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Ralf and Williams

RALF SCHUMACHER has signed a four-year deal with Williams Grand Prix Engineering - if stories in the German press are to be believed. Everyone involved in the negotiations denies that any deal has been done, although they admit that talks are taking place.

Last week Schumacher's manager Franz Tost commented that several teams were involved in that talks and that the situation was "90% in favor of Williams and only 10% in favor of Jordan".

A long-term deal with Williams does make sense for both parties as Schumacher does not want to sign up with Williams in the short-term as the team is expecting to struggle next year and is unlikely to win many races in the year 2000 as it will be beginning a new relationship with BMW. A four-year deal would enable Ralf to have two years reaping the benefits of his commitment to the team - at least in terms of results.

A long-term deal is also sensible for Williams as locking in a young driver for a long period means that his retainer can be kept relatively low and that the team can be guaranteed some stability.

Signing a German driver will, of course, please BMW and should ensure that the Williams team will receive plenty of coverage in the German media. This will, no doubt, lead to sponsorship deals with large German companies.

Williams is not expected to make any announcement about drivers until the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in three weeks but it is expected that Schumacher and Alessandro Zanardi will be named as the team's two drivers for 1999. We expect that Williams will also take on at least one new test driver next year. Juan-Pablo Montoya may be retained but the Colombian seems to be keen to race in F1 as soon as possible. Max Wilson will no doubt continue as he is backed by Brazilian petrol company Petrobras, which is expected to continue as the team's fuel supplier for at least the next few years. We understand that Petrobras and BMW engineers have already started work on the development of specific fuels for the new V10 engines from Munich.

While Williams will have the usual development workload next year, there will also be the need for BMW engine development. Things are complicated by the fact that F1 teams are restricted in the amount and the location of testing which they are allowed to do. The logical way around this problem is for BMW to set up their own operation and "buy" chassis from Williams.

This would be similar to what Bridgestone did in 1996 when the Japanese tire company wanted to test tires before making its entry in F1.

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