Motor Racing: McLaren rebuked for Herbert approach: Lotus clarify driver's position

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The Independent Online
THE Lotus-Mugen Formula One team insisted yesterday that Johnny Herbert would be driving one of their cars in this year's world championship and reprimanded McLaren-Peugeot for making public their interest in the Englishman.

Peter Collins, the managing director of Lotus, said: 'There is a correct manner in which to deal with these issues and McLaren have not acted in this manner. They have not acted correctly.'

McLaren had to scour the market to find a partner for Mika Hakkinen when Ayrton Senna moved to Williams-Renault. Alain Prost was and still is their prime target, but Herbert was among the other leading contenders, as McLaren confirmed.

Herbert, however, is contracted to Lotus and although apparently keen to switch camps it is understood the question of compensation proved a stumbling block. Hakkinen joined McLaren from Lotus last year after a dispute went to arbitration.

Collins said: 'It is flattering for Johnny that McLaren consider him a suitable replacement for Senna, but I'm here to look after Team Lotus, not McLaren, and we will be racing this year with Johnny and Pedro Lamy.

'It is irritating to have another team making clear their interest in a driver under contract to you. That can be damaging to your position. They were informed by Johnny and the team of his contractual position, but their subsequent contact with the team has been minimal.

'Their interest has created speculation which would be damaging if it were to continue, but I do not anticipate it will. Team Lotus have no intention of assisting McLaren in resolving their difficulties.'

Collins said he would favour a 'transfer deadline' system but acknowledged 'predators' would always be seeking out 'prey'.

Herbert was tight-lipped on the subject, merely confirming he had visited McLaren's factory.