OCTOBER 9, 2000

Diniz to stay at Sauber?

THE Formula 1 drives for 2001 are running out but for the moment at least there are still decisions to be made with Prost, Sauber, Arrows and Minardi.

THE Formula 1 drives for 2001 are running out but for the moment at least there are still decisions to be made with Prost, Sauber, Arrows and Minardi. In recent weeks Prost has been in heavy negotiation with Pedro Diniz about a drive but a deal has yet to be struck and there are increasing signs that the Brazilian could stay at Sauber for another year. Rumors continue to suggest that Diniz has done some kind of deal to own a part of the Prost team but the structure of the Prost business is so complicated that it is impossible to tell what is being sold to whom. What is clear, however, is that a deal has been struck and our sources say that it does not involve the Asian consortium which has been talking seriously to Alain in recent weeks.

Signing up Diniz is an obvious move for Alain because Pedro will bring around $10m of Parmalat sponsorship which would be very useful for the team as it tries to put together a full budget next year with enough money to pay for the Ferrari engine deal he has signed. Prost would like to get hold of the Telefonica sponsorship but this appears to involve the signing of Marc Gene and that would mean Alain could not sign Pedro Diniz to partner Jean Alesi. Replacing Alesi is not understood to be on option because Jean has a contract and because selling a Diniz-Gene partnership to other sponsors would not be easy. This means that Alain will probably end up taking either Diniz or Gene but not both.

With Telefonica expected to be able to offer a bigger budget than Parmalat it is logical for Prost to sign up Gene and perhaps Fernando Alonso as his test driver and for a drive in Formula 3000. This would mean that Diniz will have to look at Sauber again as the drives on offer with Arrows and Minardi have little to commend them.

Sauber would certainly like to have Diniz's sponsorship from Parmalat as he needs to top up his budget as Red Bull is scaling down its involvement. Sauber has negotiated a new and bigger sponsorship deal with Petronas but he still needs to add some more funding for the team. Diniz will help to provide this. Sauber remains keen on signing up Kimi Raikkonen but at the moment the Finn's management says it is not interested in a testing contract and is holding out for an F1 drive.

Signing up Raikkonen would be a radical move for the very conventional Sauber and Raikkonen would be a huge risk as his only experience to date has been one season in Formula Renault. For Sauber to sign him straight from that series would be the biggest leap for a young driver since Team Lotus signed Formula Ford champion Roberto Moreno at the end of 1981. Moreno competed in Formula 3 in 1982 but stood in for an injured Nigel Mansell in the midseason and failed to qualify. The drive did Moreno's career considerable damage and it was not until the late 1980s that he was able to rebuild an F1 career. The other man to leap into F1 in a similar fashion was Scotland's Jim Crawford who joined Team Lotus in 1975 having competed in only 25 races in Formula Atlantic. He did not do well in F1 and as a result spent several years in the wilderness before finally making a successful career for himself in the United States of America in the 1980s. At 20 years of age Raikkonen has time on his side and it would be wiser for him to have at least one season in Formula 3 while working as an F1 test driver before jumping into Formula 1.