A particular gem is found in the comments, and here's something I've thought about raising, on and off, for a while:
"France has always been and will always be, for lack of a better way to put it, France."Christendom Baffler wrote: 1:04:32, I feel, is absolutely spot on. Prost being uncompromising all the way to the team's bankruptcy says to me that he was, past a certain point, at least half-ready to let the whole operation die a quiet death, not unlike how he went all in against the eternally shambolic disaster that is Ferrari in 1991. It's one of the worst faux pas imaginable for someone who's in charge of hundreds of people in a multi-million dollar operation, and he really owed it to them to make a better effort to sell the team off as soon as he realized that he wasn't cut out for the job.
His ruthless selfishness has always been in his nature, but that whole bit in the closing minutes of the video is why, if the story has to have a villain, then I don't consider him to be that. Peugeot wrote such a splendid chapter in the book of malicious sporting incompetence that Renault would go on to use it as inspiration, but even beyond that, France has always been and will always be, for lack of a better way to put it, France. Given that they'd always had a dim view of him dating back to his Renault stint in the early 80s, and that they're about as bad as the Italians in terms of needless sporting nationalism, I'd wager that that point 3 months into the 1997 campaign was when Prost's spirit, despite enduring for so long as a race driver, finally shattered, and that they're the ones who caused that. There was no winning in that scenario, especially after Panis's injury, and had he left he would've just been seen as a coward by the media that writes the story that others oh so readily readily gobble up.
Prost badly lacked the toolset needed to succeed as a team owner, and there's no denying that the team would've probably at least survived longer than Arrows did had he snapped out of his stupor for just a moment and treated the team as more than just his momentary toy. He would've probably at least earned himself some friends that way, just as he would've had he been more diplomatic in 1991 instead of airing his dirty laundry in public when the prancing horse was painting the bed a nice shade of brown and blaming everyone else for it like Ferrari so often does. Unfortunately, it's all easy to retreat inwards and just let everything slowly go down the drain when that mental dam, with all its cracks, finally gives way, and given his rollercoaster of a story as a driver, that moment had probably been a long time coming for him. Of all the parties that screwed up between his takeover and the team's downfall, Prost, to me, is the only one who's human.
That doesn't just account for the failure of Prost Grand Prix and Peugeot's F1 engines. There just seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the entire French automotive world. I've heard it asked so many times, "why have Renault / Alpine been so consistently mediocre since 2008?" And the answer seems to be, in the words of HubNut: "Because French". (He's owned so many Citroëns with bizarre engineering decisions and baffling problems that he is in an excellent position to judge... and there's now a t-shirt with his GSA on it that says "Because French". I own one.) Renault, for instance, consistently make mediocre cars with a poor reliability record, and the workforce will go on strike at the slightest provocation. And in the past, British Leyland also made mediocre cars with a poor reliability record, with a workforce... well, you know the rest. But whereas years of terrible mismanagement and asset-stripping slowly killed BL, Austin Rover, MG Rover (etc) over the last 25 years of its lifetime, Renault's alternatives, despite also lagging behind the competition, continued selling well enough to keep the company solvent - so much that even when they made massive, financially ruinous mis-steps like the Vel Satis and the Avantime, they were never threatened with extinction. They knew, every time the accountant had to reach for his red ink, there would be a massive, massive bailout from the French government, no questions asked, and with loud chants of "Vive la France!" and La Marseillaise blaring out over the top of it.
Who here would honestly choose to own a Renault Mégane, of any generation, ahead of a Ford Focus, a Vauxhall Astra, the (usually considered to be the benchmark, even if it's not entirely true) VW Golf, or any of the Japanese competition? I wouldn't. I've owned a Honda Civic for 15 years and 111,000 miles, it's barely given me any trouble, and I know damn well that the equivalent Renault - or any of its French competitors - would have long since gone tot he scrapheap. If everyone made their choices completely objectively, Renault should be dead and buried by now, and so should Peugeot after the steaming heaps of merde that was the majority of the "07" series. And yet, Renault is not only still thriving but also owns Nissan - whose cars are generally dull and a bit pensioner-ish but will thrash Renault for reliability, and Peugeot are one of the chief brands of Stellantis that's been buying up half the world's car makers. Where is the incentive for Renault and Peugeot to make cars that are anything other than mediocre? What does it matter to their profit margins? If they know they'll always be bailed out by the French taxpayer (who's just paid a load of the French equivalent of VAT on the engine repair bill for his Peugeot 308 after the engine went on strike), why bother even trying to making a car that's more reliable and uses less fuel than a Toyota Corolla and that could be its replacement as the world's most popular car? There isn't any. There is no meritocracy in the French automotive industry. Just keep on churning out the new models, build them approximately with "le spit et le Kleenex" as Lord Clarkson of Diddly Squat would say, watch as an overtly-patriotic French public buys them for no other reason than because they're French, watch as buyers from others also do so because "French equals sophisticated and chic" (despite the evidence that Nicole was yet again left stranded at the side of the road in the dark and the rain and her expensive Louis Vuitton stilettos were ruined), watch as their continual failure continues to not lead them down the path of extinction that befell British Leyland.
It has to be the same story with French F1. There was no incentive for Ligier to succeed: "even when they were winning, you always got the impression that they didn't know why", said... (insert who said that here, it was probably Nigel Roebuck - I went looking for the quote but it's escaped the search engines. Anyway...) Why would they need to win to get prize money from FISA when their sponsors' logos were all from French government-owned companies, and they knew that several million francs would be coming their way even if they scored nul points as they did in 1983? Renault should have been successful that same year but still found new and interesting ways to screw it up right at the crucial time, then blamed Alain Prost for losing the title when his only three retirements of the season were all car failures. The later version of Renault had some success at Fernando Alonso's hands... because they were a British team waving a French flag and knew what they were doing, but since Crashgate they've succumbed to the same rot and I can't ever see the current incarnation as Alpine ever being higher than fourth. I'm also going to confidently predict that both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly will end their F1 careers as one-hit wonders if they stay at Alpine - yes, I know Gasly's only just arrived there, and it was the only move he could have made, but... it's not going to get him that second win.
Did any of this make sense or am I just rambling again?
Despite all this, I have much the same fondness for old French cars as Mr Hubnut. But unlike him, and the similarly "French Tat" obsessed Gavin Braithwaite-Smith, I'd never actually want to own one, because I know it'd drive me up the wall. I'll just have to watch HubNut videos, go to Festival of the Unexceptional and read Classic. Retro. Modern. (and drool over the SM featured on the cover of issue 20).