AUGUST 16, 1999

Alesi to Prost Grand Prix

JEAN ALESI is expected to be confirmed as Jarno Trulli's replacement at Prost Grand Prix. Trulli was due to sign for Jordan Grand Prix as we were closing for press to partner Heinz-Harald Frentzen next year. The Italian had a Prost contract for 2000 but the team has failed to achieve the necessary results and with Trulli needing to win the Hungarian Grand Prix in order to reach the necessary level of 10 points the negotiations were well-advanced before the race began.

After the Hungaroring race Alesi announced that he will not be staying at Sauber next year, an announcement which suggested that Jean knows where his future lies.

The signing of Alesi is a logical step for Prost. Jean and Alain Prost are friends and former team-mates at Ferrari back in 1991. Jean is the biggest Formula 1 star in France at the moment despite his poor results in recent years with Benetton and Sauber. The 35-year-old from Avignon has been racing in F1 for the last 10 years but has scored only one victory in that time - with Ferrari in Canada in 1995. He remains one of the fastest drivers in the sport and one of the most popular. It is a logical move for Alesi and for Prost as Alain needs a Frenchman in the team and has never been completely happy with Olivier Panis. Negotiations are still going on for Olivier to stay with the team but it seems much more likely that the second seat in the team will go to rising star Stephane Sarrazin.

There have been a lot of rumors in Germany in recent days suggesting that Prost has been trying to do a deal for Mercedes-Benz engines in 2001 and that the new Formula 3000 Champion Nick Heidfeld would be part of the deal. These have been denied by all concerned. Mercedes-Benz has an exclusive deal with McLaren and team boss Ron Dennis is not about to give that up. Mercedes has, however, admitted that if there are not enough engines to go around all the teams at some point in the future it will consider expanding the supply to two teams. That may only happen if the company wins control of McLaren and although there are suspicions that this will eventually happen, it is not thought likely to occur for at least the next three years.

Andre Couto and David Saelens have both been mentioned as possible Prost test drivers in 2000. Couto is managed by Prost's close business associate Julian Jakobi while Saelens comes with considerable support from Fina, a major Prost sponsor.

The signing of Alesi will help to keep Peugeot interested in Formula 1 for another season although it remains to be seen whether the French car company will stay on in F1 at the end of the current contract. This comes to a close at the end of next year but a decision will be taken at some point this autumn.