Alain Prost Q&A
"There is a completely different spirit and atmosphere."
Against all the odds Prost GP not only survived last year's split with Peugeot and main sponsor Gauloises intact, but also has emerged in good health. The deal to use Ferrari engines and gearboxes has provided the team with a package that many are looking at with some envy, not least because it avoids the new car gremlins that so often plague midfield teams. Reliability has been backed up by testing pace, although obviously it has been in the interest of the team to make an impression. With Pedro Diniz now providing finance, Joan Villadelprat management skills, and Henri Durand technical input, Alain Prost can breathe a sigh of relief. But those bills from Maranello still have to be paid each month... Adam Cooper caught up with the team boss..
How are preparations going for this season?
It's going quite well, even better than we could have thought a few months ago. Much better in the sense that everything went well together. It's not just putting an engine behind a car; the whole thing together is working quite well, and we had a very limited number of problems with the new car. The car is already reliable and performing very well.
How long did it take you to get the Ferrari deal?
To be honest it took only one month. It was done in a very, very short time. But it was very difficult. At the beginning it was almost a 'no', and then they came back, and in one month's time we managed to do this deal. They are very helpful, and they seem like a very good partner.
What can you say about the new car?
It's a completely different car. We have adapted the monocoque to the new regulations, and we have changed quite a lot of things on the mechanical side, and on the aero side too. But the plan was to have the most reliable car for the first few races, try to get some points, try to work during the winter with the Michelin people, and then do a big development for the fourth race. So the car's been quicker than we thought already, and we could maybe change the plan. But I don't think we are going to do it, we are going to stick to this plan, because developing for every race costs a lot of money, and we want to be very careful about budgets this year. Then with Henri Durand we will have a big development for the fourth or fifth race.
Is your choice of Michelin a crucial factor?
It is, because in the end the tyre is the only part of the car touching the ground. We need to understand the product, and we start from far away, with the car not being competitive last year. So we need to know a lot of things, and we need to understand also their philosophy. The tyre is working completely different from Bridgestone, but it looks like it suits us better for our car. We can go forward like this. They are very nice people to talk to about the technology, about the product, without having anything behind your head. They are very honest. Obviously they are partnered with big teams and big constructors, so we are the only one at the moment not being linked with a constructor, but sometimes for us and even for them it could be an advantage. We know that they are not going to make one team better than the other, but we know that they are not going to put us in a bad position too.
Will the tyres be the main issue this year?
It's the key issue, especially if you have a competition. The problem with not having a competition is that sometimes you think that maybe the tyres are an accessory, and it's not true. When I was racing, especially with Michelin, we were working a lot to understand how the tyre was working, and make some strategy because of that, and make some set-up on the car. So it's going to come back. And for the spectators it's going to be very interesting, because we're going to see very different races, very big surprises some time. Starting the race in 13th position like I did in Mexico in 1990 could be possible again.
Do you have a better chance on Michelin?
In a certain sense, yes, because the philosophy of Bridgestone is to make the best product possible, but also to develop the best product around the best two or three teams. You always get the best product, but sometimes it does not suit you very well, or at least you cannot express your position. With Michelin it's a different philosophy. It's sharing much more the information, and we have also more personal contact to try to develop the car around the tyres. We want to make the tyre work, and to do that we need to understand how it works, and then make the car a bit different.
Michelin indicated that it was anxious about you passing information to Ferrari. How are you going to control this?
I think it was a concern that we have shared from the beginning, but it was never a big concern. We are very professional people, very professional teams, and we didn't have to clarify much more than that. F1 is a small world, and we're working with them now, and we'll work maybe with Bridgestone in a few years. You never know what happens, and you want to be professional. There's no way that we'd want to give information to another team.
What does Jean Alesi think of progress?
He was very happy with everything. He was very happy about the car first, he was very happy about the tyres. Everything is working very well, so he's very happy. I have to tell him calm down, because we know that it's not going to be that easy. At least what we can say is that we have a good base without default, which is very important. To be very honest, developing the car is not easy.
Do you feel reborn?
The whole team is. There is a completely different spirit and atmosphere, for sure.
Could you have survived another year like 2000?
No, because we almost didn't survive
Has Joan Villadelprat taken a lot of weight off your shoulders?
Yeah sure. It's a big help.
What is the role of Pedro Diniz?
He's at the factory most of the time, taking care of some future developments, and also bringing some sponsors. He's an active shareholder trying to make everything better. He doesn't have a precise role.
What's happening with Gastón Mazzacane?
To be honest I didn't like very much all these rumours in the press over the last few weeks, because I would never tell anything about a contract I'm making with drivers. I don't want to comment.
Do you think tyres wearing down to slicks will be an issue this year?
I'm worried, but I'm also confident that the FIA and the tyre manufacturers will find a way. So I'm worried, but not that much.
Who will be the teams to beat in Melbourne?
I think Ferrari and McLaren are still going to be ahead. I think it will take time for the other teams to get better. The only thing you never know, especially at Melbourne, is reliability. With this big competition between the teams, and the big constructors, everyone is taking quite a lot of risk. So reliability is going to be a key factor in the first few races. That's why we're going for reliability first, and then maybe we see about performance later on.
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