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Contractual conjecture

THE coming months will be very busy on the F1 driver market as this year we have a most unusual situation in as much as none of the top drivers currently have a contract for 1996.

The only man with any vaguely solid link is Mika Hakkinen who is thought to have an option to stay at McLaren for another season. David Coulthard is also tipped to have an option with McLaren.

However the movement of the market largely depends on what Schumacher decides he wants to do. The German is currently saying that he is not even thinking about next year, preferring to concentrate on winning the World Championship this year. It is likely, however, that moves are already being made in talks with Ferrari, which is rumored to have offered him $25 million. This seems a little excessive and our sources tell us that Ferrari has made an offer but the money is a lot less. If Schumacher were to go to Ferrari, Gerhard Berger would join McLaren-Mercedes, leaving a Benetton drive open. This could be filled by one of the Williams drivers, which would allow Frank Williams the chance to sign either Jean-Christophe Boullion or Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

This will also be affected by Renault politics. Officially no change is expected in the current supply deals with Williams and Benetton, but Renault management changes could transform the landscape.

Williams is certainly not very happy with Renault, which forced the team to accept another top team with Renault engines. But what choice does Frank Williams have? His contract with Renault runs to the end of 1997 but he could probably get out of that contract if a better engine deal came along. There have been plenty of rumors linking Williams with Honda but this does not seem very likely.

If not, Franks needs to find a new manufacturer. One possibility is Porsche which had a new V10 on the test bed last year designed by a young team completely different to that which produced the disastrous V12 in 1990. Unfortunately the company does not currently have the money needed for F1 and any project would need a partner as with the TAG/Porsche turbo engines back in the early 1980s.

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