Motor Racing: Brundle given McLaren seat: Briton's gamble pays off

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The Independent Online
MARTIN BRUNDLE'S 'biggest gamble' paid off yesterday when he was given the McLaren-Peugeot drive for Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix, the opening round of the Formula One World Championship. The 34-year-old Briton won the vote over Philippe Alliot, although the Frenchman is named as the team's standby driver. McLaren said they 'felt Martin was the better equipped, at this stage, to start alongside Mika Hakkinen in the first race of the season'.

Brundle turned down an offer from Jordan-Hart and resisted a pounds 1m bid by Ligier-Renault in his determination to land the coveted job. A retainer worth around pounds 700,000 for the year should ensure relative comfort, but what he most relishes is the opportunity.

Already in Sao Paulo, he said: 'I set myself a target of getting a car for the Brazilian Grand Prix and I'm delighted it's a McLaren. This is the most successful team in grand prix history and their expectations are naturally high. So are mine. It was a gamble to stick out for this seat.'

Brundle is acutely aware he will have to justify McLaren's faith in him. They were under pressure from their new engine partners, Peugeot, to put a Frenchman in the car but were impressed by Brundle's contribution in testing.

If, however, he does not meet the team's requirements, he could be unseated, as the hapless Michael Andretti was last season. Alliot is waiting in the wings.

Brundle, like Alliot and Ayrton Senna, made his debut in Brazil, 10 years ago. An injury that season and a series of indifferent cars handicapped his progress and twice he left Formula One to revive his self-belief in sports cars. He has enjoyed his best form in Formula One over the past two seasons, delivering consistent results for Benetton-Ford and then Ligier.

The French team, Ligier, having waited for McLaren's verdict, are now expected to give Brundle's car to the Frenchman, Olivier Panis.