Motor Racing: Williams faced with driver trouble: Financial demands cloud Mansell's return to Formula One

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The Independent Online
THIS troubled season is refusing Williams-Renault any respite. The team pulled out of here, following the Canadian Grand Prix, still entangled in the complications of bringing Nigel Mansell back to Formula One and finding themselves with another domestic squabble on their hands.

Damon Hill's second place, behind the irrepressible Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard's fifth, in only his second race at this level, ought to have had a soothing effect. Instead, the management were consumed by an apparent financial obstacle to the negotiations with Mansell, and the current drivers were following up their on-track sparring by exchanging verbal blows.

Hill was none too pleased by his young partner's resistance in the early laps and publicly stated as much. Coulthard expressed himself as disappointed such comments had not first been delivered directly to him.

Hill, rather more than Coulthard, has been irritated by the prospect of Mansell's return, even on a part-time basis. Coulthard, signed as a test driver at the beginning of the season, regards every race this year as a bonus and accepts he would be the man to step down should Mansell be available for the French Grand Prix, on 3 July.

Hill, however, is frustrated, even exasperated, that the team, or at least certain factions within the organisation, do not appear sufficiently confident in his ability to entrust in him the role of No 1. It is generally considered any appearances Mansell makes this season would be followed up by a full contract for next year.

Opinions inside the camp, it is believed, are divided as to the wisdom and justification of re-employing Mansell. The strongest lobby for his services seems to be coming from Renault, as well as from Bernie Ecclestone, who is intent on spicing up the show by providing Schumacher with sterner opposition. At Williams, the enthusiasm is less obvious.

The complication involved in appeasing sponsors attached to Mansell's IndyCar team, Newman-Haas, and the six-figure fees demanded by Mansell and Newman-Haas are leading some to ask whether the exercise is worth it.

The other questions being posed are whether Mansell, at 40, would be the force he was in Formula One, whether he could still be the great British hero and whether he would have a hope of containing Schumacher. As one voice said: 'If Mansell is past his best, it would be a disaster for us.'

But then, these very questions heighten the fascination. Only by racing again for Williams can Mansell give the answers. He relishes challenges and the kind of attention his return would attract. He is doubtless taking full advantage of his negotiating position and sensing the opportunity for perhaps one last world championship effort in 1995.

Mansell flew out of Detroit, after another fruitless IndyCar race, bound for England. He is to have further talks with Williams, in an attempt to reach a financial agreement. It is likely that, on top of a huge basic payment, he wants bonuses based on performance, such as pole position and victory. If a deal is achieved, he would have to test the car later this week. He is due to return to duty with Newman-Haas next week.

The Formula One championship leaders, Benetton, also have a dilemma over their driver line-up. Determined to take the constructors' title as well as the drivers' crown, which looks certain to be Schumacher's, they must decide whether to persist with J J Lehto as their second driver.

Lehto had another indifferent weekend here, scoring his first point of the season only because Christian Fittipaldi, who finished sixth, was disqualified because his Footwork-Ford was overweight.

Karl Wendlinger, the Austrian driver who suffered severe head injuries while practising for the Monaco Grand Prix, walked for the first time since the accident yesterday. A neurologist at Innsbruck University hospital said Wendlinger was 'progressing as we had hoped'.

Canadian GP results,

Sporting Digest, page 35