Zanardi 'wants to stay' in Williams cockpit

Alessandro Zanardi, the Italian driver believed to be in danger of losing his seat at Williams, admitted yesterday he could not be certain of competing with the team next season. As speculation about his future continued to course through Formula One, he might have preferred to keep a low profile. Instead, he had a long-standing engagement with Nortel, one of Williams' sponsors, in London.

Alessandro Zanardi, the Italian driver believed to be in danger of losing his seat at Williams, admitted yesterday he could not be certain of competing with the team next season. As speculation about his future continued to course through Formula One, he might have preferred to keep a low profile. Instead, he had a long-standing engagement with Nortel, one of Williams' sponsors, in London.

A bright and sociable man, Zanardi coped with the inevitable interrogation better than many of his colleagues would have done, yet still his unease was palpable. Doubtless briefed, he towed the party line, stressing he was under contract with Williams. He could not, however, guarantee he would be driving a Williams car for a second season.

Zanardi, who failed to score a point in this year's World Championship, while his team-mate, Ralf Schumacher, finished with 35 and sixth place in the standings, said: "I have a contract with Williams and I am committed to it. I cannot say categorically that I will be in the car at the start of next season but that is my hope.

"I am not satisfied with this past season and next season can only be better. I want to remain to do the job. I am due to start testing in Barcelona next week but, of course, that could be changed for many reasons and not just because of this speculation.

"I speak to Frank Williams a lot and we have discussed the situation, especially after a season like this, but the details must remain confidential. I believe I know the full story.

"That said, I was once told many years ago, during my first spell in Formula One, to ignore the stories that I was going to lose my job at Lotus. The following week they chose a new driver."

Williams are said to be seeking a replacement for Zanardi and Jacques Villeneuve, who won the world title with them two years ago, would be a preferred choice if they could negotiate his release from BAR. Unless an exchange agreement can be negotiated, Williams would have to pay Zanardi up to £4m compensation.

Zanardi, who returned to Formula One after winning back-to-back CART titles, maintains he has no intention of seeking refuge in the American series. He said: "That would be like running back to mama, and I don't want to do that.

"Also, I don't want to think or talk about changing teams. I signed for Williams and I want to stay. I am not the best driver in the world but I'm not the worst either. I know that if I have the opportunity and the equipment I can win races again."

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