The French President “helped” the F1 team to fail. Legendary Prost survived only 5 years
At the end of the race on the Hungaroring, Esteban Ocon, for the first time in thirteen years, made the Marseillaise switch on in honor of the winning team. The history of Formula 1 remembers several French teams, the most successful of which was Renault. The great concern has long been the only representative of France among F1 teams. The last French team in the Royal Races that had nothing to do with Renault was the humble Prost, founded by the four-time Formula 1 champion.
In the early 1990s, Alain Prost could have become a co-owner of Ligier, but eventually chose Williams
Interestingly, Alain Prost could become the owner of the F1 team back in the early 1990s. After the termination of the contract with Ferrari in 1991, Alain seriously thought about his future prospects in Formula 1. At that time, Prost was actively interested in McLaren and Williams. Ron Dennis planned to recreate the legendary duo Senna – Prost, and Frank Williams dreamed of getting the Frenchman amid unsuccessful negotiations with Nigel Mansell . However, in addition to two tempting offers from top teams, Alain Prost had another interesting option.
In late 1991, Guy Ligier struggled to get his team out of a protracted crisis. A year earlier, Alain Guyon, president of the French division of Elf, had developed a project to rescue Ligier. According to Guyon’s plan, the modernized team was to stand on three pillars – Renault engines, Elf investments and Alain Prost’s personality. It was the legendary pilot who was to become one of the saviors of the French stable.
In the operation to rebuild his brainchild, Ligier assigned Alain a special role. Prost was supposed to become not only a pilot and the face of the team, but also take part in the management of the racing team, in fact, becoming one of the co-owners of Ligier. At the negotiation stage, Guy Ligier understood which teams he had to fight for Prost. Therefore, in words, he tried in every possible way to convince Alena of his special position in the new team. In turn, Prost, feeling some kind of power in this situation, dictated his terms to the owner of the team. In particular, Alain emphasized the need for a solid budget – at least 500 million francs (about $ 90 million at the then exchange rate). Also, Prost insisted on inviting the designer John Barnard to the team., with whom he worked at McLaren. Guy Ligier reacted calmly to the requirements voiced by the great pilot, assuring Alain of their fulfillment.
In January 1992, Prost began testing the new Ligier car, the JS37. By the way, the running-in of the new car took place for Alena in incognito mode. The French pilot did not want to advertise his transfer to Ligier ahead of time. In order for no one to recognize him, they even had to put on the helmet of another pilot of the team – Eric Coma .
It would seem that Prost is about to accept a new challenge and sign an agreement with Ligier, but by the end of January the negotiations reached a dead end. First of all, Alain was alarmed by the lack of a clear strategy in the management of the French team. The intense dialogue between Prost and Ligier continued almost until the beginning of the 1992 season. As a result, Alain finally turned down the French team, choosing Williams as an option to continue his career.
French President pledged his support to Prost’s team
After a triumphant 1993 season, Alain Prost retires from Formula 1. While the four-time champion was taking a break from the world of Royal races, Ligier was not going through the best of times. After a disastrous 1992 season, Guy Ligier decided to sell his team. The buyer was found in the person of the French businessman Cyril de Rouvre . However, he was not the owner of the F1 team for long. In 1993, the entrepreneur had problems with the law (charges of fraud) and the expensive toy had to be put up for sale. The next owner of Ligier was Flavio Briatore , who acquired the team just for the sake of supplying Renault engines to Benetton.
In the end, by the mid-1990s, Ligier was threatened with extinction: the team was literally drowning in its own problems. And here, quite unexpectedly, French President Jacques Chirac came to the fore . The leader of the nation worried about the prospect of the disappearance of the only French team in F1. It was to Alain Prost that Chirac asked to keep the representation of the “tricolors” in the Royal Races. At the same time, the French president promised in words to support the Prost team in F1. First of all, Chirac had to help Alain find sponsors among large French companies. The president’s arguments were able to convince the four-time champion, and in February 1997, he completed the acquisition of Ligier. The new team was named after its owner – “Prost”.
Debut on the Ligier car. We almost won in the first season
In the first season, Alain Prost’s team had to use a car developed by Ligier. Since the time before the start of the season was end-to-end, there was simply no opportunity to build your own car. But at the start of the project, Prost managed to agree with Peugeot on the supply of engines starting from 1998.
As for the pilots, the JS45s in the 1997 season were to be driven by the legacy of Ligier, Olivier Panis and Japanese debutant Shinji Nakano .
It so happened that Prost’s debut season was the most successful in the short history of the French team. The car, built by Loic Bigua , was relatively combat-ready, especially in qualifications. At some stages, the pilots of “Prost” managed to qualify quite high. However, it was not only on Saturdays that Prost cars showed speed that year – thanks to the Bridgestone tires, whose wear was often much lower than that of the leaders’ Goodyear. Already in the second race of the season, Olivier Panis managed to win the first podium in the history of the team (at the first stage there was a finish in points).
The next finish in the top three for the team was also brought by Panis, finishing in second place on the Catalunya track. The race in Spain was generally the best of those that the French pilot had at the wheel of the Prost. Olivier had a real chance to win that weekend.
The second part of the season “Prost” was much worse than the first. The team’s results were largely affected by the injury of Olivier Panis: due to a broken leg, he missed seven stages. In general, the debut season for the French team ended quite well – 6th place in the Constructors’ Cup and the status of a strong middle peasant.
By the next season, “Prost” has already developed its own car, equipped with a Peugeot engine. And with the beginning of the first races, the team management was disappointed. There is no trace of last year’s results. In 1998, “Prost” could no longer please its fans with either bright qualifications or successful races. For the entire season, the French team was able to score only one point: Jarno Trulli finished sixth in the rain race at the Spa-Francorchamps.
This state of affairs clearly did not suit Prost, and right in the course of the 1998 season, Alain invited his longtime acquaintance to the team – the designer John Barnard , whom he wanted to see back in Ligier. However, Barnard could not save the situation globally: Prost added, but not enough to regularly fight for points. A bright spot for the French team in the 1999 season was the European Grand Prix. In the race at the Nurburgring, Jarno Trulli finished second. This result, of course, did not reflect the real state of affairs and was only possible due to the crazy nature of the race.
Before the next season, the team completely changed the pilot’s composition. Alain Prost’s acquaintance from his Ferrari performances Jean Alesi and the newly minted Formula 3000 champion Nick Heidfeld were supposed to defend Prost’s colors in the 2000 season. However, even such a promising tandem could do nothing with the uncompetitive cars of the French team. In 2000, Prost failed to score a single point for the first time in the entire season. At the end of the year, amid the disastrous results of the French team, Peugeot decided to leave Formula 1. So, before the new season, Alain Prost added another difficult task.
Chirac’s unfulfilled promises are one of the reasons for the death of the team
The last season in history for the Prost team began extremely sadly. At the end of 2000, their title sponsor Gauloises left the French. Fundraising became Alain Prost’s main task, especially considering that most of the team’s budget went to pay for Ferrari engines. Plus, “Prost” was never helped by French President Jacques Chirac , who at the start of the project promised to bring large investors to the team. However, large contracts with the fuel company Total and the media giant Canal + remained somewhere in the president’s dreams.
It became more and more difficult for Alain Prost’s team to look for French sponsors : in 2002 Renault was to return to F1. And patriotic investors turned their attention to a more impressive project, especially against the backdrop of Prost’s failures.
In addition to the budget, the pilots were also unstable in the team. During the 2001 season, the blue overalls “Prosta” were tried on by five different riders. The situation with the pilots perfectly reflects the chaos that was going on then in the team. Despite the personnel leapfrog, “Prost” still managed to score four points in the last season. And in early 2002, the team was officially liquidated. So Alena Prost’s attempt to build his team in Formula 1 ended sadly enough .