Motor Racing: Williams wary of Benetton curve

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WILLIAMS-RENAULT are preparing for the defence of their Formula One world championship fearful they could lose it to the resurgent Benetton-Ford team. Frank Williams, the managing director of the Didcot-based organisation, said yesterday: 'I'm less optimistic than I was a year ago. The biggest enemy is complacency.'

Williams is conscious that the sporting world expects his team to remain a class apart. But he and his technical director, Patrick Head, insist they can be beaten, and identify Benetton, third last season behind McLaren-Honda, as the most menacing opposition.

Williams said: 'Benetton are on a steep development curve, steeper than ours. They are getting on with their work on the active suspension, and semi-automatic gearbox, throwing everything at it. They have a lot of good people and a charger in Michael Schumacher. I see them as the biggest threat.'

Head, who masterminded Williams' technological advance, agrees, though he is keeping an eye on McLaren, who have lined up an engine deal with Ford. It is also suspected they will not settle for second best when it comes to the allocation of power units.

'Benetton appear to be on a very good rumble,' Head said. 'McLaren could be the dark horses. It's a question of how good their engine deal is going to be and whether they will still have Ayrton Senna.'

What, though, of Ferrari, the other team who ought to be considered for title contention? 'I don't know what goes on there,' Head said. 'But they don't give the impression they represent a threat in 1993. You could say they are letting down Formula One by not being in there mixing it because they have the budget and facilities.'

Technically, Williams and their drivers, Alain Prost and Damon Hill, are not yet involved in the 1993 championship, which begins in South Africa on 14 March, because they were late with their application and Benetton and Minardi have declined to support their readmission. However, diplomacy will doubtless prevail.

Williams rejects the notion there is a plot to contain his team and allegations he has unreasonably resisted changes to regulations. He simply will not back artificial attempts to achieve closer racing.

Williams believes this year's cars, with narrower tyres, will require more pitstops and therefore ensure more entertaining racing. He feels Prost will be less effective coping with the subsequent traffic than Mansell would have been.

The spectre of Mansell still hangs over Williams and Formula One. The Englishman has taken his world title to IndyCars but Williams is among those who reckon he will be back, if not necessarily in his team.

The powers that be are known to have made strenuous efforts to place Mansell at Ferrari and the financial 'arrangements' could yet be made. One theory is that Mansell will compete in the last two grands prix this season, when the IndyCar series is over.

Of one thing Williams is certain: 'They won't be able to live with Nigel over there.'

Take that whichever way you wish.

Pacific, the Norfolk-based racing team, have decided to withdraw their application for entry into the world championship until next season.