AUGUST 25, 1997

The men without drives

DAMON HILL, Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi are all struggling to find good drives for next season.

DAMON HILL, Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi are all struggling to find good drives for next season. In all likelihood Hill, Alesi and Berger will be shuffled between the available drives at Jordan, Benetton, Sauber, Prost and Arrows with JarnoÊTrulli and Mika Salo likely to fill the gaps in the picture. The deals will probably be orchestrated by F1 boss BernieÊEcclestone, who is trying to build up some the middle-ranking teams by ensuring that they have drivers with plenty of experience. Having Damon Hill at Jordan, for example, would be a major boost for the Irish team although Ecclestone is rumored to be pushing hard to get Damon into a Benetton with Giancarlo Fisichella staying at Jordan. The Italian has been announced as a Benetton driver in 1998 but appears to want to stay where he is at Jordan. Ralf Schumacher now looks to be staying at Jordan for definite - the plan to get Mercedes to supply more engines for next year having been rejected by the Mercedes-Benz management.

Hill, Berger and Alesi have all been talking to Jordan in recent days. All three have also talked to Prost and Sauber. Having announced that he is quitting Benetton and having seen the doors close at Williams and McLaren, Berger may now decide that he does not want to continue in F1 as none of the drives available offer the possibility for him to challenge for the WorldÊChampionship - which has always been his dream.

Alesi has been spending a lot of his time talking to Eddie Jordan because he is not likely to stay at Benetton and Prost is not showing much interest in him. Sauber is rumored to be planning to offer him a deal but is waiting to see if Hill comes back to them having been rejected by McLaren. The Swiss team made a strong pitch for Damon Hill, offering him a three-year deal worth $20m, but Hill could not commit himself because of his negotiations with McLaren. As a result Sauber decided that Damon's attitude did not demonstrate enough enthusiasm for the Sauber Petronas team and terminated the talks. They may be reopened.

Prost is also a strong possibility and one point which is worth bearing in mind is that Damon's decision may not be based only on money or where Ecclestone wants him to race. The tire supplies for 1998 are also very important and Damon may consider it a better idea to go to a team which will offer him the chance to be the number one Bridgestone runner rather than one of many of the top drivers on Goodyears. This thinking would make Arrows and Prost the most attractive destinations for Damon.

Now that McLaren has settled its drivers we expect movement on the driver market to be rapid in the run-up to the Italian GP at Monza.