AUTOSPORT, 17.02.1994

Prost breaks his silence

This interview is also available in French!

Alain Prost has not given up on driving in F1. But just what it will take to get him behind the wheel in anger is still unclear. Last Sunday, in an interview with French television, he said he will test the McLaren first then make up his mind later.

Alain Prost has broken cover at last, offering answers to the questions on everybody's lips. Has he changed his mind? Will he race this year? And is he tied to a deal with Williams?

So Alain, your retirement is compromised, you're going to drive a Formula 1 car.
No it's not. Not for the moment. This McLaren test doesn't change anything. When I announced last September that I was retiring from Formula 1 in terms of Grand Prix, I said that there was a possibility that I may do some testing, because I would always want to drive. The opportunity now presents itself: Ron Dennis is pushing hard for me to drive his car. It's more for pleasure, and to see how a 1994 chassis compares to what I drove last year, that I have accepted the offer. But I repeat, this does not change anything for the moment with regard to my decision.

Nevertheless, when a four-time World Champion wins his last title in a Williams-Renault and then tests a McLaren-Peugeot, that's a big deal isn't it?
Perhaps I'd have missed Formula 1; certainly I would miss the driving and the teamwork. It's not particularly important for me to have the car to win. Winning is important, but the way you win is more important. If, by some miracle, I did do something with McLaren, it would be a different sort of challenge, because I would start perhaps not from zero, but from quite a low level and try to get to the top. For the moment, though, the problem doesn't exist: I just want to drive the car. But many things have happened since I officially stopped driving. Many projects, which I was waiting for, have not come together and so I am free. The human side for me is more important than the sporting and the media side: I will take pleasure in driving this car and, after that, I'll see.

McLaren's press release is clear. "The invitation to drive the McLaren-Peugeot leads us to hope that Alain will take part in the World Championship for McLaren."
It's true, it's clear, but it has been the wish of Ron Dennis for a long time. Also the wish of his partners and friends, who are also my friends. This is the reason why I will do this test. First of all let's do the test, and after that we'll see. If then I had the completely crazy idea of racing in Formula 1 again, why not? It would certainly pose a few minor problems, but they're not impossible to solve.

When are you going to do this test?
For the moment, nothing is planned. However the beginning of March seems good to me, at Estoril or Silverstone, but behind closed doors to avoid problems. It's a test which is important for me and even more important for the McLaren team - but you must not expect too much from it. Afterwards we will see. Really, it's just a psychological question to know whether I want to race again or not.

Is there a deadline?
No, no deadline. For me the essential thing is to drive the car and see how much pleasure I get from driving it. I've completely cleared my head since Adelaide. I don't think about the first Grand Prix, I don't even know the date of it. In my head I'm still in retirement.

Could we envisage the following scenario - Philippe Alliot starts the season as Mika Hakkinen's team mate, and you come along as a reinforcement in the middle of the year?
That's a question to ask Ron Dennis and Jean-Pierre Jabouille. I'll say again, I've been given the nod to drive the car in private testing. I've said yes, so I can see. It's not a question of the World Championship.

How much chance do you give yourself of coming back to F1 for a whole season?
At the moment, one in a hundred, no more.

Will you make your decision based on the competitiveness of the McLaren?
Yes I will, but based on other projects too. It's true that the McLaren-Peugeot represents a fantastic challenge. There are positive sides to this adventure, but there are also negative ones. So I will weigh them up and decide. The only positive aspect is my personal pleasure, while there are a number of negative elements.

You talk of other projects. Is one of them buying Ligier-Renault?
I think that's a project which was stillborn, which was abandoned as soon as I became interested in it. It's impossible to have the engines. There is no common desire in France to do anything about Ligier. It's a very tough brief, much more complex than it seems from the outside.

Renault claims that you are still linked by contract to Williams-Renault, yet you claim to be free. What's the truth?
It's all a question of interpretation, but I'm not going to explain the details of it in public. It's impossible to take on Ayrton Senna and to muzzle Alain Prost in the field of the F1 World Championship. I've had fantastic relations with Williams-Renault and I will keep them. But for the moment there is not, there is no longer, any real link.

If you leave Renault for Peugeot, in France it will be a big blow to Renault. I presume you've thought about this?
Certainly. But we are mercenaries. It is part of a professional racing driver's job to drive, and it's part of the role of a boss of a team like Williams-Renault to take on Ayrton Senna, in order to think about the team's future. In France we have not succeeded in creating a French team. It's a shame, but there just isn't the will there. I'm 38-years old, I've got to do something. Unfortunately this test session is going to be taking place with Renault's major competitor - but it is only a test.

Looking at the alternatives: either you drive for one of Renault's competitors, or you play a special role for Renault. A sort of super public-relations man.
I don't get the impression that it would be very easy today for Renault to have Senna as a driver and Prost as a public relations man. Let's be honest, for two or three months I tried to find - jointly with Renault - something interesting. But it's tough to have two images, Senna's and mine, which are linked but which are so different. What's more, I have to specify that it is McLaren who asked me to do this test and not Peugeot. There is no real pressure from the McLaren-Peugeot for me to do the whole championship this year. Ron and Jean-Pierre know this: it would be practically impossible that they could win the World Championship in their first year, but for them it is a good opportunity to have a driver with a lot of experience, who will bring them a great deal in the area of publicity and setting up the new car's chassis.

Who will be strong this year?
Why not Ferrari? Even if there are certain unknowns. Why not Benetton-Ford? Even if there is a question mark over the engine. These two teams will be very strong. But the best package is still Senna, Williams and Renault.

Do you want to race again in cars with passive suspension where the driver is all important?
I am in the situation of a sportsman who has stopped taking part in competitions - who thought he could do something else, who has not been able to, and who now spies an opportunity. And a nice opportunity at that. I've had offers to take part in the World Championship from Ferrari and Benetton-Ford, but that would mean diving back into a system which I had quit and which I didn't want to see again. However, at McLaren, with much less pressure and a good atmosphere, it's worth a good crack at it.

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Alain Prost-Infopage © by Oskar Schuler, Switzerland