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The driver market

AFTER the excitements of the last couple of weeks on the Formula 1 driver market things have now settled down with announcements expected within the next couple of weeks confirming that Damon Hill will stay with Jordan and that Olivier Panis and Jarno Trulli will continue as team mates at Prost Grand Prix.

Williams has agreed a deal with CART star Alessandro Zanardi but is not expected to confirm the Italian's two-year deal - which is rumored to be worth $8.2m a year - until the Italian GP at Monza in three weeks. By then Frank Williams and Patrick Head ought to have decided who will be partnering the Italian with the three men in the running now believed to be Ralf Schumacher, Johnny Herbert and Juan-Pablo Montoya.

Schumacher Jr. is currently the man in the F1 spotlight as his manager Willi Weber negotiates with Williams, Jordan, Sauber and the new British American Racing.

Williams is interested in Ralf because he is German - which will keep the team's new engine supplier BMW happy - and he can be quick, but the Williams management has yet to be convinced that Ralf is mature enough to be a topline F1 driver as he continues to make more mistakes than he ought not to be making for someone with his F1 experience.

While BMW is not demanding a German driver it is in the process of trying to promote young German drivers through its Formula 3000 Junior Team. Neither Dominik Schwager nor Alex Muller, however, has shown any outstanding performance this year and neither looks likely to be ready to enter F1 in time for the 2000 season.

While Williams is a possible location for Schumacher, Jordan Grand Prix does not want to let him go. The team is in the process of rebuilding its technical team and keeping Ralf and Damon Hill would provide much-needed stability.

Sauber would prefer to keep its two existing drivers as well but is talking to Schumacher to cover itself in case it needs to replace Johnny Herbert.

The recent days have seen a rash of rumors linking Ralf to the second seat at British American Racing. Such a move would make very little sense for Schumacher as BAR has yet to prove itself as an F1 operation and to move there would be a risk which he does not need to take. There is now no chance for Ralf at Prost Grand Prix as both Prost drivers are definitely under contract.

Despite this there has been talk in recent days of Jarno Trulli moving to BAR. This is probably wishful thinking on the part of BAR and Trulli's manager Flavio Briatore. Trulli cannot get out of his Prost contract and if he could, he would join Williams rather than BAR.

Some of the rumors must, therefore, be put down to BAR's stated policy of getting as much media coverage as possible by whatever means are necessary. To date the team has not been averse to promoting stories which have no foundation and then deny them, thus gaining double exposure in the papers.

This would account for the stories linking Dario Franchitti with BAR. Franchitti would be mad to leave America until he has established himself there but as he is managed by BAR boss Craig Pollock and will probably come to F1 at some point in the future there is no harm in Pollock promoting the idea.

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