Motor racing: Williams fears trial by media

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Frank Williams and Patrick Head talked yesterday of their fears and anxieties as they await their trial over the death of Ayrton Senna, which starts at Imola, Italy, next Thursday.

The Williams directors, who, along with their chief designer, Adrian Newey, the race director Roland Bruynseraede and two circuit officials, are charged with culpable homicide, will appear in court at the end of April or the beginning of May.

Williams acknowledged his concerns about the case being turned into a media spectacle. He said: "This is not good for Formula One or the individuals concerned. It's a very important and serious case. He [Senna] was an internationally famous man. Yes, I'm worried about it."

Head, the team's technical director, admitted he was anxious to clear his name and talked of the pressure of preparing for a new Formula One season under the threat of a guilty verdict. He said: "The charge is very serious, it's a criminal case, and we have to defend ourselves to the maximum. It is something I do not want on my record. We have to persuade the judge it is not an appropriate charge.

"It is quite a high profile subject and the trial is something I'm not looking forward to. If I was offered the opportunity of not going, then I don't see a lot of point in being down there.

"It is not an ideal situation continuing to work with the trial coming up. The only way to deal with it is to put it in compartments and deal with whatever you're doing at the time."

Head is still waiting for permission to examine the wreck of the car. Almost three years after the fatal accident at the San Marino Grand Prix, he said: "I think there is quite a bit on the car itself that would help support our view." Head challenges the accusation that steering column failure caused the accident.

Williams confirmed his team - as well as McLaren and Tyrrell - were hopeful of joining the other teams as signatories to the new Concorde agreement and insisted he had never challenged the position of the sport's impresario, Bernie Ecclestone. It is generally believed Ron Dennis, managing director of McLaren, has harboured ambitions of taking over from Ecclestone.

Williams said: "There is a great deal of money involved and when we opted not to sign there was no offer on the table. Nobody wants Bernie's job, with the possible exception of one. No one could do it his way, he's a genius, but there is more than one way to skin a cat."

Although Williams is characteristically cautious about his team's prospects of retaining their drivers' and constructors' championships this coming season, both expect Jacques Villeneuve to start with the edge over his new partner, Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

They are united, also, in taking little regard of Michael Schumacher's assertion that his Ferrari will not be a championship-winning car this year. "He's always playing down his chances and I don't believe a word he says about that," Williams said.