PROST scriptum

Fate decreed that the champagne at the end of the Austrian Grand Prix was not for me, but I left Austria sure in the knowledge that a magnum would come my way fairly soon. You see, my wife is expecting our first child this week, so a glass of bubbly is not far away.

It was a shame the suspension had to break. It had been a weekend to remember up to that moment, and not simply because of the motor racing. It isn't all practice sessions and racing. A Grand Prix embraces much more than that during its four days.

For instance, there's the hotel. The Renault team discovered our little place last year, tacked on to the side of a mountain. It's a gloriously quiet and secluded spot, so much so that I didn't wake up on time on Saturday morning. Gérard Larrousse woke me up as everyone was leaving. Such are the hazards of motor racing!

But I really liked our hotel. In fact it was more like a bed and breakfast place in some ways. We were all part of the family, and we had real home cooking, including the delicious Apfel Strrudell (that's what it sounded like, it's a kind of apple and cream cake). Actually I don't speak any German at all, which is why the entire staff of the hotel collapsed into fits of laughter every time I asked for the salt!

So everything was really relaxing, and we had a good weekend apart from the final result. You already know what happened in the race if you've worked your way through to my little slot at the back. René and I took off into the lead, leaving everyone to try and get past Didier Pironi who was doing an excellent job of stopping anyone chasing us.

Then Jacques got past and began to catch us, and I must honestly say that I don't think I could have gone a lot quicker. But having said that, I don't think he would have overtaken me. Catching me up was one thing, but overtaking was quite another. Thanks to the Renault turbo and our excellent straight line speed, I'd like to think that Jacques would have found it very difficult to get his Talbot past our Renaults.

I was already well-versed in the problems that normally aspirated engines have with turbos, having had Alan Jones breathing down my neck for nearly half the race at Hockenheim a couple of weeks before. That day l was a little down on power, but I knew how much quicker the turbo was.

This time, it was René who finished second. You know, I'm getting a little fed up with us Renault drivers starting on the front row of the grid, but only finishing second. I'd quite willingly swap that front row position for the second row, providing I could swap second place for first.

I expect some of you are wondering just why we are unable to win. Certainly in Austria, the turbo was supposedly at its best over 2000 feet above sea level. But engines aren't everything. They may, of course, be an advantage, but at the same time, other factors may handicap us. Our main problem was road-holding. The cars were good in practice, but when they were set up for the race, on full tanks and race tyres, they weren't so competitive. My main problem was turning in to corners.

I've spoken about it often, but I really do think that I might have been world champion this year. If you think about it, I've missed out now on three wins running. I'll let you do the sums, but at the end of them, you'll realize that when someone talked to you about "a small French championship contender", they didn't mean Jacques Laffite!

You might think that I've got time on my side, it's only my second season, I can wait for a season or two etc. That is absolutely no consolation. It's purely and simply very frustrating to be so close to victory, and yet to lose.

The season isn't over yet, of course I don't think Montreal and Las Vegas are going to suit our cars, but I'll bet that we'll be competitive at Zandvoort and Monza. Watch out for the yellow perils swallowing up the blue spot...

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