NEWS FEATURE

The future of Gerard Larrousse as a team owner

When the Larrousse F1 team unveiled its 1994 package a year ago, things seemed to be going well for Gerard Larrousse's team. There was a big sponsorship deal from the BSN Group (now called Danone), which was the third biggest consumer company in Europe. It's Kronenberg offshoot, by itself, was the third largest brewing company in the world behind Kirin and Heineken. The team also announced that former F1 driver Patrick Tambay and his partner Michel Golay had taken a share of the team through their Fast Group SA sponsorship agency.

But behind the glitter the fact is that the team was already struggling and as long ago as 1991 Gerard Larrousse's financial troubles were affecting others in the F1 paddock.

"He doesn't pay his bills," says Brian Hart, who lost an estimated $250,000 when the Larrousse company was declared bankrupt at the end of 1991. At the same time Lola Cars - which built Larrousse's F1 chassis between 1987-1991 - lost an estimated $1 million. There were many other smaller companies which also suffered.

Gerard Larrousse, however, formed a new alliance with Automobiles Venturi and did a deal with Robin Herd's Fomet 1 company to build new cars. Herd changed the company name to Larrousse UK Ltd.

By the winter of 1993 Larrousse was dreaming of a Peugeot engine deal for 1994 but when Peugeot suddenly decided to join McLaren - a move which drove Larrousse's engine supplier Lamborghini out of F1 - Gerard Larrousse was left with no choice but to use Ford HB V8 engines.

The 1994 cars which Larrousse proudly unveiled were, in fact, only modified versions of the 1993 chassis, which had ben modified to fit refuelling equipment and re-engineered to accept the Ford engine.

The car still had potential, Erik Comas finishing sixth at Tanaka International. By July there was more good news with a sponsorship deal from Gauloises Blondes.

And yet, by the end of the season, the team was so short of money that it was running pay-drivers like Jean-Denis Deletraz and Hideki Noda. Even Comas was dropped.

By late autumn Larrousse had fallen out with Robin Herd, boss of Larrousse UK Ltd, the team's design office in England. Herd doesn't like to talk about business in public, but he suspended work on the 1995 car because no money had been forthcoming. When it was too late Larrousse UK was shut down and the engineers employed by a new company called GenTech, exclusively involved in Indycars with Forsythe Racing.

Larrousse no longer had the means to build a car and when talks with the DAMS F3000 team failed, he had to accept that he had to sell control of his team to Jean Messaoudi and Laurent Barlesi. Another new company was started with Gerard having only a small shareholding, the old Larrousse company was liquidated, its debts left unpaid.

Those who have invested in Larrousse or those who are owed money have little hope of anything. At the Argentine Grand Prix Fast Group announced that it had ceased all involvement with Larrousse team following "unsuccessful attempts at conciliation" and legal action against Gerard Larrousse is now expected.

Even if Larrousse's name survives in F1, his credibility as a team owner does not...

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