Motor Racing: Williams waits in `trepidation' for Senna report

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Frank Williams, the team director of Williams-Renault, admitted yesterday that he awaits with trepidation the imminent official report into the death of Ayrton Senna. Williams and Patrick Head, the technical director, could face manslaughter charges.

It is believed that the magistrate conducting inquiries into Senna's fatal crash in the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola on 1 May last year will report that the steering column of the Brazilian's car broke. The car will then be returned to Williams, who will be at liberty to examine it themselves.

As the Italian magistrate decides whether to recommend that a judge begin legal proceedings, Williams said at his factory yesterday: "They tend to think the column broke but we don't know. We wait with some trepidation because if it broke that does not reflect well on us.

"We'll get the car back soon after the report is released and have an independent examination. We'd be more comfortable with a report we'd had an input into."

There is a feeling within Formula One that the initial outcry for a scapegoat has receded. Charges against Williams could force the revision of a calendar that currently includes two races in Italy. The Italian Grand Prix is held at Monza. Williams said:"The big problem is, could we race in Italy again? Today it is us, tomorrow it could be McLaren or anybody else."

The boss of the constructors' champions also confesses a sporting concern: that Nigel Mansell may be back to haunt him this year. Williams chose the 23-year-old Scot, David Coulthard, rather than the 41-year-old former champion to partner Damon Hill, andMansell eventually signed for McLaren-Mercedes.

"We could be wrong and Renault won't be happy if we are, but that's the choice we made and we believe in that choice," Williams said. "If I say why I will only put my foot in it and offend somebody. There is no animosity. Nigel has proved he can win races but we think David will win races this season if the car is a winner.

"My worse nightmare is Nigel destroying everybody all year, and then we'll look a right bunch of idiots. I think the cars this year will be close and I can see no reason why McLaren should not win the first race. Nigel is highly motivated to win and is still very quick.

"Nigel was a total pleasure to work with when he joined us at the end of last season. He was a ball of fun. But then he knew he had to help his team-mate. When we are in a normal war-time environment his attitude will be different. But that's what makes him good."

That could also be the clue to his decision. Williams certainly does not see Coulthard as merely a long-term investment. He has only a one-year contract.

Williams does, however, expect Hill to provide the thrust of an attack he acknowledges will have to be aimed at Michael Schumacher, the defending champion, driving a Benetton-Renault.

"Michael has got to start favourite," Williams said. "And I would expect us to be closest to him. I think Damon will be the stronger of our drivers to start with because he's more experienced."

Williams confirmed his drivers would not be competing under team orders, insisting he had no plans to warn his charges about the perils of domestic feuds, despite their much-publicised skirmishes last season.

"Don't crash is the only order," Williams said. "I am deeply suspicious of pussy-footing. Drivers know they need to finish races. They don't need lecturing."

Williams conceded he was unhappy Renault had also joined forces with Benetton and hinted that the French company had been impressed with the marketing impact of Schumacher's team.

Hill was quickest on his final day of Formula One testing at the Jerez track in Spain yesterday. The Briton, who spun off in the wet morning session, set a best time of 1min 23.3sec. His best time on Wednesday had been 1:22.64.