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The 1998 driver market

ALL the major F1 drives for 1998 are now decided and there are only four jobs still available: one at Prost, one at Tyrrell and two at Minardi. Jarno Trulli remains the man most likely to drive for Prost next year but much depends on whether the Italian will sign a long-term deal with the French team. Jarno is being courted by Williams for a drive in 1999. Wilder paddock rumors in Japan suggested that Jacques Villeneuve has had enough of Williams and is willing to buy his way out of his contract to drive for Prost - but these make little sense as Jacques is waiting for the establishment of the planned BAT/Reynard team in 1999. If Prost decides that he does not want Trulli on a one-year contract there is not much choice at the moment. He could sign up Gianni Morbidelli or one of the available Frenchmen: Jean-Christophe Boullion or EmmanuelĘCollard. It is unlikely, however, that Prost will run two Frenchmen as he is trying to portray the team as an international entity.

The Tyrrell drive will more than likely go to Jos Verstappen. He is under an option with the team but we believe this may be allowed to lapse so that the team can bring in a driver with a budget. The obvious man for the job is Pedro de la Rosa, who has backing from Spanish oil company Repsol, but that would mean that the team would go into 1998 with two rookie drivers - a move which would not make a great deal of sense. In all probability, therefore, Verstappen will be retained at a lower wage than is currently the case.

Minardi is expected to keep Tarso Marques - he is under option to the team for next year - and the second drive is up for sale to the highest bidder. This could be de la Rosa but the Spaniard is worried that a drive at Minardi might not be good for his career. The last two Spaniards in F1 - Adrian Campos and Luis Sala - both drove for Minardi and did not get very far.

Shinji Nakano, who is looking for work now he has been ousted at Prost, is another obvious candidate while Brazil's Riccardo Zonta has a good budget behind him. He, however, is rumored to be trying to get the Williams test drive.

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