DECEMBER 2, 1996
Muller signs for TWR
Muller has been testing for Arrows in recent weeks but was expected to sign a testing deal with McLaren - which wanted a German driver on the books to keep sponsor West and engine manufacturer Mercedes-Benz happy. Muller says that McLaren would not guarantee him a deal and so he signed for Walkinshaw because Tom was offering a lot of F1 mileage doing Bridgestone testing work. He went straight to Estoril and began testing, impressing everyone with some very quick laps in the wet on Thursday, which suggest that Bridgestone already has competitive wet weather tires.
McLaren's failure to secure Muller means that there is now no obvious German driver available for the team - although Mercedes's top ITC driver Bernd Schneider is looking for work for 1997. Now 32 Schneider had a frustrating F1 career with Zakspeed in 1988 and 1989 and a couple of outings for Arrows in 1990. He tested a McLaren at Jerez in December last year. Schneider's Mercedes ITC team mate Dario Franchitti is also a candidate for the test drive. Despite his Italian name Franchitti is Scottish!
Mercedes is believed to have more political might with McLaren than sponsor West. We hear that West's parent company Reemtsma is only paying McLaren $10m a season with the budget being topped up from Mercedes Benz's motorsport budget - which runs to over $100m. This may help to explain rumors from Stuttgart that the cars will be predominantly silver - Mercedes-Benz's traditional racing colors - in 1997.