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Dernie decides to stay at Ligier

Ligier's technical director Frank Dernie is to stay on with the Magny-Cours team, although he came close to quitting after the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Dernie was upset because the Ligier development budgets were not sufficient for what he wishes to achieve this year. In addition, Dernie was not particularly keen to have been transferred from Benetton to Ligier by Flavio Briatore. Frank's contract ran out at the end of March and a new one had to be negotiated to entice him to stay.

In fact Dernie was in a very strong bargaining position, as Ligier cannot afford to lose its technical director as it tries to break into the big time and sign new sponsorship deals with the major French companies which have backed Ligier for years.

It is virtually certain that Loto, the French national lottery, will no longer be pouring money into the team; and Elf will only stay involved if the team agrees to run the oil company's French proteg?s. The big sponsor, however, is Gitanes Blondes and the Ligier management hope that the cigarette makers can be enticed to sign a new long-term deal. This is by no means certain to happen and much will depend on the outcome of the French presidential election at the end of the month. We hear that if Jacques Chirac wins, the backing will continue; but that if the vote goes to Edourad Balladur, the Gitanes money will stop.

At the moment the team still has several shareholders, despite being run by Tom Walkinshaw. We now hear that in June, Walkinshaw and Benetton will complete a share swap in which Walkinshaw will cease his involvement in Benetton Formula in exchange for getting hold of the Benetton shares in Ligier. Walkinshaw is clearly in the driving seat at the moment with his appointees from TWR USA now in place in France. Tony Dowe has been appointed Director of Operations and Ian Reed has joined the engineering staff.

The arrival of Dowe leaves the team's sporting director Cesare Fiorio without any real responsibility, and it is no secret in F1 circles that Walkinshaw wants Fiorio out. The Italian is believed, however, to have a contract which does not run out until after the French GP in July.

It is widely rumored that Fiorio will leave and will join Forti Corse, where his longtime collaborator and friend Franco Listro is currently employed as press officer.

There are likely to be other major changes at Ligier in the weeks ahead with the likely disappearance of the team's financial head Bruno Michel.If the French government does not decide to continue its sponsorship of Ligier, Walkinshaw will close down the Magny-Cours factory at the end of this year and move the entire team to England, where he is building a new factory in Witney, near Oxford. The loss of around 100 jobs in the area around Magny-Cours and the damage which will be done to the network of suppliers of Ligier, is not likely to persuade the French government to continue supporting the team.

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