Motor Racing: Grand Prix 1993: Road works ahead for Prost: David Tremayne reports that success will come at a price in the Formula One grand prix season starting next week

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The Independent Online
VICTORY in next weekend's South African Grand Prix at Kyalami is expected of Alain Prost, but success could cut both ways.

The Formula One cars have not raced since last November's Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide, but throughout winter testing the triple champion and his team- mate Damon Hill have set the pace in a development of the Williams-Renault which took Nigel Mansell to his world championship. Prost, at 37, is the most experienced driver in the field, and he is in the best car. Excellence is expected.

Yet a victory which would increase his record to an unmatched 45 wins could also result directly in a temporary ban.

When it was revealed that he would come back to Formula One for 1993, Prost was at great pains to stress his desire for a year without controversy. His career, which had been blighted since 1988 by his enmity with Ayrton Senna at McLaren, was spoiled further when the two clashed at Suzuka during the Japanese Grand Prix in 1990, when he and Ferrari came within an ace of preventing Senna from regaining his crown.

Prost and the great Italian team had steadily challenged Senna and McLaren that year, but thereafter the relationship between driver and team soured as Ferrari lost ground in the burgeoning technical war and Williams gathered pace. When Prost spoke out once too often he was sacked before the Australian race in 1991.

Speaking out, of course, has always been his trouble. To some it is an undesirable trait, but the Frenchman wears his heart on the sleeve of his flameproof overalls and has never been able to remain silent when his emotions are stirred.

No sooner had he joined Williams and begun the painstaking job of building the intensive relationships with the technical personnel which are so vital to success, than he fell victim to his own character. Interviewed by the influential French weekly Auto Plus, he launched a blistering tirade against the sport's governing body, Fisa. In particular he was critical of its president, Max Mosley, and its vice president of marketing, Bernie Ecclestone. This, they felt, was personal.

Prost slammed the manner in which they run the sport, cited greed as the reason for their shortcomings, and condemned their policies.

This, though perhaps justified in part, was an ill-timed attack even if Prost believed that he had been let down on certain promises that had been made to him by Fisa. Unwisely, he had spoken out before obtaining the super licence every Formula One driver needs. The super licence that Fisa issues.

In the horsetrading which eventually saw the Williams team granted an entry to the 1993 championship, after they had missed the closing deadline, Prost was duly granted his licence, but with the menacing rider that a Formula One World Council meeting four days after the South African Grand Prix might consider punishment 'for bringing the sport into disrepute'.

Prost remains unrepentant. That will not sit well with the burghers of Formula One, as they meet to consider banning him for, it is said, anything up to four races.

This, the cynics say, is not merely to teach an outspoken miscreant a lesson but is designed to enliven what Fisa fears could be another dull series if Prost and the Williams emulate Mansell's domination. If Prost walks away with next weekend's race, their worst fears are likely to be reinforced, along with their resolve to take him temporarily out of the

equation.

Whether the Williams-Renaults will enjoy such superiority this year is open to question. Certainly Hill's efforts to beat his team- mate - and to emulate his illustrious father - promise to be a highlight. To imagine him repeating one of Graham Hill's two World Championships in his first full season of Formula One is perhaps fanciful, but it is clear from testing that he is a quick driver well able to express his technical findings. It remains to be seen how well he fares under race pressure, for his only Grand Prix outings were in the uncompetitive Brabham on two occasions last season.

Michael Schumacher in the Benetton has given clear notice that he will pose a big threat. He is initially the most likely challenger to Williams, but Hill can take heart if he has to follow in his tracks. The young German sprang dramatically into Formula One with Jordan in 1991, and Benetton scooped him up within a race in the principal controversy of that year. He matured consistently throughout 1992 and his progress culminated in a worthy first victory in the wet at Spa in Belgium. Though he too lacks Prost's depth of experience many believe his combination of speed and bravado will allow him to launch a genuine attack on the title. If he succeeds he will be the youngest ever champion.

For Prost, then, 1993 will be anything but the quiet year he hoped for, and to add to any apprehension he might be feeling lies the threat that Senna could after all be sitting alongside him on the starting grid. When Honda withdrew from Formula One last year, Senna was openly unenthusiastic about the prospect of racing a Ford-powered McLaren. He spent weeks resting at home in Brazil conducting lengthy telephone negotiations with McLaren's Ron Dennis, and at one stage sparked suggestions that he was considering an IndyCar racing programme.

Recently, however, he returned to the United Kingdom and his speed in testing McLaren's new MP4/8 at Silverstone last week strongly suggests that he will decide to race, and thus relegate Mika Hakkinen to the role of test driver. If he does, the irony will not be lost on Team Castrol Lotus. During the winter Hakkinen defected from Lotus to McLaren but his former team- mate, the Briton Johnny Herbert, firmly believes that the new Lotus 107B will provide him with his best chance of winning his first grand prix.

Guide to the 1993 teams

WILLIAMS

Drivers: Damon Hill (0) and Alain Prost (2)

Williams are now reaping the full benefits of the investment they made in advanced technology back in 1991. Already Mansell is being forgotten as Prost stamps his mark in testing, while Hill has revealed impressive speed. Clear favourites.

TYRRELL

Drivers: Ukyo Katayama (3) and Andrea de Cesaris (4)

Nobody knows better than Ken Tyrrell how to survive on a minimal budget. They have a new engine supply deal with Yamaha, who disappointed last year with Jordan. Both drivers could spring surprises.

BENETTON

Drivers: Michael Schumacher (5) and Riccardo Patrese (6)

The most improved team of 1992, displaying impressive speed and reliability with a conventional car. Over the winter they have fully embraced advanced technology and employed the evergreen Patrese. Expect Schumacher to be the pacesetter, and a major threat.

McLAREN

Drivers: Michael Andretti (7) and Mika Hakkinen or Ayrton Senna (8)

Will Senna race? That is the key question, after a winter of uncertainty. McLaren now face life without the safety net of Honda and their continuous development, and now use the same Ford engine as Benetton and Lotus. Andretti and Hakkinen lack experience, but if Senna races the team will be strong.

FOOTWORK

Drivers: Derek Warwick (9) and Aguri Suzuki (10)

One of the wealthiest teams, and one with the poorest success record. As Arrows they came close once or twice, but still lack a vital edge. In Warwick, though, they have exactly the right driver to bring fresh motivation.

LOTUS

Drivers: Alessandro Zanardi (11) and Johnny Herbert (12)

Since Peter Collins and Peter Wright took over as caretakers of Colin Chapman's legacy, this once great team have steadily pulled back to respectability. There is more money than last year, and the underrated Herbert will be kept on his toes by Zanardi, the replacement for Hakkinen.

JORDAN

Drivers: Ivan Capelli (14) and Rubens Barrichello (15)

Everyone here has something to prove. Jordan entered impressively in 1991, but stumbled in 1992. Now they have the British Hart V10 engine. Capelli stings after being sacked by Ferrari last year, while Barrichello, the youngest driver at 20, is hungry and quick.

MARCH

Drivers: Jean-Marc Gounon (16) and Jan Lammers (17)

Last year March raced on a minuscule budget, yet at times were surprisingly competitive. All winter there have been rumours of sale, and it is still not absolutely certain they will be racing. The fact that they struggle on is testimony to the resilience and determination of the workforce.

LARROUSSE

Drivers: Philippe Alliot (19) and Erik Comas (20)

Like Ken Tyrrell, Gerard Larrousse knows how to weather knocks. Comas is quick; Alliot is too, but he is also accident-prone.

LOLA BMS

Drivers: Michele Alboreto (21) and Luca Badoer (22)

This Italian team use British Lola chassis and Ferrari engines this season, while pairing the veteran Alboreto with Badoer, the 1992 Formula 3000 champion. Money is restricted but their owner, Beppe Lucchini, is well connected in Italian industrial circles.

MINARDI

Drivers: Christian Fittipaldi (23) and Fabrizio Barbazza (24)

Like Lucchini, Giancarlo Minardi persistently swims against the financial tide. This year he loses his supply of Lamborghini's V12 engines and switches to Ford's V8, but keeps the promising Fittipaldi, who is the nephew of Emerson, the former champion.

LIGIER

Drivers: Martin Brundle (25) and Mark Blundell (26)

Ligier's new owner, Cyrile de Rouvre, created something of a cause celebre in French motorsport by signing two British drivers. But two compatible racers are essential and they fit the bill. With Renault power and raw aggression, both could surprise.

FERRARI

Drivers: Jean Alesi (27) and Gerhard Berger (28)

In Italian racing, embarrassment is these days spelled F-E-R-R-A- R-I. With the biggest budget of all the team have struggled since narrowly missing the 1990 world titles. The Britons John Barnard and Harvey Postlethwaite labour behind the scenes on drastic engineering changes, but the fruits will not be fully evident for some time.

SAUBER

Drivers: Karl Wendlinger (29) and J J Lehto (30)

Peter Sauber, of Switzerland, owns this sportscar championship- winning team, but to all intents it is a Mercedes-Benz offshoot. New to Formula One, they use the British Ilmor engine and pair promising drivers. The backing is there to launch a significant attack.

14 March: South African GP (Kyalami)

28 March: Brazilian GO (Interlagos)

11 April: European GP (Donington)

25 April: San Marino GP (Imola)

9 May: Spanish GP (Barcelona)

23 May: Monaco GP (Monte Carlo)

13 June: Canadian GP (Montreal)

4 July: French GP (Magny-Cours)

11 July: British GP (Silverstone)

25 July: German GP (Hockenheim)

15 August: Hungarian GP (Budapest)

29 August: Belgian GP (Spa-Francorchamps)

12 September: Italian GP (Monza)

26 September: Portuguese GP (Estoril)

24 October: Japanese GP (Suzuka)

7 November: Australian GP (Adelaide)

GP DATES

14 March: South African GP (Kyalami)

28 March: Brazilian GP (Interlagos)

11 April: European GP (Donington)

25 April: San Marino GP (Imola)

9 May: Spanish GP (Barcelona)

23 May: Monaco GP (Monte Carlo)

13 June: Canadian GP (Montreal)

4 July: French GP (Magny-Cours)

11 July: British GP (Silverstone)

25 July: German GP (Hockenheim)

15 August: Hungarian GP (Budapest)

29 August: Belgian GP (Spa-F'champs)

12 September: Italian GP (Monza)

26 September: Portuguese GP (Estoril)

24 October: Japanese GP (Suzuka)

7 November: Australian GP (Adelaide)

(Photograph omitted)

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