Motor Racing: Prost cannot resist a swipe at the driver who got away

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The Independent Online
Alain Prost is as ambitious in team ownership as he was as a driver. Yesterday he questioned Damon Hill's ambition at the launch of his team's new car, one the British former world champion chose not to drive.

Derick Allsop reports from Barcelona.

Alain Prost launched his new car, the Peugeot-powered AP01, here yesterday, intent on proving Damon Hill was wrong to reject the chance of driving it.

A day after Hill expressed his unease at leading the Jordan challenge without the status of No 1, Prost was buoyant at the prospect of placing his car in the care of his fellow Frenchman, Olivier Panis, and Jarno Trulli. The inexperienced Italian was given his chance when Hill decided against joining Prost at the last minute and opted instead for Jordan, whose new car he will test the Jordan for the first time here this morning.

That sudden change of direction by the former world champion patently still irks the man who won the title four times. But Prost's ill-starred negotiations with the driver he partnered at Williams five years ago have left him concluding: "I'm not sure Damon has the motivation to be world champion again. Now I have no regrets he did not sign for us.

"I think what I have always thought, that Damon made the wrong decision. He was very close to signing for us. The papers were ready to sign. He told us with two hours to go that he would not be joining us.

"I don't think it was anything to do with money. What I promised him and the way I intend to run the team was no bull. I'm straight with drivers. It's easy to make promises and not deliver. But we aim to be a top team. That means breaking into the leading four. I don't know how soon we can do that but if it is not this year I hope it will be next year.

"I am very happy with the drivers we have. Olivier is experienced now and fully recovered from his accident last year. Jarno is young but now he knows he can learn and concentrate on his driving because the car is his."

Prost has endeavoured to foster a sense of togetherness in his team, training with his drivers in a carefully choreographed bonding programme. He is also forming an open working relationship with Peugeot which, he believes, will benefit both concerns.

He said: "It is important for us all to work together. I want the drivers to be fit but also we want the morale to be good. It is the same with Peugeot. We have an open relationship with them, which is not usual in Formula One. But it is like being in the same team, sharing information and facilities. This is the way to go in the future."

Prost has taken a step towards that future by building a new factory and increasing his work-force to 150. To prosper, he knows he must beat the likes of Jordan and graduate to the "Premier League".

He said: "It is difficult to compete and survive in Formula One. We all have our objectives and I know I have to deliver."

Trulli has charmed the French camp by learning the language to a passable standard inside three months, and seemingly forming a sound relationship with his team-mate.

Panis, who suffered double fractures to both legs during last season's Canadian Grand Prix, said: "I would have been happy to work with Damon Hill and I'm a bit disappointed with his decision because it would have been a big challenge - for him. Jarno is young, quick, and we are working hard together to develop the car."