JULY 7, 1997
So where does Damon go?
WITH Tom Walkinshaw yet to find a competitive engine package for 1998 Damon Hill's future with the Arrows team has to be seen as limited with other front-running teams already offering Damon more competitive machinery if he defects.
There is little logic in Williams keeping Villeneuve if he is asking more than Frank Williams is willing to pay and not producing the performances expected. Jacques is planning to move to the new BA Team Reynard in 1999 and will probably be using Mecachrome engines, which means that another season with Williams will only serve to make him a more formidable opponent in 1999. Damon knows the team well and might help it recover some of the direction that has been lost this year.
McLaren is likely to keep one of its current drivers, purely for the sake of stability. There is pressure from the teams German backers to take on Ralf Schumacher but the team's new technical director Adrian Newey would probably be happy to work with Hill again - the two having collaborated during Damon's time at Williams.
Benetton has no shortage of drivers to choose from for next year. In addition to Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger the team has the possibility to use Alexander Wurz, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli. We have also heard that the team has been in contact with Mika Salo.
Jordan is looking for an experienced star to complete its 1999 package. This year the team has had a car which is possibly capable of winning races but its young drivers have not always delivered the results when they might have done.
Prost would also like a star name in his team as team mate to Olivier Panis. A Hill-Panis combination would be very strong indeed.
It is always possible that Damon will decide to stay with Walkinshaw, working on the principal that it is better not to switch teams and that Arrows will improve next year. There is some logic in this as Arrows did not make it easy for themselves this year, moving factories and replacing a large percentage of its staff. Building a competitive team takes time.
For 36-year-old Hill, time is important as he has only three or four more seasons left in F1. He may decide that his best bet is to stay with Tom for the rest of his F1 career in the hope that the team will competitive by 1999 or 2000. The team will certainly be able to pay him what he asks as Pedro Diniz is expected to stay on, providing the team with an annual income of around $12m.