JULY 28, 2004

Webber confirmed at Williams

There will be much excitement in Australian racing circles in the next few days with the announcement that Mark Webber has been signed to drive for the BMW Williams team. The news has been expected for some time but negotiations were slowed down while other movements were made to clear the way for the transfer. The news will be a big boost for the Williams team which has been looking around for a new team leader since it became clear that neither of the current drivers were planning to stay on in 2005. The Williams management believe that Webber is not only fast enough to be a World Champion but also has that elusive ability to get the team moving behind him. In this respect, Williams believe, Webber is like Michael Schumacher although he will need to do rather more than he has been able to do at Jaguar before all his critics are silenced. Having said that, Mark's drive in Hockenheim and his opportunistic overtaking of Jarno Trulli impressed a lot of people and suggested that if he is in the right place he will do a good job. Webber's no-nonsense, straight-talking approach is one that appeals to Frank Williams and Patrick Head who remember with great affection their last Australian driver Alan Jones, who won the World Championship for the team in 1980. Since then many Williams drivers have been judged by the two alongside "Jonesy" and in their view few have matched him.

The big question now is who will be joining Webber in the team. There have been lots of rumours and many names have been tossed about including the unlikely scenarios of contracts for Mika Hakkinen and Jacques Villeneuve. Giancarlo Fisichella was obviously an option although the team had reservations and there is a similar attitude towards Jarno Trulli, although he was once a favourite of Frank Williams. Others in the picture are Antonio Pizzonia, who did himself no harm at all with a strong performance in Hockenheim) and perhaps Anthony Davidson although there are worries within the team that it needs a more experienced driver and Nick Heidfeld must be considered a possible candidate not only because of his strong performances this year with Jordan but also because BMW is still keen on having a German in the team (although it is not a priority). Evidence of interest in Heidfeld is clear as Williams tried a fortnight ago to get him out of his deal at Jordan to test a Williams with a view to racing at the German GP. That did not happen because Eddie Jordan blocked the team but this does not mean that Heidfeld will not be a Williams driver in 2005. There may be others in the frame but none of them are obvious at the moment.