Motor Racing: Senna set to sit out first race: Former world champion keeps his options open as McLaren unveil their new car for coming season

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The Independent Online
AYRTON SENNA, who has yet to test McLaren-Ford's new car, seems certain to miss the first race of the Formula One World Championship.

Senna has maintained all along that he wants to see the car and put it through its paces before giving his verdict. It is now felt that even if he drives it before the South African Grand Prix, on 14 March, he may not wish to commit himself until it has competed in a grand prix.

He is likely to decide on his direction after the first race. Such a delay, of course, just might give him the option of a move to Williams.

The champion team, who were testing here yesterday, could lose the services of their senior driver, Alain Prost, from the second race, Senna's home grand prix, in Brazil. The world council of the sport's international governing body, Fisa, are due to decide whether to ratify Prost's super-licence four days after that race and, if the views of Max Mosley, the president of Fisa, carry any weight, the Frenchman could be struck off for at least one race, if not indefinitely. Prost has criticised Fisa's stewardship of the sport on several occasions.

McLaren expect to line up at Kyalami with Michael Andretti and Mika Hakkinen, the two drivers on parade at Silverstone yesterday, when they unveiled their much delayed new car, the MP4/8.

Andretti put the car through its first, gentle paces at a damp, misty Silverstone once technicians had cured an electronic problem. Hakkinen will probably have his first run tomorrow.

Perhaps the sport's worst-kept secret was revealed when McLaren announced that they will use Ford HB V8 engines, supplied by Cosworth, following Honda's withdrawal at the end of last season.

The McLaren-Ford features new electronic engine management, chassis control, data acquisition and telemetry systems, six speed, semi-automatic transmission capable of memorising each circuit, and active suspension, all of which will presumably be outlawed by the cost-conscious Formula One code due to take effect next year.

Williams-Renault and Benetton- Ford, the teams expected to lead the field this year, will monitor the progress of the MP4/8 with deep interest. Benetton, however, are adamant they remain Ford's premier team and as such are guaranteed exclusive rights to the latest engine specification.

Andretti's performance will attract just as much interest as the car. The 30-year-old son of the former world champion, Mario Andretti, is embarking upon his first season in Formula One. He won the 1991 IndyCar series and has 27 race victories to his credit.

Yesterday the skies were blue and the sun shone here, but Prost was suffering from a cold. He struggled through the morning session, then elected to return to his hotel and nurse his illness there. He hoped to be back at the track today.

In his absence, and with Benetton-Ford choosing to work at Silverstone, Britain's Damon Hill, in the other Williams, was much the fastest driver on view. He registered a best time of 1min 13.63sec. Next came Karl Wendlinger, in a Sauber, with 1min 15.86, followed by the British Ligier-Renault pair, Mark Blundell (1:17.23) and Martin Brundle (1:17.36).

Hill, who was caught out by a technical problem and ended the day in a gravel trap, said: 'We got through some good work again, but it's a pity that Alain wasn't here this afternoon to give me a benchmark.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- COMPLETE FORMULA ONE LINE-UPS ----------------------------------------------------------------- No Team Driver 0* Williams Damon Hill (GB) 2 Williams Alain Prost (Fr) 3 Tyrrell Ukyo Katayama (Japan) 4 Tyrrell Andrea de Cesaris (It) 5 Benetton Michael Schumacher (Ger) 6 Benetton Riccardo Patrese (It) 7 McLaren Michael Andretti (US) 8 McLaren Mika Hakkinen (Fin) 9 Footwork Derek Warwick (GB) 10 Footwork Aguri Suzuki (Japan) 11 Lotus Alessandro Zanardi (It) 12 Lotus Johnny Herbert (GB) 13 Jordan Rubens Barrichello (Br) 14 Jordan Ivan Capelli (It) 15 March Jean-Marc Gounon (Fr) 17 March Jan Lammers (Neth) 19 Larrousse Philippe Alliot (Fr) 20 Larrousse Erik Comas (Fr) 21 Lola Michele Alboreto (It) 22 Lola Luca Badoer (It) 23 Minardi Christian Fittipaldi (Br) 24 Minardi Fabrizio Barbazza (It) 25 Ligier Martin Brundle (GB) 26 Ligier Mark Blundell (GB) 27 Ferrari Jean Alesi (Fr) 28 Ferrari Gerhard Berger (Aut) 29 Sauber Karl Wendlinger (Aut) 30 Sauber J J Lehto (Fin) ----------------------------------------------------------------- Third drivers: McLaren, Ayrton Senna (Br); Ligier, Eric Bernard (Fr). ----------------------------------------------------------------- *There is no No 1. That is traditionally given to the world champion, but Nigel Mansell is not competing. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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