SEPTEMBER 22, 1997

Alesi at Sauber, Salo at Arrows

THE Formula 1 silly season died a quick death in the days before the Austrian GP as the 1998 driver combinations fell into place. Jean Alesi, realizing that there was no chance for him at Benetton and Jordan, decided to sign a two-year deal with Sauber to be team-mate to Johnny Herbert.

Alesi said that he had been surprised by the good performance of the Sauber team this year and had been impressed by the team's factory at Hinwil. "I think they have the potential to be a top team in the near future," said Jean, "and I hope my experience from driving for Ferrari and Benetton will be good for them."

Jean has had a frustrating career to date with only one win in 132 races. The deal is not believed to be worth an enormous amount to Alesi as he had little choice if he wanted to stay in Formula 1 but we believe that it includes a generous performance bonus based on the number of points he scores. The announcement means that Gianni Morbidelli is in trouble once again. The Italian is an outside chance for a drive with Prost and might be an option for Tyrrell if the team decides not to keep JosÊVerstappen. If not the only option is Minardi.

Tom Walkinshaw had been waiting to find out what Damon Hill was planning to do. When it became clear that Damon was not happy with the package Tom was offering he took the decision to hire Mika Salo, a move which will be a great deal cheaper than paying for Damon Hill, meaning that more money will be available for John Barnard to play with on technical things. The re-signing of Pedro Diniz will, of course, boost the team's budget to the tune of around $17m - Pedro bringing backing from both Parmalat and Zepter. Salo is expected to add $3m to the kitty from mobile telephone company Nokia and with Danka, Bridgestone and, probably, Yamaha adding to the budget the team should be well-financed next season.

Salo has spent the last three years at Tyrrell but has never had the machinery to show his talent.