MAY 29, 2004
Rumours and realities
The recent days have seen a great deal of talk in Formula 1 about what seem to be some very strange stories and yet the promoters of each of the rumours are adamant that they are right and that there will be a Williams test for Jacques Villeneuve, probably at Jerez de la Frontera after the United States Grand Prix, and that Mika Hakkinen has also had a quiet approach from the Grove team.
It all seems very odd and yet behind it there is a logic. Jacques and Mika have two things in common: they are both former World Champions and they have both gone head-to-head with Michael Schumacher and have won. And therein lies the key to all the stories. Williams could have almost any driver it wants next year and, with the market being as it is, it can have them cheaply, but the important thing is that Schumacher must be beaten and the team does not want to risk hiring someone who cannot deliver that if given the car for the job. The key is to build the right car and thus we are also seeing a redeployment of forces in the engineering side of the business. We are also seeing pressure being put on BMW to do a better job because although the Bavarian car company is very pleased with itself, there is increasing evidence that several rival engines are now better than the Munich V10.
Assuming that all this comes good, the key to beating Michael Schumacher is in part psychological. Michael has always been susceptible to pressure and he makes mistakes under pressure. He always has. At the moment Michael is relaxed and Ferrari is continuing to make life easy for him. What Michael needs, Michael gets. In order to defeat him, Williams needs to knock him out of this state of equilibrium and the best way to do that is to present him with an old warrior who knows how to beat him. Thus one can see why Hakkinen might have been asked if he is available in 2005. The chances are that he is not on the market and that he will remember that he retired because he did not want to get hurt and that he has a young family. Life has moved on and Hakkinen is probably not the man for the job, but there is nothing wrong with asking. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with testing him.
The same is true with Villeneuve, the only difference is that Jacques still has the desire to be an F1 driver. He is an unusual character and difficult in many ways but Michael knows that Jacques is fearless and fast. Perhaps he is faster than he used to be and hungrier too because he has been humiliated by being ditched by BAR. It is certainly worth Williams taking a look.
The team does not need to make any decision until later this summer. The chances are that one car in 2005 will be driven by Mark Webber. The team is sufficiently convinced that the Australian has got what it takes to beat Michael if he is in the right car. And yet in some ways one can argue that Webber is a risk because he has yet to prove that he has got what it takes. Formula 1 is first and foremost a mental game and Michael is the gun slinger who rarely blinks. Every now and again he does blink and afterwards he knows his weakness. Thus while there may be logic in fast young guys like Antonio Pizzonia or Anthony Davidson or solid old stagers such as Giancarlo Fisichella or David Coulthard, the team is really looking to see if there is someone out there who has made Michael blink in the past and is ready and capable of coming back to do it again.
And mad as it may seem there is logic in that.
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