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Who drives where in 1998?

WITH eight weeks to go before the start of the 1998 FIA Formula 1 World Championship in Melbourne, Australia, there are only two drives still officially open in the Grand Prix field, which will comprise 11 teams fielding 22 cars. These two vacancies are not hugely relevant as neither Tyrrell nor Minardi is expected to make much of an impression at the front of the grid.

In all probability Minardi will decide to continue with Brazilian Tarso Marques as team-mate for the recently-confirmed Esteban Tuero. The only other serious candidate for the drive is Dane Tom Kristensen and his chances seem to have disappeared now that Tuero has signed up with the team. Kristensen has the misfortune not to have any money behind him.

The situation with the second Tyrrell seat is equally clear-cut. Jos Verstappen has worked with the team for the last year and has a lot of F1 experience. Tyrrell's only current signing is Japanese youngster Toranosuke Takagi, who has very little experience in F1 and has the reputation for being a bit of a wild man. To sign anyone other than Verstappen would be a less than sensible move unless there was a driver of equal talent with more money available - and that does not seem to be the case.╩British╩American Tobacco does not seem to have any involvement in the team in 1998 and so the chances of a drive for Jean-Christophe Boullion are only slight. If BAT comes up with some money, however, Boullion might get the ride. This is not╩likely.

The existing driver line-up is as follows:

1 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Winfield Williams Williams-Mecachrome

2 Heinz-Harald Frentzen (D) Winfield Williams Williams-Mecachrome

3 Michael Schumacher (D) Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro Ferrari

4 Eddie Irvine (GB) Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro Ferrari

5 Giancarlo Fisichella (I) Mild Seven Benetton Benetton-Mecachrome

6 Alexander Wurz (A) Mild Seven Benetton Benetton-Mecachrome

7 David Coulthard (GB) West McLaren Mercedes McLaren-Mercedes

8 Mika Hakkinen (SF) West McLaren Mercedes McLaren-Mercedes

9 Damon Hill (GB) Benson & Hedges Jordan Jordan-Mugen Honda

10 Ralf Schumacher (D) Benson & Hedges Jordan Jordan-Mugen Honda

11 Olivier Panis (F) Gauloises Prost Peugeot Prost-Peugeot

12 Jarno Trulli (I) Gauloises Prost Peugeot Prost-Peugeot

14 Jean Alesi (F) Red Bull Sauber Petronas Sauber-Petronas

15 Johnny Herbert (GB) Red Bull Sauber Petronas Sauber-Petronas

16 Pedro Diniz (BR) Arrows Yamaha Arrows-Yamaha

17 Mika Salo (SF) Arrows Yamaha Arrows-Yamaha

18 Rubens Barrichello (BR) Stewart Ford Stewart-Ford

19 Jan Magnussen (DK) Stewart Ford Stewart-Ford

20 Toranosuke Takagi (J) Tyrrell Tyrrell-Ford

21 To be nominated Tyrrell Tyrrell-Ford

22 Esteban Tuero (RA) Minardi Team Minardi-Ford

23 To be nominated Minardi Team Minardi-Ford

Nominated drivers can be changed up to 6 pm on March 5, the day before the Australian Grand Prix meeting kicks off in Melbourne.

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