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No stopping the F1 rumour mill
Alan Baldwin | May 27, 2004 16:25 IST
Patrick Head summed up the level of much of the speculation swirling around Formula One at a Monaco news conference last week.
"I wish our engineers were as creative as the press really," said the Williams technical director and co-owner, since elevated to director of engineering.
If they were, Williams would surely be front-runners by now.
Instead, the BMW-powered team have been reshuffling managerial positions with Head handing over to Australian Sam Michael.
But nothing has taken the silly-season off the boil with fertile imaginations producing ever more magnificent blooms in the hothouse of the Grand Prix paddock as the driver market moves into top gear.
It's not just the active participants who are in the spotlight. Hardly a day goes by without another Jacques Villeneuve rumour or yet another name being added to the Williams list.
The team are right in the thick of it, with one confirmed vacancy and probably two once Ralf Schumacher comes out into the open with his plans for 2005.
It could be, as some have suggested, that Toyota will confirm a deal with Ralf at the Nuerburgring this weekend, it being the nearest race to their Cologne factory.
But it could also be that big-budget Toyota are having second thoughts. Ralf's manager Willi Weber said nothing was in the immediate pipeline last weekend.
The bare facts at the moment are that Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya is leaving Williams and at least one replacement has to be found.
Briton David Coulthard, to be replaced by Montoya at McLaren, is looking for a new employer and 1997 champion Villeneuve is angling for a comeback.
There is little doubt however that Ralf is also preparing to pack his bags.
So the rumours multiply.
Will Montoya try to get out of his McLaren contract, with the team struggling with their worst start to a season? No way, says the Colombian, whose mind is made up.
Did Villeneuve attend a Le Castellet test this month? Will the Canadian try out a Williams at Monza next week? Could he be in the car in time for next month's Canadian Grand Prix?
No, no and no again say Williams, even if they do admit to sounding him out. A test some time in the summer remains a strong possibility.
Is Mika Hakkinen, two times a champion with McLaren, looking to make a comeback with Williams as one Finnish newspaper reported on Wednesday? No, says the Finn.
Who is the driver from a top team who reportedly approached BAR looking for a job? Not me, says Montoya.
Williams are not short of candidates and Villeneuve is clearly on their list. But how high up remains to be seen.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone is keen for the Canadian to return but Jaguar's Australian Mark Webber looks a much more likely bet for Williams.
"Quite clearly he's very capable and has a very cool head on his shoulders," said Head.
"He appears to have the make-up of a driver we'd be interested in, but he has the potential of a prior call on his services in 2005 and only the future will tell whether he might be available."
That prior call is in the hands of Renault boss Flavio Briatore. If Jaguar do not meet a performance clause, then Webber can leave but Briatore has first say.
Spain's Fernando Alonso is sure to stay at Renault as one of the hottest drivers around but Italian Jarno Trulli's future remains open, although his win in Monaco last weekend may have made his situation more secure.
Accepted wisdom says Briatore is unlikely to team Webber with Alonso, whose contract he also controls, as that would only devalue one of his assets.
Villeneuve, Coulthard, Briton Anthony Davidson, Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia, Spaniard Marc Gene, Germany's Nick Heidfeld and Italian Giancarlo Fisichella have all been linked with Williams.
Experience is likely to tell in the end.
"It's only really possible to take on somebody young and in their first year if you know that you are not going to be a championship contender," said Head.
"A driver needs to be so much more than just a good driver...in truth, if you are looking for a driver and you want to be confident that he can win races, there is nothing that beats somebody having done it previously."
Could it be Villeneuve after all?
Formula One: The Complete Coverage