Prost Grand Prix is an interesting story. Already in 1992 Alain Prost tried to lure Guy Ligier to sell the team to him. While he failed to purchase the team he returned on the grid as driver and won again the championship in 1993. However, in 1997 just weeks before the start of the season Prost purchased Ligier. Prost Grand Prix arrived in a warm bath as the new Ligier JS45 was completed. During the season the JS45 was competitive scoring two podiums. In 1998 Prost Grand Prix would appear with their very first own designed car. The Prost AP01, powered by Peugeot, the car was not the success the team hoped for. Therefore, the team started working on a new hybrid car. The AP01B appeared during the Japanese Grand Prix that year. Though would never appear at the start of the grid.
Was 1997 a decent season with several point finishes, 1998 was the opposite. The team struggled a lot with the Peugeot V10 engine and the gearbox. Both Olivier Panis and Jarno Trulli struggled with the car. Up to the Belgium Grand Prix the best result was a ninth place in Australia by Oliver Panis. Jarno Trulli managed to finish ninth as well during the Spanish Grand Prix. During the Belgium Grand Prix it didn’t seem that either Panis nor Trulli would score points. However, we all know what a massive chaos the race eventually became. With the massive start crash, many retirements, and Jordan Grand Prix’s first one-two finish, it would also be Trulli who finished sixth. Panis was unable to start the Grand Prix.
It must have been around this time that Bernard Dudot started working on the Prost AP01B. The AP01 was too heavy and technically some designs were not quiet working well. The biggest modification about this “hybrid” car, as Alain Prost called it, was a new suspension and a new and lighter gearbox. To complete the package Peugeot arrived with their newest engine the A18 V10 which only a couple of were produced.
The Hybrid AP01B appeared for the first time in Magny-Cours on the track. This was the 18th of September 1998. Both Olivier Panis and Jarno Trulli tested with the car. A week later the team completed a three day test session, prior the Japanese Grand Prix, at Catalunya. In the three days they completed 200 laps with only some engine trouble. Both Panis and Trulli were much quicker with the car. In qualification trim the car was 0,5 sec faster. In race trip the car was even quicker then a second! Quite the results.
The decision was made by Alain Prost that the team would appear in Japan with the AP01B. As quoted by Alain Prost “We have nothing to lose by doing so”, the car was never intended to race with. Only to test several upgrades for the 1999 season. Prost also stated that with this car the team could gain some experience as the new Peugeot A18 V10 engine and both suspension and gearbox would be used in the Prost AP02 for 1999.
Via a coin toss Jarno Trulli was the lucky one that would race with the Prost AP01B at the final race for the season at Suzuka. It wouldn’t be Trulli’s his best race that season. During the free practice everything seemed to be going well. Though during the qualifying Trulli qualified his Prost AP01B as fourteenth on the grid, behind Olivier Panis who qualified his AP01 as thirteenth. After the qualification session Trulli had asked the team If he could race in the AP01 instead of the AP01B. As he was not happy with the performance of the car. The team however denied his request and told him to stay in the AP01B.
On race day it would go worse. Trulli had an accident with the car before the warm-up session for the race. The car seemed not to be repairable therefore Trulli took place in the other Prost AP01. At the first star he stalled the car. For the second start he was banished to the back of the starting grid. Panis would finish the race as eleventh while Trulli, with a broken down engine, would finish twelfth in Japan. After the Japanese Grand Prix the Prost AP01B would not be seen on any track again.
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