JUNE 4, 2004
Webber and Toyota
This week there have been rumours that Mark Webber could be on his way to Toyota next year. This is not entirely unexpected given that Mark Webber's management, which is run by Flavio Briatore, needs to find somewhere to put Webber next year and there is no shortage of journalists in F1 who will run any story which is whispered into their ears.
Webber is on his way to Williams but the creation of an opportunity at Toyota is necessary so that Briatore has some notional alternative for Webber in order to force Williams to pay for Webber's release. This is twisted Formula 1 logic but it is clear that Briatore wants to keep Fernando Alonso at Renault in the long-term. He can hardly dump Jarno Trulli because this year the Italian has overshadowed the Spaniard. Thus Webber's intended career path of moving from Jaguar to Renault is now blocked. The Australian has a contract with Jaguar for next year but it is very unlikely that the team will meet the terms of a performance clause which will come into effect at the start of July, probably at the French GP when the halfway point in the season is over.
This means that Webber will soon be free from all restrictions except a contract he has with Briatore (rather than Renault). It seems that in this there are terms which force Briatore to ensure that Webber has an F1 drive in 2005 and if he is not at Jaguar or Renault the options are somewhat limited. If Briatore offers him a deal that is worse than Renault, Webber will have good reason to cancel the contract and so Briatore has to find a suitable alternative if he wants to collect a pay-off from Williams. There is no chance at Ferrari and McLaren and a rather poor attempt was made recently to start rumours that Webber would be going to BAR-Honda next year. Now, surprise, surprise, we have rumours about Webber and Toyota.
Toyota would probably be quite interested in signing Webber but what no-one seems to have taken into account at the moment is why Webber would want to go to Toyota. The team will get better with Mike Gascoyne but it is still developing and it will be several years before it gets into the same kind of position as Williams now has. And things can go wrong.
In addition Webber knows that Ralf Schumacher will almost certainly be at Toyota next year and was trying hard to get a deal which enabled him to name his own team mate.
All things considered therefore we still expect to see Webber at Williams next year and we do not expect Briatore getting much of a pay-off from Williams to release Webber from his private management contract.
End of story.
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