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Schumacher's Benetton-VW!

FORMULA 1 is big news in Germany these days with the success of Michael Schumacher and the victories this year of the McLaren-Mercedes combination, and German involvement in F1 is likely to increase with the planned Williams-BMW partnership which will begin testing in 1999.

With Mercedes and BMW both involved in F1, there are many in Germany who believe that it is inevitable that Volkswagen will have to mount an F1 program as well.

This week Bunte magazine is reporting that Volkswagen's chairman Ferdinand Piech has already had talks with MichaelĘSchumacher about putting together a team for the 2000 season. The story suggests that Michael Schumacher has been asked to drive a Benetton-Volkswagen.

There is no doubt that such a package would make a lot of sense for Volkswagen. Benetton is the only top team without a confirmed engine supply beyond 1999 - the team will use Mecachrome V10 engines next year - and grabbing Schumacher would be a major coup against BMW and Mercedes, just the sort of thing which motivates Piech.

There have been many rumors in recent years about Volkswagen's subsidiary Audi becoming involved in Grand Prix racing and in recent weeks these have intensified as Audi has been bidding for Cosworth, as part of its plans to take over Rolls-Royce. The Ford Motor Company owns the rights to the Cosworth Formula 1 engines but the company still has experienced engineers and the production facilities needed for F1.

Until recently Volkswagen was unchallenged as Europe's biggest car manufacturer - being the fourth largest automobile company behind General Motors, Ford and Toyota. The recent merger between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz puts this position under threat although Volkswagen is still expanding with plans to buy Rolls Royce and rumors of a takeover of Lamborghini.

To beat Mercedes-Benz and BMW in Formula 1 would help that task. The earliest such a program could happen is the 2000 season but a decision will be needed shortly if this is to become a reality.

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