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The "Silly Season" begins

EACH year at about this time, Formula 1 begins what is known as "the silly season" when teams and drivers begin talks about who will drive where next year.

This year is expected to see quite a few big changes in the F1 driver line-up as none of the top drivers have confirmed deals for 1996. This unusual state of affairs means that teams are already beginning to maneuver to get the top men. The market will, to a large extent, be dictated by what happens to Michael Schumacher. The German is currently taking almost half the budget of the Benetton team and although Flavio Briatore is trying to do anything possible to keep the German, it may be that Michael's financial demands will be beyond Flavio's means.

There have been rumors for some weeks which suggest that Ferrari is busy chasing after the German and are offering vast sums of money to get hold of him. These stories have probably been planted to increase the German's bargaining position. Ferrari has a very strong driver line-up already and change is never good for continuity. As Frank Williams has often proved in the past, if you have the best machinery, any good driver will win with it and then the best drivers will come to you cheaply. Jean Todt is likely to have similar thoughts for 1996 when his cars may well prove to be hard to beat.

There is an added complication as Schumacher and Gerhard Berger are unlikely to want to work together, so Todt will have to decide if he wants a Schumacher-Alesi partnership.

McLaren wants Schumacher and as Marlboro is paying the driver bills for both McLaren and Ferrari, Michael's bargaining position is considerably weakened unless there is someone else willing to pay the kind of money he is asking. Williams would like to have Schumacher, but Frank is not likely to pay Michael's asking price when he has Damon Hill, David Coulthard and a very competitive car.

Berger says he has three offers already for 1996 including Ferrari and McLaren but he will probably want to capitalize on the hard work he has been doing at Maranello in the last three years.

McLaren may also bid for Coulthard - as the team tried to do in 1994 - but the current package on offer at Woking is none too spectacular. Another man on Ron Dennis's shopping list is Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who is also being watched closely by Williams.

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