Motor Racing: Fast Prost widens the great divide

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ENGINES have dominated grand prix conversations here in the Hautes Fagnes region of Belgium, as the Formula One fraternity has immersed itself fully in speculation about 1994.

Will Renault be 'persuaded' by Formula One's grand masters to supply Benetton, as well as Williams and Ligier? Will McLaren succeed where others have failed in convincing the American giant, Chrysler, that its best interests would be served by funding a programme with its established V12 and Ayrton Senna?

Reality at Spa-Francorchamps, however, translated into a time of 1min 47.571sec for Alain Prost, and his 11th pole in a season in which his team-mate Damon Hill has proved his only opposition for the premier starting position. On the sweeps of this beautiful 4.33- mile track, Renault further fuelled the most popular topic of conversation. Nobody expected anything other than Williams-Renault domination on such a power circuit, but even so the gap of two seconds between the Anglo- French cars and Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Ford has again thrown the power imbalance in Formula One into harsh focus.

For Prost, Saturday afternoon could barely have been easier. He did not even need all of his permitted 12 laps, since Hill encountered a braking problem while trying to defend his fastest time from Friday. As Prost trimmed down to 1:47.917 on his first flying lap, the Englishman twice aborted his qualifying runs when he sensed a braking anomaly. By the time repair work had been effected, his subsequent attempts to beat Prost were thwarted by heavy traffic.

With third place, Schumacher has simply had to live with the relative breathlessness of the Ford V8 on the long climb to the highest part of the track, but his position is markedly happier than Senna's. Detailed aerodynamic work since the last race has failed to push the Brazilian's McLaren- Ford on to an equal footing with the Benetton. Indeed, a determined effort by Jean Alesi, the Frenchman, saw Ferrari out-qualify the British team who have now gone five races without a top- three finish. Senna, these days, can barely bring himself to communicate with McLaren personnel apart from the managing director, Ron Dennis, and his engineers, and only recently increased his political campaign with further references to a possible Ferrari contract for 1994.

The Japanese driver Aguri Suzuki raised the hopes of the Footwork team with an excellent sixth place, just ahead of his team- mate Derek Warwick, whose fellow-Briton, Johnny Herbert, had to fight alone after his Lotus partner, Alessandro Zanardi, crashed heavily on Friday morning. Herbert set the eighth fastest time until beaten by J J Lehto, of Finland, and Riccardo Patrese, of Italy.

Hill's policy has been a matter of concentrating on keeping his head down and doing the job. All he can do is his best, in the hope that Frank Williams decides to keep him for 1994.

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX (Spa-Francorchamps) Final qualifying times: 1 A Prost (Fr) Williams-Renault 1min 47.571sec (233.394kph, 145.024mph); 2 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1:48.466; 3 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1:49.074; 4 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:49.825; 5 A Senna (Bra) McLaren-Ford 1:49.934; 6 A Suzuki (Japan) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:50.329; 7 D Warwick (GB) Footwork-Mugen Honda 1:50.628; 8 R Patrese (It) Benetton-Ford 1:51.017; 9 J J Lehto (Fin) Sauber 1:51.048; 10 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Ford 1:51.139; 11 M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Renault 1:51.350; 12 K Wendlinger (Aut) Sauber 1:51.440; 13 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 1:51.711; 14 M Andretti (US) McLaren-Ford 1:51.833; 15 M Blundell (GB) Ligier-Renault 1:51.916; 16 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:52.080; 17 Andrea de Cesaris (It) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:52.647; 18 P Alliot (Fr) Larousse-Lamborghini 1:52.907; 19 E Comas (Fr) Laroussse-Lamborghini 1:53.186; 20 T Boutsen (Bel) Jordan-Hart 1:53.465; 21 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 1:53.526; 22 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Minardi-Ford 1:53.942; 23 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell- Yamaha 1:54.551; 24 L Badoer (It) Lola- Ferrari 1:54.978; 25 M Alboreto (It) Lola- Ferrari 1:55.965. Did not race: A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Ford.