MARCH 27, 1995
Tom's men move in at Ligier
Dowe and Reed have worked at Ligier before, the pair being drafted in briefly last season to reorganize the Ligier. At that time Benetton managing-director Flavio Briatore was named as the owner of Ligier, while Walkinshaw was working as engineering director at Benetton. After three months, however, Dowe and Reed were suddenly sent back to the United States and Briatore announced that he had appointed Cesare Fiorio as Ligier team boss.
Briatore's original idea appears to have been to cut overheads by sharing technology between Benetton and Ligier. That dream was wrecked in August when Frank Williams decided that, despite Renault's decision to supply Ligier, his team would stay with the French engine maker. This left Ligier without an engine supply and it took Briatore and Walkinshaw until December to finalize a deal with Mugen Honda.
It may be that in that time Briatore's interest in Ligier waned and he agreed to sell all or part of his share in the team. This is unclear because no-one knows who actually owns Ligier. The ownership is wrapped up in a complicated structure of companies of which the shareholders are not known. These are believed to include a company called Interdiesel and another called Vadel in Luxembourg. Whatever the case no-one is keen on giving too many details although it is clear that the two are in some form of partnership and that the Benetton family may also be involved. It is also fairly clear that Walkinshaw has a deal which will ultimately give him control of the team. The return of Dowe and Reed - and the impending departure of Fiorio - suggest that something has definitely changed in terms of ownership.
Ligier has always been a team with access to considerable money thanks to sponsorship deals with Gitanes, Elf and Loto. These run out at the end of this year and do not look like being continued because President Francois Mitterand - the man who ordered the state-owned companies to support Ligier - leaves office in May, and the government is already busy privatizing Elf and the Societe d'Exploitation Industrielle des Tabacs et Allumettes (SEITA), which owns the Gitanes brand.
In recent months Walkinshaw and Briatore have tried very hard to convince the French press that the team is still French but this has not been very successful and now Walkinshaw is arguing that good performances this year will convince the sponsors to stay in 1996. If this is not the case, you can expect Ligier to be moved to Britain very quickly. Walkinshaw already owns a suitable site for a new Ligier headquarters at Witney, England - which he bought from British Telecom - and he is expected to build a new F1 factory there.
If the new Ligier factory is anything like the Ligier-Mugen Honda JS41 chassis, it will be very like Benetton's facility...