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The future for Williams

THERE were wild rumors doing the rounds in Japan last weekend suggesting that Gerhard Berger and Damon Hill are to swap their 1996 drives. This would suit Berger and many feel Williams as well - as there are signs that the team is not 100% happy with its decision to hold on to Damon Hill next year.

The logic, however, is somewhat flawed as the move is unlikely to be agreed to by either Benetton or Hill.

This does not, however, mean that Williams is not taking steps for the future. There are already stories that Frank Williams has already agreed on an option with German ace Heinz-Harald Frentzen for 1997. This is a logical step as Frentzen has shown exceedingly well with Sauber, overshadowing Williams test driver Jean-Christophe Boullion, who was drafted in at Sauber when the team decided to drop Karl Wendlinger earlier this year.

This may have some connection with another rumor which suggests that Williams is in the process of concluding a deal for engines in 1998 with the German company BMW. The Munich car-maker is currently enjoying considerable success and is expected to build a V10 engine for F1 in 1997.

When Williams agreed on a deal with Honda in 1983, the Japanese manufacturer did the development work with the tiny Spirit team before switching to Williams for the 1984 season; and we expect that if BMW does enter F1 in 1997 it will be with a new team, and then switch to Williams in 1998 after the Williams-Renault contract runs out.

Williams was not at all happy at the end of 1994 when Renault tore up an exclusive agreement with the team and agreed to supply its V10 engines to Benetton as well. As a pay-off for this Renault agreed that Williams should run its team in the British Touring Car Championship, and there is also a highly lucrative road car deal with souped-up Renault models being badged "Williams". At the moment this only includes the Clio, but a Williams Laguna is expected shortly.

Having set up Williams Touring Car Engineering, the team will be looking for another manufacturer who is interested in both F1 and touring cars - a perfect arrangement for BMW which is traditionally strong in touring car racing.

We also hear that when its current contract with Williams ends at the end of 1996 Rothmans is not likely to continue in F1, and we have heard stories that the German cigarette company Reemtsma, which owns the West brand, wants to join Williams. Reemtsma has ambitious plans to be the best-selling cigarette company in Europe by the year 2000. It currently has about 18% of the German market, but there has been heavy investment in the old Eastern bloc, which now accounts for around 40% of its sales.

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