F1 RACING, 01.11.1998

Alain Prost

The troubled team boss explains why 1998 has been so bad -
and why 1999 will be a whole lot better. Maybe...

This interview is also available in French!

A tough year. How much pressure has it put on you?
There has been big pressure, for sure. But on the other side, we said all along that the public and the media should not misconstrue the situation: it will take time for us to come good. But we have had a lot of frustration, yes.

Is it purely a gearbox problem?
That had a big effect at the beginning of the season, because we couldn't do any mileage. It wasn't the only problem, because the car was also not very good. But the extra weight and the reliability problems made development very long and difficult. The problem was that, by the time we got some reliability, we had the upheaval of moving factory. If we hadn't had such a big problem with the gearbox, maybe the car's performance would have been 20 to 30 percent better. Minimum. Because we could have worked on it. Another big problem is the effect that the lack of results has had on team morale.

What would you give for Ferrari's reliability?
A lot. It has been fantastic. I think a lot of that is because they have done such a lot of mileage. More than McLaren, in fact.

Did the problems affect Panis more than Trulli?
Yes. Olivier is older and has been in the team much longer. Jarno is still young and learning. He wants to become number one and has great enthusiasm for everything. For me, one of the hardest things was to say, "Right, we stop work on this car now and begin working towards 1999." It is hard for a driver to know there is going to be no more improvement and to keep himself motivated. But the message has to be that we are working for the future.

So you are well advanced with plans for 1999?
Yes. We ran a hybrid chassis with a new gearbox-engine installation during a test in early October. We will also have a new engine, which I expect to be a considerable step forward. This year may not have been as good as it might have been, but we are expecting a lot for next year.

What is the situation with John Barnard?
Er, I can't say anything about that.

Will you test Formula 3000 driver Stéphane Sarrazin?
As of today, there is no separate test programme. The new car development will have to be done with our two race drivers. To be hones, we need the input of experienced drivers in a period of growth like we are going through. A test driver, if we'd had one this year, wouldn't really have a lot to do. Hopefully, we can run Sarrazin with a test and development team next year.

Do you keep a close eye on upcoming talent?
Everyone is doing that more and more, and I am trying to put together a junior team which is totally integrated to give a chance to the young guys. It's 95 percent definite. It might be based on (F3000 team) Apomatox... or it might not.

Is Michael Schumacher on a different level?
Yes. He makes quite a lot of small mistakes, but that is because he is fighting a car at the limit more often than everybody else. He really is flat-out all the time; into the pits, out of the pits, giving it everything. He also thinks extremely hard. He is a very complete racing driver.

Would it be fair to compare him to Ayrton Senna?
No, I don't think so.

Why? Was Ayrton on a different level again?
Yes. He was different, for sure. I can't really say one is better than the other. The situation is so different - I really don't think we can compare.

What is a realistic target for Prost in 1999?
Third or fourth in the championship. Hopefully in the fight for third.

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