Motor Racing: McLaren place tempts Brundle into risky strategy: Anglo-French struggle intensifies for position rejected by world champion

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The Independent Online
MARTIN BRUNDLE could be travelling to Brazil on Sunday still not knowing which car he will be driving in the opening race of the Formula One world championship, a week later.

The Briton has risked losing his place in the grand prix fold by holding out for the coveted seat at McLaren-Peugeot and is aware that political influences might frustrate him and swing the vote to the Frenchman, Philippe Alliot. If that happens, Brundle will hope to reclaim his place with Ligier-Renault.

McLaren were left with the selection decision when Alain Prost opted for retirement early this week. As a four-times world champion and a Frenchman, he fulfilled the requirements of the team and their new engine partners.

Now, however, the organisation have a dilemma over who joins the Finn, Mika Hakkinen, in the starting line-up. It is understood Brundle is preferred by the Woking-based McLaren, but they are under pressure from Peugeot to go Gallic. A third candidate, Britain's Johnny Herbert, seems out of contention. A McLaren spokesman said: 'We may have a decision very soon, but we do not have to name the driver until next Thursday in Sao Paulo.'

Alliot boosted his claims by equalling Brundle's best lap time in testing at Estoril on Tuesday. But that was achieved on his second day and his overall performance did not match that produced by Brundle, who had only one day's running.

The records of the two men also make Brundle the more logical choice. Both came into Formula One a decade ago, in Brazil curiously, yet while Brundle has a best finish of second and several third places, Alliot's highest position is fifth.

Brundle impressed McLaren engineers with his input in testing and one contribution enabled them to iron out a problem that had puzzled the team all winter. At 34, Brundle is also five years younger than Alliot.

Benetton-Ford confirmed yesterday that their test driver, Jos Verstappen, of the Netherlands, will replace the unfit J J Lehto in Brazil.

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