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Hakkinen, Coulthard and Irvine confirmed for 1999

McLAREN will retain Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard in 1999, and Ferrari will continue its relationship with Eddie╩Irvine. The two announcements come as no real surprise as there was no reason for McLaren to change and Irvine had no obvious alternative to Ferrari.

As both announcements were expected they have had very little effect on the driver market which remains focussed on the second seat at Williams and on Jordan.

It is now fairly clear that Williams has signed Alessandro Zanardi but is not planning to announce the news until the Italian╩Grand Prix but the second seat is open and there has been plenty of jockeying for position. The drivers involved are believed to include Rubens Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Johnny Herbert and Williams test driver Juan-Pablo Montoya.

In the last few days Schumacher has been the favorite. He is a German - which is important for Williams's future partner BMW - he has some experience and shows the kind of fight that Williams likes to see in a driver. The only problem is that Frank Williams and Patrick Head are worried that Ralf makes too many mistakes.

A more obvious choice for the drive would be Johnny Herbert as he and Zanardi worked together successfully at Lotus five years ago. He is experienced and has the motivation needed to get the Williams team moving in the right direction. Head and Williams know the value of experience when one is building up a new package. But they appear to have doubts because Herbert was comprehensively beaten by Michael Schumacher when the pair were together at Benetton. On the other hand Williams and Head know that Johnny has been a match for Jean Alesi, a driver who they rated sufficiently to hire in 1990. Alesi eventually decided to go to Ferrari and the Williams deal had to be negotiated away.

Barrichello is attractive if the team is going to do a deal with Petrobras but there is some doubt as to whether there will be enough money from the Brazilian oil company to make such a deal worthwhile.

Montoya will be testing for the team again this week in Jerez de la Frontera and needs to prove that he has both speed and stamina if he wants to stay in the picture at Williams.

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