Motor racing: Williams pair given early time check

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The Independent Online
THE NEW Formula One season is still a fortnight away and already Williams, the world champions, are contemplating their driver line-up for next year.

Incumbents Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen are on the teams' list of candidates for 1999, but both will have to meet requirements spelled out yesterday.

Villeneuve, who won the title last year, must decide by the middle of the season if he wants to stay at Williams, while Frentzen has to improve his level of performance if he wishes to be retained.

Frank Williams and his partner, Patrick Head, are conscious Villeneuve is wanted by his manager, Craig Pollock, to lead the British American Racing team, which is to be launched next year. They are equally aware the Canadian will seek evidence of the operation's potential before committing himself and may prefer more time than they are prepared to permit him.

Head said yesterday: "We would want to be sorted with the drivers we are running with in 1999 in the middle of the year. We won't be strung along waiting for Jacques. We'll be letting him know about our timetable."

Frentzen's inconsistency last year disappointed the team, Williams describing him as a "frustrating individual at times". Head made it clear they demanded better this year. He said: "He knows this year he's got to perform if he's going to stay at a top team. The truth is that being a well-paid driver is a privileged position, but successful drivers make things happen. He has to be more assertive."

Even if there are changes at Williams next year, Head does not expect Michael Schumacher to be joining them. "The idea of Frank signing a cheque big enough for Schumacher just doesn't seem real," Head said.

"I understand Schumacher has a opt-out clause if Ferrari don't win the championship this year and if he leaves them I think it's likely he will go to McLaren-Mercedes. I know Mercedes are pretty keen to get him on board. He's less likely to be at Williams."

Ken Tyrrell has announced his retirement from Formula One with immediate effect. The 73-year-old chairman of the Tyrrell Racing Organisation, which was bought out by British American Racing in November, stepped down yesterday along with his son, Bob, the business development director.