Motor Racing: Kingdom of abundant riches: One ambitious nation in a fast-moving groove - Derick Allsop reports from Sao Paulo on the chance of UK success in this Formula One season

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FOR A nation constantly lamenting its lack of opportunity in motor racing, the United Kingdom is handsomely represented in the Formula One world championship, which starts here on Sunday.

Martin Brundle's inclusion by McLaren-Peugeot brings the contingent up to five and only France has a bigger squad. More importantly, the UK drivers have some of the most competitive cars.

Damon Hill has the best, the Williams-Renault FW16, albeit in tandem with the championship favourite, Ayrton Senna. Brundle has also now joined one of the major teams, although McLaren have new engine partners in Peugeot and reliability may prove a difficult hurdle in the early stages of the season.

Mark Blundell leads a restructured Tyrrell organisation, Johnny Herbert is again with Lotus and Eddie Irvine embarks upon his first full season with Jordan. These three are unlikely to be competing for victories, but all will hope to be among the points.

Blundell, who pulled out of the contest for the McLaren seat to accept No 1 status at Tyrrell-Yamaha, said: 'There is a very good and strong representation from this country, and the satisfying part is that we are all in there on merit.

'British drivers have always been at a disadvantage because they have found it much more difficult than foreign drivers to get sponsorship. A lot of drives in Formula One are bought and, in one or two cases, you have to say their credentials are dubious.'

A few establishment people, and even members of the Jordan-Hart team, were dubious about the signing of Irvine, who marked his debut in Japan last October by scoring a point and then taking a left hook from an irate Senna.

There were openly expressed concerns about the attitude and fitness of the 28-year-old Ulsterman, who is something of a throwback to the days when parties and fun were not taboo. His boss, Eddie Jordan, has accepted responsibility for keeping him in check, finding the driver a flat near his home, in Oxford, and personally cajoling him through a training regime.

Irvine, who gave up a more lucrative job in Japanese Formula 3000 racing to join Jordan full-time, said: 'I don't like training, never have done, and I don't find it easy to go running or work out down at the gym.

''I didn't need to train so much in Japan because I did far more testing over there, and there's no better way of preparing for races than actually driving. But I realise I have to train now and I'm getting on with it.

'Quite honestly, I don't see what all the fuss is about. Sure, I like to have a bit of fun, but I'm serious about my work and I'll be concentrating on doing the job. I wouldn't have given up all that money and an easy life in Japan unless I was serious about it.'

Herbert had hoped to be in a McLaren and will have to lift himself for a fourth season with Lotus. He was so frustrated by being locked into what he felt was a hopeless situation he wrote to the team's managing director, Peter Collins, pleading to be released.

That wish was denied him and now, typically, he is putting on a brave face. 'I have to get on with it and everyone is working hard to improve things,' he said. 'The car has definitely got better in our recent testing.'

This weekend they drive for real and, come 7 pm British time, on Sunday, the old country ought to have a significant presence on the Formula One scoreboard.