Motor Racing: Musical cockpits approaching denouement: Derick Allsop reports from Hockenheim

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The Independent Online
THE German Grand Prix has virtually settled the world championship, but who goes where, with whom and with what appears more complicated than ever as the Formula One caravan pulls out of here.

Nigel Mansell's victory on Sunday - his eighth in 10 races this season - served only to deepen the irony of his uncertain future in the Williams-Renault team. The shuffling of executives from motor home to motor home over the weekend generated rumour upon rumour: concerning drivers, engines, sponsors, tyres and fuel.

Honda maintain they have still not decided whether to stay around next year and aid McLaren's recovery attempts. One suggestion here was that Honda might continue under the banner of their 'family concern', Mugen. The Footwork team have regained their credibility this year powered by Mugen Honda engines. This would be a means of saving face and giving McLaren the badly needed breathing space to find a long-term partner.

Talks of a defection by Renault from Williams to McLaren appear to have waned, while stories linking the outgoing champions with the likes of Lamborghini and Peugeot have gained little substance.

More feasible, perhaps, would be a deal with Ford, who could supply engines to McLaren without necessarily breaking any agreement with their prime customer, Benetton. They could simply label the units in the name of an in-house concern, such as Jaguar.

Much of the paddock activity has been in and around the Williams-Renault compound. Alain Prost has been a frequent visitor to the Renault motor home, strengthening the widely held belief that his services have been secured for next season. Mansell reiterates his preference to defy such plans. He wants to keep Riccardo Patrese on board and protect his outright No 1 status.

Whatever the validity of such conjecture, it seems an announcement on the driver line-up at Williams is imminent. Apart from the question of a partner for Mansell, the Englishman's salary could also be a stumbling block. Even with support from Renault, Williams would be hard pressed to meet the demands of Mansell and Prost, or indeed Prost and Ayrton Senna.

The latter combination has not been ruled out, especially when Senna persists with comments to the effect that his pending decision will 'cause an earthquake'. He insists he wants a competitive car and although he, as Mansell, has been approached by Ferrari, the Italians cannot be expected to run for the championship next season, even with John Barnard back on the drawing board.

Frank Williams indicates he is striving to reach agreement with Mansell and has to be conscious of the public outcry which would greet the ousting of Britain's first world champion for 16 years.

Williams said: 'An announcement will be made soon, possibly in days, and it will be a weight off my mind. There is no rift in my relationship with Nigel at the moment. He has driven flawlessly all year. His record speaks for itself.

'There are a number of factors to consider. The situation is complicated but can be resolved. It would take a long time for someone else to get as familiar and comfortable with such a competitive car as Nigel has. No one can rival Nigel's knowledge of it after working with it for two years.'

The feeling is that Patrese will be departing at the end of the season. His spin on the last lap here, trying to overtake Senna for second place, cannot have strengthened his case. He is proposed as a candidate for Benetton, much to the displeasure of Martin Brundle, who has had an excellent mid-season spell and forged a formidable partnership with Michael Schumacher.

Patrese, the most experienced driver in the history of Formula One, could also fill the gap at Ferrari following the inevitable sacking of Ivan Capelli. The blow for Capelli could be lightened by a job at Scuderia Italia, whose Dallara cars are powered by Ferrari engines.

The tyre and fuel debates grind on, with Avon's name cropping up as a possible rival to Goodyear. The political saga, unlike the world championship itself, has some way to go yet.