Motor racing: Williams to avoid trial `circus'

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Frank Williams will be spared a court appearance in the Ayrton Senna case for many weeks after the trial opens in Imola, Italy, next Thursday.

The head of the Williams team, his technical director Patrick Head and the chief designer Adrian Newey, plus the race director, Roland Bruynseraede, and two circuit officials are charged with culpable homicide following Senna's death in the San Marino Grand Prix on 1 May 1994.

Williams and his colleagues, however, are unlikely to be called before the judge until after the third anniversary of their driver's fatal crash and this year's race at Imola, which will be held on 27 April.

Lawyers are expected to account for the first day with procedural matters and the trial will then take its course, probably through the summer. When the prosecution case has been set out, defence lawyers will bring Williams and Head to the stand.

The Williams officials have always expressed their willingness to co- operate with the Italian judicial system, but it is understood they had reservations about a public media "circus".

Prosecution lawyers have confirmed their intention to call Damon Hill to give evidence. Hill was Senna's team-mate in 1994 and raced on after the accident. Michael Schumacher is to be a defence witness and several other leading drivers are also expected to give evidence.

However, grand prix racing will endeavour to put on a united front and contend accidents come with the territory and that Senna was simply unlucky. The accused could be given suspended sentences if found guilty, but such a verdict would inevitably lead to the appeals ladder and legal wranglings in Italy can last anything up to a decade.

Meanwhile, Max Mosley, president of the sport's governing body, the FIA, said yesterday that he was optimistic Williams, McLaren and Tyrrell will be brought back into the fold after refusing to agree to a new deal on television and prize-money.

Mosley estimated each team would lose about pounds 30m by excluding themselves from the five-year contract. He also announced he would be standing for re- election as president in October for a further four-year term.

Michael Schumacher said yesterday that his Ferrari will not be good enough to win this season's F1 championship. "I don't yet have the car to become champion, but I hope to make progress. The car is faster and easier to drive," he said after six days of testing in Estoril.