Honda website
Honda website

JULY 28, 1997

Drivers in the doldrums

AS the F1 world continues to ruminate over engine supplies the driver market remains rather quiet, despite the recent moves involving Giancarlo Fisichella and Gerhard Berger. The influx of young talent this year means that some of the older established names are facing dramatic cuts in salary if they wish to retain their drives and there are likely to be two or three top drivers who will be out of front running machinery next year.

Williams is known to be less than happy with the current performance of both Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. According to the team's technical director Patrick Head, however, this year's drivers are likely to stay next year. "Heinz-Harald has a two-year contract," Head said before the race in Germany, "and, as far as I understand, we have taken up an option on Jacques Villeneuve. I am more than happy with our drivers and I don't want to make any changes."

The possibility of a free deal with Gerhard Berger would, however, be hard to resist, particularly as Villeneuve looks to have long-term plans involving the planned BA Team Reynard.

Jean Alesi's position at Benetton is also in considerable jeopardy as the team is trying to put together a deal which might bring in Ralf Schumacher and Mercedes-Benz engines. And even if this does not happen the team has Alexander Wurz under an option - and his wage demands are likely to be a lot less expensive than those of Jean. Alesi spent a lot of time last weekend visiting other teams and smiling a lot.

Damon Hill's position is less than solid as well, although Damon says he has no intention of pricing himself out of the game. Hill is reportedly asking for $10m for next year although he says that his priority is securing a competitive car rather than a grand salary. "Money is not the primary concern at the moment," he said in Germany. "I want to win races and run at the front in F1. I've won 21 races and I have experience and that has a value. There are many teams I believe who are wishing that they had more experienced drivers."

Staying on at Arrows is still an option and there is reportedly interest in Damon from McLaren, Prost and Sauber. Jordan does not seem to be very interested. It remains to be seen whether there is a job going at McLaren as the team could quite easily keep its two existing drivers. Team boss Ron Dennis knows the value of stability in a package and may have concluded there is no point in changing. Hakkinen may want to move on after five frustrating years with the team but as it is closer to success now than it has been since he joined, it would be hard to see him moving on - although Jordan is very interested.

Eddie Irvine's seat at Ferrari remains in question as his option has yet to be taken up. "Obviously I would like to know what I will be doing next year," said Irvine in Germany. "And if we are going to win the World Championship this year it is better to get all the distractions out of the way as quickly as possible."

Mika Salo remains the man tipped as a possible Irvine replacement at Maranello. His contract with Tyrrell ends this year - although we hear the team recently made a strong pitch to try to keep him.