BY DERICK ALLSOP
Formula One's quest for a trouble-free season has been undermined already by a squabble between the authorities and the drivers over the conditions for the allocation of super licences. Only six drivers have so far signed the agreement necessary to compete in the world championship, which starts in Brazil two weeks on Sunday, and although everyone is playing down the prospect of a strike, no one is prepared to dismiss out of hand the prospect of disruption to the schedule.
The Grand Prix Drivers' Association is dismayed by new conditions for a super licence, which is essential to compete in motor racing's premier category. Its principal objectives relate to what amounts to a gag on criticism of the governing body, the FIA, the lifting of third-party responsibility in the event of accidents, and the requirement of drivers to be available for promotional purposes. Officials of the association have been in consultation with Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, who asked them to come up with an alternative wording of the agreement.
Martin Brundle, a GPDA official, said in London yesterday: "As I understand it, all the top drivers, the key championship contenders, have not yet submitted super-licence applications. The drivers feel very exposed that they do not have any protection. But we hope the whole issue will be settled by Brazil."
Few doubt the matter will be resolved, just as previous disputes over super licences were eventually sorted out in 1982 and 1987. But it is an inauspicious overture to the world championship.
Damon Hill, the William driver generally expected to challenge Benetton's Michael Schumacher for the world title, is among those unwilling to commit himself to the wording of the super-licence agreement.
He said: "Normally we would probably have signed our super licences by now but the form of the application is unsatisfactory and the reply from Max Mosley has not been encouraging.
"We had a meeting in Estoril earlier this week and most drivers say they don't want to sign as it stands. We'd like to see some flexibility but it has been presented as a fait accompli. We're not talking about strikes, but if we don't sign by Brazil we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it." Hill is particularly keen to get on with the racing this year. Put out of the championship in that final-race collision in Australia last season, he senses he has the momentum to take Schumacher's crown this time.
Hill said: "The way it finished last year was unsatisfactory and Brazil could be Adelaide Part II. I'd rather keep my personal feelings about Michael to myself and there is no grudge. But it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.
"If I have a score to settle, it will take place on the track. I use that motivation in the car. Having people off is not the way I want to do it. I'm not intimidated by anyone and I don't try to intimidate others."
n Aguri Suzuki, of Japan, will team up with France's Olivier Panis in the Ligier team this season.Reuse content