27 January 2016
Alain Prost broke my heart with F1 snub – Sarrazin
Stephane Sarrazin says he turned down a full-time drive with Minardi after Alain Prost promised a race seat with his team that never materialised
Alain Prost prevented Stephane Sarrazing from achieving his dream of becoming a Formula 1 driver after the promise of a full-time drive with his eponymous team never materialised.
The Frenchman was considered a star for the future after a strong showing in the junior ranks – which included victory on his Formula 3000 debut in 1998 -, his efforts leading to a reserve role with Prost and a call up by the Minardi F1 team in 1999 to drive its car at the Brazilian Grand Prix in place of the injured Luca Badoer.
Proceeding to out-perform more experienced team-mate Marc Gene throughout the weekend, though Sarrazin's race ended with a frightening high-speed crash caused by a stuck throttle, he had done enough to convince the team's backers to retain him for the remainder of the season.
However, he says he was forced to turn the offer down at the request of his 'friend' Prost after he had verbally promised him a race drive with his team in 2000, so long as he didn't commit to Minardi. Sarrazin accepted, only to see Nick Heidfeld chosen over him for the drive in order to secure the team a Mercedes engine supply for 2001 (which never materialised)
“I was a reserve driver for Prost and suddenly Minardi called for a drive and I accepted, of course!” he said, in an interview with the Formula E website. “After Brazil they asked me to do the whole season and to sign immediately. They called many times, Mr Minardi. Mr Rumi [the owner of Fondmetal, co-owner of the team] called many times and Prost said, 'No, no, you don't drive with them. Next year you are with me'.
“That was my mistake, I think the mistake of my career, but at this time I was friends with Alain and for me he was a bit like a god! He was four-time world champion so to drive for him was an honour.
“So I followed Alain, but the year after I was second in the championship behind Nick in Formula 3000 and he said, 'Sorry, I cannot take you, I have to take Nick for Mercedes engines for the year after'. I was completely out. He broke my heart. But it's a part of the game.
“I was alone, I was 23 and I think it's difficult to be in this world to be without a manager. If I was with a strong manager maybe he would have said, 'Alain, we go to Minardi and after we speak about next year.'”
Though linked with a drive in the Toyota F1 team, Sarrazin never got the chance to race in F1 again, though he has gone on to forge an enviable reputation as one of motorsport's most versatile drivers, scoring five Le Mans 24 Hours podiums, top five finishes in the World Rally Championship and – most recently – been a frontrunner in Formula E.
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