AUTOSPORT, 22.08.2001

Alain Prost Q&A

"I think that it's very difficult to have a friend in F1"

Alain Prost was in the news at Hockenheim as Heinz-Harald Frentzen replaced Jean Alesi amid much acrimony over the French star's departure. The new relationship is a marriage of convenience, and it remains to be seen how it works out longer term, but HHF is very motivated.

However the team is not yet out of the woods. Clearly there is urgent need for a major sponsor, or more input from the Diniz family. Next year's engine partner has yet to be confirmed. If the Ferrari deal does continue, it is believed that the team has to pay a $9m deposit on the 2002 supply in mid September, with $6m to follow in October and then $3m a month into next season. If those numbers are accurate, that's a massive commitment for a team that is clearly in survival mode, and the only obvious alternative of a free or heavily subsidised deal with Asiatech looks quite attractive. However, a lot of bridges were burned when the team split with Peugeot... Adam Cooper spoke to an upbeat Alain in Hungary.

Most people in F1 took a holiday in August, but obviously you had a lot of think about. How did you end up with Heinz-Harald Frentzen in Jean Alesi's seat?
"Yes, it was a busy month of August, with no holidays at all! But this problem didn't take too much time, only a little bit. Obviously I understood very quickly that I could have the possibility to run Heinz-Harald, and I was waiting a little bit to see if Jean's comments after Hockenheim were only made at a bad moment, or something deeper. I was very aware of keeping a quiet ambience and not having any problems until the end of the year, so I thought it was better to have Frentzen. He's someone with experience, and he can maybe bring a lot to the team, which I think he will do."

You've had a close relationship with Jean for a long time, so are you sorry that he's left the team in this way?
"Yes, for sure. The media publicity led to a lot of stories that I really did not like, because it was obviously not true. It made me think that it's very difficult to have a friend in F1."

Is it hard to separate friendship from the business side?
"I have always separated it. Everybody knows about this letter which I sent him, and which nobody should know about. He has received many letters in his life and his career, and everybody is doing that, because it's business, you have to run a business. I always told him that you need to separate your friendship and the relationship that you have with your boss. And he never does it. That's really a pity. Even when I sent the letter I called him first and said, 'You're going to receive a letter, that's my job, but forget it. If you do a normal job, and we don't have any more problems, as a friend trust me, and forget it.'"

Do you think that media has made things harder for you?
"No, I think the press are doing their job, but obviously I don't like it when things are not true and it's damaging the team. It is obviously difficult, we are in a critical time, as everybody knows. And I don't like to make my situation even weaker for this kind of thing, especially when it's lies. It's said that we did not pay him for six months, and we did not pay for the engine… We have paid Jean every month as it was decided at the beginning of the year. We were 15 days late in July, because that is the worst time of the year for us, because some sponsors have not paid, and we knew that July would be a problem. And the engine was paid already since last year. It doesn't mean that we are very good in terms of money, but we always said the truth. I don't want to have anybody saying any more lies about that. If somebody like him wants to use this situation because he wants to go somewhere else because he thought he had a better car, I think it's better to tell the truth, and not use other things. It already is a difficult business, so why make it more difficult? I have nothing against the press in this instance, but I have to defend my position and my team."

Heinz-Harald obviously had a problem with Jordan, so are you confident that he's the right man for the job?
"Yes, I think so. I don't know what happened between Eddie and himself. I'm good friends with Eddie also, but I don't even want to know. It was a good opportunity for us, and I think he's a good guy for us. He's working very closely with people, and that's what we need. We need a top driver in this team who will make everything easier and better. It's going to be difficult for him until the end of the year, because we know that we cannot develop the car too much. His job will be to do the best possible, and to bring the team in a good direction, especially for the next car, which I hope will be a big, big step. Then I hope he will stay with us next year."

Do you think he's the kind of driver who will be motivated in the right situation and with the right people around him?
"I think for sure he's the kind of driver that you need to be close to, and put in the right ambience. It's obviously difficult for him because he comes from driving a car that's more competitive than our car, and when you go down it's always more difficult than going up. But it's part of the challenge, and I'm proud to have him in the team, because he's one of the top drivers."

How was his first weekend with the team?
"We thought on Saturday morning that he could be in the first 10, but it's more difficult for us in qualifying. But as I said before the most important thing is to use the potential of the car, which we know he has not used yet. Luciano did not know the tracks so it was more difficult to get the feedback from the two drivers. It will be better in the next races, and we're going to prepare the whole team to get a better car and a better situation for the future."

Obviously it's difficult for Heinz-Harald to change teams, but you've changed both drivers since the beginning of the season. Is that very disruptive?
"It was disruptive, not only changing drivers, but everything was tough. What we are doing now, considering the situation of the financial problems and changing drivers and all those things, I tell you it's already not bad. If you understand exactly the business, how difficult it is, with all the problems we've had it's already not too bad."

You've managed to get four points this year – they must be worth their weight in gold now…
"Yes, it's important for sure. I don't think we have a big risk not to be in the top 10 at the end of the year, and it's a good security for next year. I hope we are also going to have some positive things coming very soon, and I hope that we get out of this difficult ambience that we've had since last year."

Are you close to confirming your engine deal for next year?
"Yes, quite close. I need another two or three weeks to confirm everything at the same time."

Obviously the big problem is sponsorship. Do you have some hopes on that side?
"I think there is a good solution coming, but I don't want to tell too much."

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