SEPTEMBER 9, 1996
Hill to Benetton?
THERE was intense speculation at Monza that Damon Hill will join Benetton next season as team mate to Gerhard Berger. Having been dumped by Williams, Hill is looking for a competitive drive for 1997 and we understand that Renault engineers are very keen that Damon's knowledge and feedback should not be handed over to a rival engine company.
The rumors suggested that Jean Alesi will move across to Jordan, making way for Hill, but both Alesi and Benetton team boss Flavio Briatore insisted that Jean would be staying with the team next year.
"With Schumacher confirmed at Ferrari I see no better driving pairing for 1997 than Alesi and Berger," said Briatore. "They are quick, work well together and work well with the team. I have no intention of changing for 1997. The priority for Benetton is not the recruitment of new drivers but to improve its chassis."
This does not mean that Alesi will stay. Berger is on a solid contract until the end of 1997, but Alesi is understood to have an option, which the team may or may not take up. That is likely to run out at the end of September.
Hakkinen did have a Benetton option but this has lapsed, while Hill coming on the market might make a difference. If Benetton was to dump Alesi he would go straight to Jordan where he is on the top of Eddie Jordan's list of drivers, ahead of both Hakkinen and Hill.
Jean's situation at Benetton will not have been helped by recent highly-critical comments he made in the Italian daily sports newspaper Gazzetto dello Sport.
At Monza Damon's lawyer Michael Breen had meetings with Briatore, but we believe that if the deal happens it will be more because F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone wants it to happen than what Briatore is currently saying. Ecclestone says that he is sure that Hill will end up in a competitive car.
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