Motor Racing: Brundle mystified by the merry-go-round

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The Independent Online
AMID all the confusion of current Formula One, Martin Brundle can perhaps be forgiven for feeling more bemused than most. The 33- year-old British driver produced a courageous performance to take third place in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, the result in keeping with his recent vein of success. Although it is true to say he required the assistance of some notable retirements to make the podium at Suzuka, it was still, in the light of his sickness over the weekend, a remarkable achievement.

And yet, after scoring points in 10 of the last 11 races, Brundle remains on the periphery of the driver merry-go-round, knowing he can do no more to state his case to the likes of Williams-Renault and McLaren. Jordan may represent a more obvious option, but he is reluctant to leap in any other direction while the top two teams have vacancies.

Brundle, who drives his last race for Benetton-Ford in Australia on Sunday week, said: 'I have not enjoyed one hour of the last month and the uncertainty has undoubtedly affected me. I haven't been on my best form in the last two races, but on Sunday it was Brundle determination rather than anything else which got me through.

'I just hope it shows that in the right environment and in the right car, I can be a championship contender. I really do believe I can.

'It's not been any easier for me because Benetton are, quite understandably, already looking ahead to 1993 and, as a consequence, our 1992 performance has suffered a little. We're lacking pace, as can quite clearly be seen.

'There's no part on the car that wasn't there in April. That is because of a conscious long-term strategy by the team, and they should benefit, but right now it's not helping me.'

Brundle's morale sank earlier this month when he was told by Frank Williams, the managing director of Williams, that his services would not be required at Didcot. Williams has indicated, however, that he will speak to Brundle in Adelaide to explain his thinking, and has publicly stated that he retains an open mind on the situation.

Ron Dennis, the managing director of McLaren, is similarly unhurried. He is prepared to wait for Ayrton Senna to decide on his movements and could name his partner to Michael Andretti up to three days before the opening race of the 1993 world championship, in South Africa, on 28 February.

Brundle said: 'I'm just waiting for Frank and Ron. I'm sure they know what I can do, so there's no point my chewing their ears off. All I can do now is have a good rest and get fully fit again for Australia.'

The Formula One intelligence service refuses to rule out an elaborate and expensive plot to keep Nigel Mansell at Williams and away from the clutches of those American Indycar people, especially if Senna opts for a sabbatical. Still being mentioned, too, are Mika Hakkinen (contracted to Lotus-Ford) and Jean Alesi (contracted to Ferrari).

The longer a solution is delayed, the better, it seems, become the prospects for another Briton, Damon Hill, who is sitting back at home in London. He is Williams's test driver, a capacity he has filled admirably, and has considerable support within the team.

Senna said at Suzuka that he had decided on his course, but was unwilling to reveal it, which was generally taken to mean he intended to have a year off. He may yet be influenced by McLaren's new engine deal, and the suggestion is that their attempts to acquire Renault horsepower are now less likely to succeed. With Senna, however, you never can tell.

Mansell has steadfastly kept out of the banter concerning his future. He has a contract with Newman-Haas and has no intention of being seen to fuel speculation of a U-turn. Deep down, though, he may still yearn for the chance to defend his title and beat Alain Prost, the driver already signed by Williams for next season.

Fisa, the sport's governing body, sees the exchange of Mansell and Andretti as a positive step in its endeavours to find a new foothold in the United States. The president, Max Mosley, has reaffirmed the commitment to secure a permanent American race, at a regular track rather than a street circuit, preferably with effect from 1994.

The feeling is that an American race may even materialise next season if the planned Asian Grand Prix, at the remote Japanese circuit of Autopolis, is cancelled due to financial reasons.

(Photograph omitted)