Motor Racing: Schumacher to steer 'dream team' in 1996

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Mercedes will supply engines for five years to a Formula One car run by McLaren which, if successful, should have Michael Schumacher, the current world championship leader, behind the wheel by 1996.

Sources close to the two parties confirmed yesterday that the German car maker and the British-based team would announce the details of the contract, which begins next season, in Stuttgart tomorrow.

Willi Weber, Schumacher's manager, described the link-up with Mercedes and McLaren as a 'dream team' which the German driver would regard as his first priority for the 1996 season.

'At the moment, we are obviously concentrating our efforts on the present world championships and the possibility of defending our title next year . .

. But from 1996 we would regard Mercedes-McLaren as our No 1 partner,' Weber said. 'It would be a dream team. We will obviously need to look how things go next season. But I can only assume that it would work well.

'Mercedes has an engine that has great potential. McLaren have been one of the top teams for the last 10 years.' Schumacher will continue to race for Benetton in 1995 but is free to decide on his future thereafter.

Schumacher started his motor racing career at Mercedes and had an emotional link to the Stuttgart firm which gave him his first major contract as a junior racer in 1989. The Mercedes-McLaren deal is believed to involve a commitment to the IndyCar series.

Damon Hill's final preparations for next week's Japanese Grand Prix were dealt a blow yesterday when he crashed heavily in testing at Estoril. He was unhurt but his Williams Renault was destroyed.

'It was really embarrassing,' Hill said. 'I was just warming up when I hit the damp patch and away it went.'

Hill's car spun wildly, slewed across the track and collided with the barriers ringing the circuit.