rather than Frenchman Emmanuel Collard. Prost concluded that Trulli had valuable racing experience with Bridgestone tires and that it would have been a risk to use Collard as he does not have F1 racing experience - although he has tested a great deal more than Trulli. His race fitness was also a risk. "We thought long and hard about the possibility of Emmanuel taking over from Olivier," Prost admitted, "but this would have been a premature decision and we decided not to take the risk."

A competitive car and Bridgestone tires will give Trulli the opportunity to make a rapid name for himself and could result in him joining the team for 1998 - as team mate to Panis. He remains, however, under a long-term contract with Benetton, which funded his F3 program in 1996 and for which he was due to be test driver this year until Minardi was taken over by Benetton boss Flavio Briatore. The Benetton contract is believed to continue until the end of 1999. Minardi replaced Trulli with its reserve driver Tarso Marques, who drove for the Italian team at a couple of races in 1996.

There were still a few rumors in Magny-Cours that Damon Hill might somehow find his way into a Prost-Mugen Honda for the British Grand Prix but unless a deal can be hammered out in time for Damon to test at Silverstone this week it is unlikely that this will happen.