Eight to accelerate: How the top teams line up for the 1996 season Compiled by Andrew Baker

Benetton-Renault

Jean Alesi

French Sicilian, nicknamed "Jean Spaghetti" at school. Finished fourth in his first-ever grand prix, one of the most sensational debuts of recent years. Finally registered his first grand prix win last year to the delight of his legions of fans

May be Hill's strongest challenger. Championship odds: 100/30

Spectacular and committed

Latin - occasional Richter-scale tantrums

"Jean is very fragile." Jean Todt, Ferrari director

Smouldering matinee idol

Gerhard Berger

The 36-year-old veteran was Benetton's first grand prix winner in 1986. While they were team-mates at McLaren, Berger taught Ayrton Senna how to laugh; in return, Senna taught Berger how to drive

If he can find the motivation, he has a crack at the title. Championship odds: 12/1

Vastly experienced, consistent

Tamed wild man still given to practical jokes: most recent prank involved Eddie Irvine's face and a cake

"His sense of humour can be dangerous." Damon Hill

Keystone cop

Williams-Renault

Damon Hill

Son of Graham. Former motorbike messenger and bass guitarist with the punk rock band the Hormones. Now based in Dublin with his wife and three children; can't seem to make his mind up whether or not to grow a beard

His best-ever chance to be champion. Championship odds: 15/8

Consistent but occasionally over-aggressive

Rock n' roll biker turned family man

"Damon seems to lose control in situations he doesn't like - which is behind me." Michael Schumacher

Bass guitarist

Jacques Villeneuve

Son of the great Gilles, but has a completely different style of driving, careful where his father was flamboyant. Learnt his trade in Japan and United States. Won the IndyCar championship in US last year, and aims to be the first driver since Mario Andretti to make the transition from oval racing to Formula One successfully

Will expect to win races later in the year. Championship odds: 3/1

Quick and careful, a Prost in the making

Quiet. Likes reading sci-fi novels and playing with his computer

"He seems very shy. Or reticent. Self-contained, maybe." Martin Brundle

Marketing executive for a leading multinational pharmaceutical firm

Ferrari

Michael Schumacher

Former kart racer schooled in the Mercedes junior sports car team. Ayrton Senna's natural successor, one of the wealthiest sportsmen in the world, and a national idol in Germany. Italians will only love him if he wins in a Ferrari

A series of smoky retirements with one or two late-season victories. Championship odds: 6/1

A master tactician with uncanny car control

Smug

"He's awesome." Eddie Irvine

Anti-hero in a James Bond movie

Eddie Irvine

Cocky Irishman, made his reputation (and a great deal of money) racing in Japan. Bopped on the nose by Ayrton Senna after his grand prix debut, which ensured him instant global fame. Not suited by nature to the role of back-up man for Schumacher: fireworks may ensue

Will need all of his considerable self-belief to avoid humiliation at the hands of his team-mate. Championship odds: 50/1

Doesn't crash as much as he used to

Doesn't mouth off as much as he used to

"Stupid, an idiot and a dangerous lunatic.'' Ayrton Senna

The natural heir to Terry Wogan

McLaren-Mercedes

Mika Hakkinen

Finnish protege of ex-champion Keke Rosberg, took over as McLaren team leader from Ayrton Senna. Has made excellent recovery after fracturing his skull in a high-speed crash at the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide last November

If fully recovered from end-of- season crash, should win at least once. Championship odds: 16/1

Aggressive and feisty, notorious for the "Hakkinen chop", a defensive manoeuvre

Reputedly regained consciousness after Adelaide crash while being washed by pretty nurse

"He is an out-and-out racer." David Coulthard

Viking

David Coulthard

Born in Twynholm, Kirkcudbright, Scotland, though "I'm obviously not some hairy-arsed Highlander." A product of Jackie Stewart's "Staircase of Talent", hence the perfectly groomed, sponsor- friendly appearance

If the car is good, excellent. But can he beat his team-mate? Championship odds: 16/1

Quick but erratic, hence nickname "Clout-hard"

Modest; model girlfriend Andrea ever-present

"I think he was brought up the right way in motor racing. He was a very easy student." Jackie Stewart

Model

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