F1 RACING, 01.04.1996
ALAIN PROST - What's an ex-world champ doing as McLaren's test driver?
This interview is also available in French!
WHY ARE YOU WORKING AS A TEST DRIVER INSTEAD OF RACING?
What I'm doing is actually a bigger responsibility. We have to get McLaren back on top. I was world champion four times; at 41 I have nothing to prove, so why go back? Racing a car again would almost be a step down for me. You have to develop in life.
SO JUST HOW ARE YOU HELPING MCLAREN?
I'm part of the technical group. I have direct access to technical meetings and I help with test driving the cars. With my experience I can help develop the cars and be a go-between for the engineers and the race drivers, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.
YOU LOOK VERY FIT JUST TO BE A TEST DRIVER.
I feel well, very competitive and it's a good feeling. I really enjoy cycling - my bicycle is always in the car. If you stop for just two weeks you lose you fitness. And it's hard to get it back.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN THIS SEASON?
For sure, the favourites for the championship are Williams and Damon Hill, but the odds could change during the season so Damon needs to score well early in the year. I can see teams like Ferrari and ourselves being less than 100 per cent at the start of the season but progressing a lot.
WILL SCHUMACHER BEAT YOUR 51-WIN RECORD?
He started a lot younger than me and has a very good chance. He's already won more money.
WILL THAT TEMPT YOU BACK TO RACING?
No. I love driving the best cars in the world, but now it's like going out for dinner with a nice woman and not actually doing anything. It's still better than spending time with an ugly woman!
WHY DO YOU STILL THINK MCLAREN ARE THE BEST?
They are the most human team. From the outside there might be a different perception, but it's true. It's fair to say that the guys have had their problems in the past few years, but it was obviously very difficult having to handle four engine changes in four years (Honda 1992, Ford 1993, Peugeot 1994, Mercedes 1995).
ARE THE ENGINE CHANGES SUCH A BIG DEAL?
Sure. You cannot just look at it as a chassis or an engine, you must see the whole package. Often we talk about engine driveability and when you have a problem with that, there is just no way that you can drive the car well. It can affect the set-up of the car, traction, tyre wear, all sorts of things.
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH LAST YEAR'S MP4/10?
The package wasn't good and the engine wasn't very driveable. But the new MP4/11 seems much better. It's chassis is completely new. When you look at the weight distribution, wheelbase and so on, it's all very different. It's going to take a lot of time to understand it, but it's a good start.
MCLAREN USED TO BLITZ EVERYONE. CAN YOU DO IT AGAIN?
Williams can do it at the moment, like we used to, because their engine is very good and very reliable. And they have a car that just needs detail changes year to year. We have to catch up first.
WILL YOU DO IT WITH THE MP4/11?
My first impression is good. It responds well to changes - which is normally the sign of a good car - and is much easier to drive on the exit of the corners, has better traction and more downforce. Sometimes you can be fooled by a new car; because you want it to be so good, you convince yourself that it is. But that's not the case with this car. We have a good base.
DOES A GOOD CAR FLY STRAIGHT OUT OF THE BOX?
Not always. Schumacher proved it with the Benetton last year. The car didn't work very well at the beginning of the season but four races later it was flying.
DO YOU PUT PRESSURE ON THE REGULAR DRIVERS?
If I drive at 50 per cent we don't learn anything. The best testers drive at 95 per cent and use the other five per cent to think about the car and feedback for the engineers. If I put pressure on David and Mika while I'm doing it, that's just part of the game. It's healthy competition. I'm not there to set the fastest times and I go out with a plenty of fuel on board, so when they go out with almost empty tanks and a fresh set of tyres, they beat me anyway.
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