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Walkinshaw quits Ligier

Tom Walkinshaw has always wanted his own Formula 1 team. Last year he took over the running of Ligier. The French team was bought from Cyril de Rouvre at the start of 1994 by Flavio Briatore although Guy Ligier retained 15% of the company. Initially Briatore put in personnel from Walkinshaw's TWR company although in July - as relationships between the two men became strained - Briatore put Cesare Fiorio in charge. Nine months later the TWR men returned and Fiorio quietly disappeared again. The F1 world was confused.

It now seems that Walkinshaw had an option to buy the team and it was this which ended Fiorio's reign. At the same time work began in England to build up an F1 facility at the new TWR headquarters at Leafield. The Ligier research & development was moved to England.

The sale of the team from Briatore to Ligier never happened and last weekend the Italian announced that Tom's involvement with the team would come to an end after the current season. The announcement came after an article appeared in a French magazine "Le Nouvel Economiste" suggesting that French Sports Minister Guy Drut was planning to organize another takeover of Ligier with Walkinshaw being dumped, Briatore selling 35% of the team and the big French sponsors returning once again. The article also claimed that Walkinshaw has stripped out the assets of Ligier to incorporate them into his own F1 team. It was clearly an attempt to discredit Walkinshaw and he reacted by deciding to stop working with the team.

We asked Walkinshaw to explain what is going on.

TW: "I don't really know what's going on. I don't need Ligier and as far as I am concerned the French can have it back any time they want. They only have to ask. I don't own it. I had the opportunity of owning it at one point but I turned it down because I didn't want it. All we have is an engineering contract with Ligier to supply engineering resources for the 1996 season. When that runs out I do not wish to renew it, so as far as I am concerned that is all that is going on. I am sure there is a lot of manoeuvering going on in France around Ligier. I firmly believe that Ligier should be a French team and I have repeatedly said that. It never made any sense to move Ligier to England. There was never any plan to do that. France should have a good strong national team. That would be good for F1, but whether that team should be Ligier is a different story. That is up to the French people. I like France. I like the French people. I just don't need aggravation like this doing an engineering job on a contract for someone. I want things stablized."

Q: What about the claims of asset-stripping?

TW: "There weren't any assets at Ligier worth taking to England. It wouldn't have been worth the cost of the ferry to transport anything over. In competitive F1 terms, the factory is a rundown wreck of a place with old and obsolete machinery. There is nothing there that would be of any use to a top flight F1 team. That claims are just nonsense. I don't know where that comes from. What I do know is that the only reason that Ligier has got a car on the grid here is that my company - TWR - funded all the R&D for Ligier right through the latter part of last year and agreed that Ligier could pay us back in the course of this year as their sponsorship monies flowed in. That is all controlled through the finance director Bruno Michel in France."

Q: Is it true that you also found the sponsorship for this year?

TW: "The Parmalat deal was negotiated and signed by me. Power Horse was negotiated and signed by me. All the sponsorship on the car apart from Gauloises was negotiated and signed by me to make sure we got the budget to run Ligier properly for this season - for no better reason than to make sure that we got paid for the R&D on which we had been spending since last July."

Q: So does this mean we can expect to see a TWR F1 team in 1997?

TW: "We were always going to come to F1. We originally came in with a shareholding in Benetton. That link still exists but I decided that in the longer term if we were to use F1 as a showplace for our technology it had to be with a team which we owned 100%. The reputation you have is too important and the only way to protect it is to have 100% control. That was a decision I took two and a bit years ago and that is what we have been working towards. We will announce something when we are ready to do so. Flavio knows about it. There is no secret about it. It was quite clear what we were trying to do and when we're ready we will announce it. We would have to have everything in place by July if we want to have a serious attempt at doing it in 1997.

Q: TWR spent a lot of time last winter trying to hire Gil de Ferran. Would he be the first choice as a driver for a TWR F1 team?

TW: "I think it depends who is available at the time. At the time I felt that Gil was the best guy on the market place who would have fitted the bill at Ligier. If Michael Schumacher was on the market and we had the budget to pay for him, obviously we'd be going after Michael. You have to look at the marketplace and then make a decision about which one you think you can work best with. Gil is a really good guy. In my opinion a first rate driver but we will have to see how things develop."<\#026>

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