Alain Prost's return to the McLaren fold was confirmed yesterday and, although he and the team maintained that his immediate duties would be confined to test driving and development work, they did their best to fan conjecture that the four-time world champion might yet consider a racing comeback.
Prost, 40, is abandoning his ambassadorial role with Renault to involve himself more actively in Formula One, but recently insisted that he had no intention of competing again at this level.
However, yesterday's joint announcement by the driver, McLaren's managing director, Ron Dennis, and the team's engine partners, Mercedes, was full of McLaren speak and considerably less emphatic. It presented more questions than answers.
The Frenchman, who had a seat fitting at McLaren's factory, said: "Ron Dennis and I have had a series of talks. We agreed it would be mutually beneficial if I took an active interest in the race and test programme for a period of time. As yet, we have no plans to commit to anything more than that."
Prost fell out with Dennis in 1989, when he won his third title, and switched to Ferrari. He was sacked by the Italians and had a sabbatical before joining Williams-Renault for long enough to collect the championship for a fourth time. He retired at the end of 1993.
McLaren, due to announce their driver line-up for next year during the Grand Prix of Europe meeting at the Nurburgring in five weeks, have had discussions with, among others, Gerhard Berger, currently at Ferrari, and David Coulthard, who is to be replaced by Jacques Villeneuve at Williams, but are clearly keen to see what the old maestro can do.
Dennis said: "Alain and I have been friends and colleagues for a long time and have much respect for each other. This seat-fitting and the testing Alain will carry out are part of an on-going exploratory process we are going through. People should not read too much into this, as these are early days."
Norbert Haug, the head of Mercedes Benz Motor Sport, added: "There are few people with so much experience both of racing and testing at such a high level. Alain's involvement can only be of benefit to the team and we are looking forward to enjoying the results of his contribution."Reuse content