SEPTEMBER 2, 2002
BAR drivers in 2004
With Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button already confirmed as BAR drivers for next year, there is already speculation about what will happen in 2004 when Villeneuve's deal ends. The team was hoping that Villeneuve would agree to go to race in America next year so that the money spent on his salary could be invested instead in technology and developing the team. That deal has failed to materialize and well-informed sources say that as a result Villeneuve will not now be asked to continue beyond the end of the deal. The team will start looking for a suitable replacement quite quickly. One obvious candidate for the job would be Takuma Sato as it is unlikely that he will be retained by Jordan in 2003 given the fact that the Irishman has now split with Honda.
The logical thing would be for Sato to become the main BAR test driver in 2003 with a deal to race for the team in 2004 and 2005. This depends to a large extent on the team's new marketing plan but it would certainly be good for Honda.
Another option would be to buy Mark Webber out of his Renault contract, leave him with Minardi next year and then switch him to BAR with Button in 2004.
The big question is whether or not Villeneuve, who is 30, is an attractive enough package for one of the top teams to take interest in the future. He is a former CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner and the World Champion of 1997 but since making the decision to join BAR his career has drifted without any major results. His performances when compared to those of Olivier Panis have not really been value for money and his attitude towards promotional word is, at best, unrealistic. This was fine as long as Pollock was running BAR but he has been ousted and things have changed.
Given Ferrari's total domination of F1 at the moment, the Italian team is under increasing pressure to have two drivers who are allowed to fight between themselves - if only to make the F1 show more exciting. Putting Villeneuve head-to-head with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari would be an attractive idea for those who are trying to protect the commercial aspects of the sport. Michael Schumacher might not want to agree to such a deal but he is hardly likely to leave Ferrari as a result - although it might explain rumors recently that he is planning to retire earlier than expected.
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