JULY 27, 1998

Barrichello for Williams?

RUBENS BARRICHELLO is tipped as a possible team mate to Alex Zanardi at Williams next season.

RUBENS BARRICHELLO is tipped as a possible team mate to Alex Zanardi at Williams next season. The Brazilian has come into the running in recent days because Brazil's national oil company Petrobras - which is currently a minor sponsor with Williams - has decided that it wants a much bigger involvement in Grand Prix racing and wants a Brazilian driver onboard. Although there are other Brazilians about, Rubens is the only one with the right kind of experience to interest the team.

Barrichello is currently under contract with Stewart but he made a secret visit to the Williams factory in Grove in the week before the Austrian GP to discuss a possible deal with Frank Williams and his partner Patrick Head. We understand that his Stewart contract has a buy-out clause which means that he can free himself from the team if he pays $6m. Petrobras does not seem to be too worried about this and we understand that a number of other Brazilian companies have shown an interest in supporting Williams if Barrichello is signed up.

Williams does have another Brazilian on its staff - second test driver Max Wilson - but the Edenbridge Formula 3000 driver needs a lot more experience before he can step into a top F1 drive. After last week's testing at Monza we believe that Williams has decided that its chief test driver Juan-Pablo Montoya is also not ready for Formula 1 and we expect that the Colombian will be released by Williams to look for work elsewhere. If Barrichello leaves Stewart he may be a candidate for a drive with the Milton Keynes team.

It is worth noting that Petrobras has also become more involved in the technical development at Williams and in the last couple of races the team has been using a Petrobras fuel rather than the usual Elf.

Frank Williams says that he will not make any comment about who will replace Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen next year until early September. It is now virtually certain that Zanardi will be with the team. We hear that Zanardi flew into Britain in the week after the British GP and he undoubtedly visited the Williams factory in Grove during his secret trip, although no-one in the team will confirm that this actually happened.

Other secret visitors to Williams in recent weeks have been Johnny Herbert and Pedro Diniz while we understand that Olivier Panis and Eddie Irvine have both offered their services to the team.