SEPTEMBER 16, 1996

Hakkinen stays at McLaren

MIKA HAKKINEN has decided to stay with McLaren for a fourth season - but Mika is keeping his options open for the future, having signed only a one-year contract. Hakkinen was previously on a long-term deal, dating back to the start of 1993.

There is no doubt that the Finnish driver has been frustrated at McLaren. When he signed for the team - after talks with Williams and Ligier - Lotus claimed to have him under contract. McLaren challenged the agreement and the FIA Contract Recognition Board found in McLaren's favor. At the time McLaren had only Michael Andretti under contract and Hakkinen gambled that team boss Ron Dennis and Ayrton Senna would be unable to reach agreement for Senna to drive for the team in 1993. He was wrong and he spent most of the year as the team's test driver. In 1994 the McLaren team had new Peugeot engines to be developed and did not figure strongly, and in 1995 there was another switch to Mercedes-Benz power.

Much was expected this year but the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/11 has been a long way adrift of the Williams-Renault FW18. Despite refusing to accept that the team has had chassis problems, Dennis is now trying hard to hire Williams's chief designer Adrian Newey, although it remains to be seen whether this move will be successful.

In announcing Hakkinen's decision to stay with the team, McLaren indicated that it had offered Ralf Schumacher a testing contract for 1997, but that the confident young German had turned it down.