And Away Goes Prost
January 28, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Prost Grand Prix will not compete in the 2002 season, it was decided Monday after a French court officially ruled the team was bankrupt. The ruling came after months of financial trouble for the team, which saw three “serious financial solutions” fall through. The Prost team had debts of more than $28 million.
Prost, who won 51 career grands prix and four world championships, said he considers the ruling to be a personal failure.
“It's not a real surprise and I don't consider the decision as a sanction," Prost said. “This decision marks a failure and I must accept it but my first thoughts go to the team. We had built a real team, the best I think, but we did not have enough (financial) means.”
Prost, a loyal Frenchman, hoped to bring a successful Formula One team to his country, but was unable to. He had limited success in the sport as a team owner before this final hit.
“I received so many blows for months and years that it's almost a relief for me,” Prost said. “I was... lynched in the last couple of weeks, and I see it as a total failure for France. Until the very end, we did everything we could but we did not have any contact with a French investor.”
After a highly successful career as a driver, Prost bought the Ligier F-1 team in 1997, hoping to turn it into an all-French team his country could be proud of. Using Peugeot engines and French driver Olivier Panis, the team never really got off the ground. Through 83 races under the name Prost Grand Prix, the team won no races and no poles. It managed three podium finishes and went through 12 different drivers in a four-year span. The team never finished higher than sixth in the constructor’s standings.
Prost Grand Prix scored just four points in 2001 in what could be seen as a metaphor for the team's history. The season began with Gaston Mazzacane and Frenchman Jean Alesi driving the two cars with 2000 Ferrari engines. Mazzacane was fired after four races and replaced by Luciano Burti, who left Jaguar with the understanding that he would stay on with the team in 2002.
Jean Alesi then left the team shortly after Heinz-Harald Frentzen was fired from Jordan Grand Prix. After reportedly feuding with Prost all season, Alesi went to join old friend Eddie Jordan’s team. Frentzen then moved to Prost in what was seen as a coup for the French team. Burti was then seriously injured at the Grand Prix of Belgium and was replaced by Tomas Enge for the final two races of the 2001 season.
In the offseason, Burti signed on to be a test driver for Ferrari, leaving Prost with no drivers under contract.
The removal of Prost from the F-1 circuit leaves some Silly Season-related questions unanswered. Going into the offseason, Frentzen was the most coveted driver available, but the German-born veteran said he leaned toward a return to Prost. With his first choice out of the picture, Frentzen may sign with Arrows, leaving Jos Verstappen without a ride.