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JULY 28, 1997

Fisichella in at Benetton - Berger out

BENETTON has announced that it has taken up its option with Italian Giancarlo Fisichella for next season. A few days later GerhardÊBerger told pressmen at Hockenheim that he is not planning to stay with the team next year - and then went on to win his first race for the team in brilliant fashion. "I will definitely not be with Benetton next year," Berger said, "but I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with the team, or with the performance, or with any persons there. It is just that we had a two year contract, it is going to be finished this year.

"We had a difficult time last year, the car was difficult - it was not really good. This year the car was good but unfortunately I had a few problems and things didn't come together. I had a two year plan and that's over. If I am going to do something I am looking for another motivation for something new but until the end of the season I will do everything possible to get the best results." Berger, returning to F1 after missing the last three races because of a sinus problems, said he did not know what he was going to do. "I have a few options," he said, "some of them outside motor racing. I will remain in F1 only if I can drive for a top team."

Having won only ten of his 203 Grands Prix, Berger wants to finish his long career with a flourish and is believed to be offering his services to Williams for free. He says he does not need any more money and that his primary motivation is improving his record. Faced with the current poor showing by the Williams drivers and the kind of financial saving Berger could bring the team, it should not be excluded that Gerhard might end up with Frank, particularly as he has always been close to BMW - which is virtually certain to become the Williams engine-supplier in F1 in the year 2000.

The signing of Fisichella is no surprise as the Jordan-Peugeot driver has had a long-term Benetton contract since last autumn when Flavio Briatore took control of the Minardi team. Briatore wanted to have more Italian involvement in the Benetton team and was looking for a young Italian driver to build up. Over the winter, however, Briatore decided that the best step would be to loan Fisichella to Jordan to build up his experience in a top team.

The future of Jean Alesi at Benetton is also in considerable doubt as the team has an option on Austrian Alexander Wurz - who has been standing in so impressively for Berger in recent weeks.