JUNE 17, 1996

Hakkinen to Benetton?

THERE were whispers in the paddock in Montreal suggesting that McLaren driver Mika Hakkinen may be leaving the team at the end of the season to join Benetton in 1997.

Such a deal is logical both for Hakkinen and for Benetton. The Finn has been at McLaren for the last four years, having joined the team from Lotus. In his first year - 1993 - he was forced to be the test and reserve driver while Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti raced the cars. When McLaren ditched Andretti, Mika began racing for McLaren and he has been the team leader ever since Senna left at the end of 1993. He has yet to win a race and is known to be very frustrated that the team has not been able to give him a competitive package.

Hakkinen was rumored to be keen on getting a ride with Williams but it does not look as though Frank has any intention of changing his drivers next year. Ferrari is also locked into Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine. Benetton management is known not to be very happy with the performance this year, having been used to working with Schumacher, and it is quite possible that neither Jean Alesi nor Gerhard Berger will stay.

If Hakkinen does leave McLaren we hear there are several drivers in line to replace him. An obvious choice would be German Heinz-Harald Frentzen - a good choice to keep Mercedes-Benz management happy. We have also heard suggestions that Mika Salo is high on Dennis's list of drivers.

One other name worth considering is Indycar driver Greg Moore - who drives for Mercedes in America. Moore was in Montreal and we hear that his visit was not a social call but came about at the invitation of an F1 team which is keen to give the quick young Canadian the chance to try out an F1 car. We believe that the invitation came from McLaren.