NOVEMBER 25, 1996
... but Alesi stays
JEAN ALESI met with Flavio Briatore last week to discuss his future with Benetton and, according to Briatore, it has been decided that the Frenchman will remain as Gerhard Berger's team mate for the 1997 season.
The Alesi decision has been dictating movement on the driver market in recent weeks as everyone was waiting to see whether a Benetton seat would be available or not. The decision means that there are now eight seats open for next season and no shortage of talented drivers hoping to fill them.
The man most likely to go to Jordan is now thought to be Dutchman Jos Verstappen although Peugeot has been pushing for a Frenchman in the team. There have been a few rumors suggesting that Erik Comas might get a test but these are not correct. Top of the list of likely Frenchmen is Williams test driver Jean-Christophe Boullion, who recently tested for Jordan at Estoril.
Martin Brundle is a possible candidate for the Jordan drive but has also been discussing taking an "ambassadorial role" with the team.
Verstappen is also a possible candidate for the drives available at Sauber and Tyrrell and it may be in Jos's interest to wait and see how Sauber's negotiations with Ferrari go because Sauber may have to take an Italian driver as part of the deal. In the unlikely event that Ferrari decides not to supply Sauber the Swiss team's second seat will become considerably less interesting - in which case it will probably go to test driver Norberto Fontana - although he is negotiating at the moment with Lola. Fontana has some backing available from Argentine oil company YPF.
Verstappen is also believed to have had an offer from Tyrrell. This would seem to suggest that the team has a sensible budget for 1997. If Jos does not take the drive it may go to test driver Emmanuel Collard - the team rates the Frenchman very highly, although if money is needed Ukyo Katayama or Ricardo Rosset seem to be more likely candidates.
Ligier's second drive seems virtually certain to go to Japanese rising star Shinji Nakano - with rumors suggesting that the deal will be announced within the next few days.
Minardi has been testing a variety of young drivers in recent weeks but the men thought most likely to be signed by the team are Fisichella and Brazilian Tarso Marques - who both tested for the team at Imola last week.
The new Lola team has still to announce either of its drivers although rumors in Europe say that the men most likely are TomÊKristensen, Fontana, Rosset or Ricardo Zonta. The Huntingdon team would probably like to find an experienced F1 racer and so Martin Brundle might be a possible candidate.
In addition to the drivers mentioned it should be noted that there are several young drivers available who seem to have good budgets to compete in F1. Formula 3000 races Kenny Brack has considerable backing available. Austrian AlexanderÊWurz - who recently tested for Benetton - has money available for a drive while Pedro Lamy will also probably have some money on offer from Portugal.