Re: Webber may go to Williams early
Doors open for Webber
By Bob Jennings
The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday July 2 2004
Questions about the future of Australian Formula One driver Mark Webber are expected to be answered by the Hungarian Grand Prix on August 15 -- but an announcement could be made earlier.
There were even suggestions yesterday that Webber could find himself fast-tracked to Williams as early as Sunday week's British GP after Ralf Schumacher was effectively ruled out for the season with spinal fractures, although that is unlikely.
Doctors said Williams driver Schumacher could be out for three months after tests revealed two spinal fractures from his US GP crash last month.
Webber, seen as hot property on the F1 market, is contracted to Jaguar until the end of next season, but there is a performance clause in his contract that allows a renegotiation should either the team or the driver fail to perform.
The team needed to be in the top six in the constructors' championship by mid-season to live up to its side of the contract but it is languishing in ninth. A monetary offer to cash-strapped Jaguar may enable the Australian to walk now and could be tempting to Jaguar.
Webber said this week that Renault had first call on his services, and common practice for the team was to announce its future driver line-up at its home GP. He admitted he and his manager -- and Renault team boss -- Flavio Briatore had also been speaking with Williams and Toyota. At Indianapolis a fortnight ago, the rumour was that Webber had all but signed with Williams.
The French GP will be run this weekend at Magny-Cours but Webber said he would be surprised if Renault named its 2005 drivers that early.
However, he added: "Drivers' [contracts] will be locked away at Budapest [site of the Hungarian GP] but we should have a pretty good idea before then."
Webber admitted 2004 had been frustrating for him because of the unreliability of the Jaguar R6; he has scored only three points from his nine races. By this time last year he had 17 points.
"It's been a tough season for us," he said. "If we'd been able to finish more races, we would have more points. Performance of the car is not an issue for us, it's not seeing the chequered flag."
Meanwhile, with Ford taking a knife to its international operations to save money -- it has cut 22,000 jobs globally -- Jaguar Racing is also believed to be under scrutiny and there have been suggestions its F1 program could be scrapped.
"It would be disappointing if the team didn't continue next year," Webber said. "There are meetings taking place in the next few weeks which will decide its future, although the feeling is that it is important for Ford to have a presence in F1 through Jaguar."
In the UK, Jaguar Racing has announced its other driver, Austrian Christian Klien, will be fit to race this weekend despite badly injuring his right forefinger last week.
As for Schumacher, manager Willi Weber said Ralf was certain to miss at least the next three races. News of the injury's severity, which was worse than expected, was difficult to swallow for Schumacher, considering it was his birthday yesterday.
"I imagined my birthday would be rather different -- yesterday's diagnosis was a real blow," Schumacher said on his website. "But so be it. I have to get through it."
Would you like to change your name to Homer Junior? People can call you Hoju.