Teams should proceed cautiously over Villeneuve

Derick Allsop asks if Williams would be wise to hire the IndyCar driver
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The Independent Online
Williams-Renault and the rest of the Formula One teams will doubtless take a more balanced view of Jacques Villeneuve's test times than some observers. Mere mention of another famous name should suffice to instil appropriate caution.

Michael Andretti, son of Mario, a former world champion, had a miserable experience in Formula One with McLaren-Ford, and was dispensed with before the completion of the 1993 season. He had been outstanding in IndyCars, seemingly a banker for Grand Prix racing, yet appeared out of his depth on this side of the Atlantic.

Villeneuve, son of the late folk hero, Gilles, has been similarly impressive in north America and won this year's Indianapolis 500. The commercial potential of bringing another Villeneuve to Formula One is obvious. The French- Canadian's manager has done the rounds of the leading teams and, just as importantly, had lengthy discussions with Bernie Ecclestone, the hands- on boss of Formula One's marketing matters.

However, after the Andretti shambles, dare Williams or any of the other front runners take the risk of hiring Villeneuve? More to the point, do they have to? Williams rightly consider they have nothing to lose and possibly much to gain by trying him.

They will monitor his wider attributes as well as his lap times. They will listen as well as watch. And yet, even then, it will be difficult to relate all the information to the requirements and vagaries of a Formula One world championship campaign. IndyCars is, after all, second rate by comparison.

The French connection will perhaps interest Renault, although they - like Williams - would surely be better served by pitching for Jean Alesi. After Michael Schumacher, he is probably the quickest out there.

Williams maintain they prefer to invest more heavily in development than drivers' salaries and that makes sense - so far. To achieve the ultimate level of performance, you also need the best drivers. It is time Williams started thinking big again. They probably have the best car, but may not have had the best from it.

Damon Hill, despite his costly lapses in the last two races, has had a generally good season and could still give Schumacher a hard time in the title run-in. He has made mistakes because he has been trying to beat the Benetton-Renault driver. At least the poor persecuted man has been prepared to have a go.

David Coulthard, in the other Williams, has had the kind of season that was to be expected. He is a novice and needs to be put through the learning process. He is certainly not yet up to the task of competing with Schumacher.

Now if Williams really were intent on knocking spots off the rest, they would be bidding seriously for Schumacher. A combination of the German and Hill would almost guarantee them the drivers' title, as well as that millstone of a constructors' championship they deem so significant.

If that really is out of the question, an Alesi-Hill pairing ought not to be. Villeneuve, like Coulthard, should be given time to find his feet in Formula One with a mid-table team.