JULY 13, 1998

Zanardi and Williams

THERE was much speculation at Silverstone that Alex Zanardi had signed a two-year deal with Williams, following a visit by Frank Williams to the United States in the week between the French and British GPs. Williams denies that he was in America and refuses to comment on which drivers are on the Williams list although his partner Patrick Head admitted at Silverstone that Zanardi was one of the drivers under consideration.

What is clear is that there are currently no deals in place although we believe that Heinz-Harald Frentzen was told on Sunday that his services at Williams will not be required next year. The team has an option with Juan-Pablo Montoya and is talking to Jacques Villeneuve as well. The French-Canadian is thought to be virtually certain to join British American Racing, while Frentzen is lined up to go to Team Rahal, where he will replace the retiring Bobby Rahal.

Normally Williams does not like to change both drivers at the same time so as to maintain technical continuity but with the 1999 season likely to be a pretty uncompetitive one for the team, Williams and Head are looking ahead to the BMW engine development project and need experienced drivers with technical abilities. There was a similar situation in 1989 when the team hired Thierry Boutsen and Riccardo Patrese to get its engines up to speed and then recruited Nigel Mansell when they were ready for a World Championship bid.

Zanardi is a very talented test driver and Williams will know all about him because Villeneuve's race engineer Jock Clear worked with Zanardi at Team Lotus in 1993 and 1994. Alex could stay in the United States where Target Chip Ganassi Racing is offering him a great deal of money but Alex's wife is understood to want to return to Europe and he still looks at Formula 1 as unfinished business and would be a fool not to look at a long-term deal from Williams.

Williams is considering Montoya but we understand that the Columbian has not been as quick in testing as the team had hoped and has difficulty with long distances in the car. In an effort to see if this situation can be improved the team was due to give Montoya two days of endurance testing at Monza this week.

One name which may also be in the frame is that of British veteran racer Johnny Herbert who was recently spotted visiting the Williams factory in Grove. Johnny is a good development driver and has plenty of experience. He has also worked well with Zanardi when the pair were team-mates at Lotus and it could be that Williams and Head are considering reviving the relationship.

One aspect which does need to be taken account is that Williams's sponsor Winfield wants to have a high-profile driver in the car and may not consider a Zanardi-Herbert combination to be strong enough. It should also be noted that Zanardi is understood to have had offers from British American Racing and the new Honda F1 team.