MAY 1, 1995
F1 bosses woo Villeneuve
Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone wants Indycar's new star Jacques Villeneuve to try his hand at Grand Prix racing in 1996, because he reckons the Villeneuve name could be big box office. Jacques's father Gilles was one of the stars of F1 in the late 1970s and early 1980s but was killed at the wheel of a Ferrari at Zolder, Belgium in 1982. In Italy Gilles Villeneuve is already a legend and memories of his exploits at the wheel of the number 27 Ferrari are kept alive by the spectacular driving of Jean Alesi. But now Bernie wants to go one better than that and put Jacques Villeneuve into Ferrari number 27 and, in an effort to entice the young Canadian to join F1, Ecclestone invited Jacques's manager Craig Pollock to visit Imola for the San Marino GP. Villeneuve currently drives for the Players-sponsored Team Green in Indycar racing but his contract expires at the end of this year. Ecclestone arranged for Pollock to meet Benetton boss Flavio Briatore but there is little doubt that Bernie's dream is to have another Villeneuve driving for Ferrari. To this end, Pollock also had a meeting with Ferrari boss Jean Todt. Both Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger have yet to re-sign for the 1996 season, and current speculation suggests that while the Austrian will probably stay on at Ferrari, Alesi may well be hired by Benetton to replace Michael Schumacher, who is likely to be lured away by the financially-powerful Marlboro McLaren Mercedes team. If this was the case, there would be a seat free at Ferrari. Other paddock rumours in Imola suggest that in order to keep his German sponsors happy, if Michael Schumacher departs from Benetton, Briatore could ditch Johnny Herbert and sign up Ralf Schumacher, Michael's younger brother who is competitive in German Formula 3 racing. However, at the moment, there is little more than speculation about the 1996 driver line-ups although the market is expected to begin moving shortly with McLaren pitching Schumacher. Traditionally, the top drivers are signed up early in the year although announcements of who is going where tend to be delayed until the autumn.