PROST scriptum

There are days like that, when nothing seems to go right, when everything seems to go against you for no particular reason, and you're completely powerless to do anything about it.

What can you do, for instance about clouds and rain? I think the best thing is to go home and sit in front of the television, but you can't really do that when you've got to drive a Renault in a Grand Prix. When I saw the rain at Imola on Sunday morning, my hopes took a dive. Our cars are very difficult to drive in the wet. I felt that all our work over the past two days on a dry track was going to be completely wiped out. Any advantage that we might have had from a good grid position was nothing now. It had all been diluted by the rain.

I may have felt frustrated then, but there was worse to come. Despite the rain, I still felt that I had a chance. I set fourth quickest time in the Sunday morning warm-up on the wet track. The rain began to ease off, it could be dry after a few laps of the race, and then we might still be in with a chance.

No way: I retired almost before I'd started. When it was time, I got into the car, strapped myself in, started the engine, pushed in the clutch, selected first and began to de-clutch. And that's when I knew that something was wrong. I could feel it in the gearbox. By then it was too late to put it right, too late to take over the spare instead, in fact too late to do anything. My warming up laps were more a swansong: take a look at the car now because I'm not going to be around for long.

Meanwhile I was considering the options. I might start in second gear and just take it easy from there on. There wasn't much more I could do. The least I could do was try, but I wasn't very optimistic. Gerard Larrousse was waiting for me on the grid.

I started the race in second gear, and took off from the grid like a snail. I delayed just about everyone behind me and was soon in last position, cursing my luck. After four laps at the back of the field I called it a day. My San Marino Grand Prix was over. I think it was even more frustrating for me than it was, say, for Didier Pironi. He may have seen victory slipping away from him, but at least he'd had the satisfaction of leading the race and trying his hardest. Even if he'd retired, he might have felt better than I did. It was a most frustrating and disappointing experience.

I never even had a chance to race. I was already down in the dumps when the rest of them were jockeying for position in the first corner. It was infuriating. You spend three days living for a Grand Prix. Your whole life revolves around that race. For two days you spend all your time sorting out the car and getting onto the grid, and then when practice is over, your mind is immediately fixed on the race ahead, nothing else matters. You're working out where you can save time, how you can improve the car. Meanwhile, the race is getting closer and closer. One's programme revolves around working up to that climax, the race. And then quite suddenly, just as your mental state is at its peak for the start, the balloon bursts: nothing, you're not going to start the race at all.

I wasn't really angry, more frustrated. I tried to look at it philosophically as one of those things that happens in life, or at least, in racing. Of course, it should never happen at all, but it does, not just to me but to most racing drivers at some stage or another in their careers.

I also noticed that I was a lot calmer as person in this situation than I might have been a few years ago. The same sort of thing happened to me when I was in Super Renault and Formula Three, and I would go crazy. I remember that in the final round of the Super Renault championship, it was all down to Jean-Louis Bousquet and I as to who was going to win the championship. All I needed was two or three points and I was the champion. But as we did our warming up laps, I realised that the engine was off-song. This could be costing me the championship before the race had even begun. But fortunately I took my two points and won the series. If l hadn't, I wouldn't be where I am today.

The Imola experience may have been just as frustrating, but at least it didn't have such serious potential consequences. That's because I knew then that in a couple of weeks, I would be in Belgium going through those two days of preparation and working up to the race.Hopefully, all the preparation will be rewarded by many more competitive laps.

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