ECONOMY

Teamwork is the key, argues Formula 1 veteran Alain Prost

Nicknamed «the professor,» French four-time Formula One car-racing champion Alain Prost professes teamwork as the key to success while admitting he was driven to entrepreneurial activity out of passion for the sport after retiring from racing. Ahead of his visit to Athens next month to speak at the «Thought Leadership Forum,» Prost spoke to Kathimerini about starting up a business but also about knowing when to give up. «I don’t repent a thing,» said the 40-year-old veteran F1 driver, who raced from 1980 till 1993, took part in 199 Grand Prix and won 51 of them. In 1997 he bought Ligier F1, a small racing team, which he renamed Prost Grand Prix, but closed it without any success in early 2002. «This experience has given me so much,» he said. The big step of setting up his own team was always a difficult proposition. What was it that made him risk so much having already enjoyed fame as a driver? «I missed the passion I had as a driver and I wanted to do something in racing again,» he answered. It is this passion which pushed him into driving in the first place, when he rode a go-cart at the age of 16: «I chose this sport not for money or glory but for its passion; that is what my whole life was built on,» he said with emphasis. That passion eventually led to him to the purchase of Ligier, which five years on went bankrupt. «France is a very, very strange country, very difficult,» Prost says. «When I wanted to set up the team, the government and many people cheered me on. Two or three months after I decided to proceed, this changed and people were not friendly anymore…» remembered the former F1 champion. «It is very, very difficult to get funding in that country; they do not help new entrepreneurs,» he insisted, bitterly saying: «I am referring to politics, money, rivalries. They want to eat you up; they do not want to help you; they are very jealous.» In France it is very hard to bounce back from a failure in business, while in America such an experience would simply be used to make the entrepreneur and his next project better, Prost believes. «This is why it is very hard to compete with the Americans and the British, who have a similar mentality,» he suggested. He stressed that there is no comparison between driving an F1 car and owning a company. However, the enterprising experience «is something I would recommend everyone try. It cost me so much energy, so much money, so much of everything. But it has also given me plenty of things,» Prost admitted. He laughed when asked whether it is harder to reach the top or to stay there. «Both are very difficult but require a different way of working and thinking,» he claimed. «When you are at the beginning and you are young you must find people to believe in you, that you are the driver with the best prospects. Yet when you are already at the top, the pressure is huge, you must be very careful, investing massive amounts of money,» he said. «We should never forget the team, though, the team spirit and the team effort. You cannot be the best and remain the best without a good team on your side,» said the F1 legend. When should one retire from a high-flying career and how did he decide to give up in 1993 after winning his last championship? «There was no specific sign that I ought to retire, but many, many small ones. I decided to quit while I was ahead, at the top. I had no physical problems. I never had a serious accident. I just thought that it was high time I retired, not to try to go too far,» he confessed. Finally, Prost argued that Formula One is a competition of both drivers and teams: «Companies need great freedom because they spend immense amounts of money in order to show the world that they have the best technology in engines, tires etc. If they feel restricted, they may lose their interest in remaining with the sport,» the professor warnd.