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McLaren confirms Hakkinen and Coulthard

IT was no great surprise at Spa when McLaren boss Ron Dennis announced that the team will be keeping the same two drivers in 1998. The most surprised people in the F1 paddock appeared to be the drivers themselves who did not appear to have known about the announcement before it was made.

In part this was due to the fact that McLaren rushed out its release in response to a communiqu? from Damon Hill which gave details of his negotiations with McLaren and concluded that Damon had received an offer for 1998 but had been forced to reject it as "it did not accord with what I had previously been led to believe from our prior negotiations" and did not demonstrate "a serious commitment to me as a driver".

Exactly what all this means is difficult to conclude but it looks as though Damon has been strung along in recent weeks with the expectation of a big deal from McLaren but - with the teams enjoying a buyers' market - the actual offer made to him was not very inspiring. We believe that the McLaren offer was $2m and a bonus of $100,000 per point scored.

There has been speculation in the paddock that Dennis expected the deal to be rejected and was simply trying to control the driver market by tying Damon down.

Dennis said the choice of drivers had been made because "both drivers have contributed to the building and reshaping of our team and I believe that they should - and will - benefit from the fruits of these efforts next year."

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