Motor Racing: Berger back in Ferrari seat

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The Independent Online
AT LEAST one cog in the spinning wheel of Formula One personnel changes clicked into place yesterday when Ferrari, the most famous marque, announced the return of Gerhard Berger, who will join the Frenchman Jean Alesi next season as a replacement for Italy's Ivan Capelli.

Berger will join a team who have been struggling for more than two years but who have been revitalised by the timely appointments of two illustrious names to bolster the back room. John Barnard, who designed the car that Berger drove during his previous employment at Ferrari for three seasons until 1989, has been coaxed back to the team; and Niki Lauda, three times the world champion, has been hired to lend his computer-like brain to devising the best strategy.

Berger, therefore, will be no stranger to the Prancing Horse and will be further encouraged by the presence of his fellow Austrian, Lauda, who won two of his titles at Ferrari.

The imperturbable Berger, who, it is said, once fell asleep at the wheel in the half-hour it takes for the grid to assemble before a race, will not be bothered by the fact he is Ferrari's third choice after Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna. He is a great team man but is also capable of winning, which he has done seven times since his first grand prix in 1984.

The departure of Berger, who was 33 yesterday, from McLaren- Honda leaves the team seeking a new line-up for next year as Senna is also on the move, having told Lauda recently that Ferrari did not represent a chance for him to regain the world title. The Brazilian's stalling tactics displeased Ferrari and he finally ruled himself out of contention last week.

Senna has made it clear he wants to join Williams-Renault, an announcement which has shrouded in confusion the affairs of Formula One's dominant force. They have lined up Alain Prost's return to racing and were on the verge of confirming a new deal with Britain's first world champion for 16 years, Mansell.

It appears, however, little has been done in the past week to resolve the matter. It seems McLaren will now lose both drivers and their engine suppliers, Honda, are expected to announce next month whether they intend to stay in Formula One.

Ferrari said Berger had signed a two-year contract with an option for a third. The team, which celebrated its 500th world championship grand prix in Hungary earlier this month, recorded the last of its 103 victories when Prost won in Spain on 30 September 1990.

(Photograph omitted)