NOVEMBER 1, 1999
The future of Alex Zanardi
Rumors have long suggested that Zanardi will go back to the United States to rejoin one of Chip Ganassi's CART teams rather than facing a second poor year at Williams. During the weekend, however, Ganassi said that rumors that he would be running more than one team is only speculation. Ganassi has announced that he has a three-year deal to use Toyota engines, ending the team's relationship with Honda, and this means that the cars are likely to be less competitive in 2000 than they currently are, although Jimmy Vasser, a Toyota dealer in California, will be the perfect man to develop the engines. In theory Ganassi has a deal with Juan-Pablo Montoya but we hear that there may be a clause in the Colombian's contract which would allow him to leave Ganassi if the team no longer has Honda engines. If this is the case we expect Montoya to be in a Williams very quickly as the team has first-option on his services in 2001. Ganassi has taken the Toyota deal because the company is understood to be offering a huge financial package as part of the deal - the figures vary from $20m to $40m - and there is the added challenge of proving that the team can win with a different engine.
Getting Zanardi back would be a good move for Ganassi if he does lose Montoya. The problem for Alex is that while Williams would not stand in his way if he decided to leave, he is going to come under pressure from his family to stay in Europe and to avoid dangerous oval racing.
Alex may simply decide that it is a good moment to retire. Although he is only 33 years old he has made a considerable amount of money over the years and may simply decide that he has done enough.
Tom Walkinshaw has been bidding to get his hands on Montoya but the Scotsman is unlikely to be successful as Williams is not likely to agree to give up its option, although it might allow Walkinshaw to have Montoya for one year - to get him used to racing F1 cars. From Walkinshaw's point of view a one-year deal would be better than nothing... as potential MichaelÊSchumacher-beating drivers are rather thin on the ground at the moment.
Montoya may, of course, be wondering whether going to Williams is such a good idea in the long term. The team is an impressive operation but there are question marks over the BMW engines. The Munich company says that everything is going ahead without problems but the company is under pressure because of the poor performance of the Rover Group and has long been considered as a likely takeover target. At the moment BMW's major shareholders - the Quandt Family - say they are not planning to sell but if the profits begin to slacken because of the Rover problems it is possible they will sell out to Volkswagen, in exchange for shares in the Wolfsburg giant.
BMW, incidentally, continued its testing program when the F1 circus was in Japan with Jorg Muller spending three and a half days in action at the Hungaroring. He used three different engines and completed 500 miles of running. The BMW test program with its own car is now finished and the first Williams-BMW tests will take place in December. This will give everyone a clearer view of how competitive the engines are going to be next year.