Opel has signed three new DTM drivers who are not expected deliver in 2001 - but is the Russelsheim manufacturer collecting their sponsorship money for a big double deal?

Germany's racing scene burst out laughing when news broke who the new Opel drivers in the 2001 DTM season would be: Belgian Yves Olivier and the two Germans Sascha Bert and Hubert Haupt have been added to the line up of last year's championship loosing team, which apparently leaves it's number one driver Manuel Reuter in a position where he won't be challenged by any of his team mates at all - which must favour Opel's sporting director Volker Strycek.

All of the new signings seem to have opened the doors to their respective DTM cars with money. Olivier has shown some talent in both the German Formula Renault and Formula Three, but failed to deliver any results on a constant basis, especially when moving to F3000 last year. His family, however, is wealthy enough to live in an impressive castle in Belgium, and he also enjoys the support of Opel Belgium and, even though the planned DTM race at Zolder has had to be called off, they still have the Benelux benefit of the event at Zandvoort in The Netherlands.

Haupt, a formerly unsuccessful works junior with Audi's DTM outfit in the early nineties, has occasionally driven sportscars ever since, sharing the Porsche 911 GT2 from the team of German Manfred Freisinger with regular driver Wolfgang Kaufmann. The two won the race at the new EuroSpeedway Lausitz last year, only to state afterwards that "I'm glad I don't have to rely on prostituting with team owners and journalists any more".

Haupt claimed he was only racing for fun - but then his family's business connections opened a door into Opel's Milan based Euroteam. His family is heavily involved in Munich's real estate business, and has established connections to a German real estate internet portal which also run a sister portal selling used cars on the web. This very sister portal has opened its wallet to fund part of Haupt's Opel deal - and while the tall driver is still seeking for an addition to his fundings, his already-signed contract forbids him to admit he'll be driving, let alone reveal any details.

The third new recruit, Sascha Bert, owes his spot with Opel's Phoenix team, where he is likely to team up with vice-champion Reuter, to his personal manager. Jakub Andreas Grajewski, a Polish native who has long been living in Hannover and involved his management company JAG in racing, bought 49 per cent of Phoenix's shares when the team was founded in 1999.

Grajewski's money injection had helped the former Zakspeed heads Ernst Moser and Dirk Theimann to set up their own team after parting with Zakspeed boss Peter Zakowski. After Grajewski fell out with former protege Arnd Meier, for whom he also bought part of the Davis Racing Champcar team, he helped Nordic Racing kick Meier out of its F3000 team and install his new signing Bert in his place, while Meier was given his last chance with Grajewski at the new Phoenix team in what was then an Audi A4 in the German Super Touring Car Championship in 1999. Now, Grajewski has brought Bert to Phoenix and into a DTM Opel V8 Coupe - even though Bert, too, has not exactly shone since leaving the German Formula Renault series.

What appeared to be a sad and embarrassing consequence from Opel's huge financial losses in the past couple of years, and thus as a desperate attempt to save in money in order to save the entire DTM project, could now turn into a big deal for the championship, as: Opel seems set to collect the money of its wealthy new signings in order to finance the contracts for two real superstars - namely Karl Wendlinger and Johnny Herbert.

Wendlinger was spotted talking with Opel's sporting director Volker Strycek at the Essen Motor Show back in December, although progress wasn't helped by the fact that Strycek went off for a very long holiday and to compete in the Monte Carlo historic rally while others were negotiating contracts. Wendlinger was left hanging in the balance and was eagerly awaiting the final results of his talks at Essen, which he found "rather encouraging".

Johnny Herbert is widely reported on German fans' websites to have be seen at Opel's racing headquarter Opel Performance Centre [OPC] with Opel's press and marketing heads Uwe Baldes and Joerg Schrott respectively, which may be a clear indication for a probable DTM deal.

Rumour also has it that Herbert was spotted at Augsburg airport, where he reportedly arrived in a Learjet and was picked up by members of Opel's factory team Holzer. He is believed to have been on his way to get his carbon fibre composite safety seat box - a special device for DTM - fitted and fixed at Holzer's Augsburg team base.

While both drivers have offers out of the sportscar world, with Herbert being linked to the second new Panoz he would share with German Klaus Graf, and Wendlinger still on the agenda for ORECA's new Chrysler prototype, neither of them would compete in the DTM for small salaries. Wendlinger, however, would take the place of Christian Menzel at the Irmscher team if his Opel deal were to come through, despite Menzel having been on the bottom end of Opel's pay scale in 2000.

Justified demands of the two former Formula One drivers are believed to be no lower than the artificial price cap for driver's salaries, which have been set at 500,000 Deutschmarks in a gentlemen's agreement between the two DTM manufacturers Mercedes-Benz and Opel. Thus, Opel would have to generate a massive one million Marks extra - in addition to the huge development costs for the new spec V8 Coupe and the high running costs - for the two spectacular new signings, who both appear likely to also claim any private sponsorship incomes for their own wallets instead of including it with Opel's budget. Following the recent problems of Opel in general, this would be impossible to achieve from sources within the company - the only way is to misuse the budgets of other drivers, which seems to happen just now.