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Whither Wirth?

SIMTEK designer and team principal Nick Wirth may have had to close down his Formula 1 team with huge losses, but we hear that the 29-year-old Briton has received a bewildering array of offers of work for 1996. There have been a variety of rumors including a whisper that McLaren wants him to take over the design department from Neil Oatley. Sauber is also said to be sniffing around for a designer, although it is thought that German-speaker Gustav Brunner is the most likely man to join Sauber. Brunner is currently under contract to Ferrari and Sauber denies any contact with him. Rumors in Italy, however, continue to suggest that Gustav is on the way out at Maranello, and we hear an intriguing rumor that Ferrari team boss has offered Wirth a three-year contract to work as Ferrari's design chief in Italy. How this would fit in with Ferrari's British offshoot run by John Barnard is unclear. There have long been rumors that Todt is not happy with having a design office in England and a racing team in Italy, but last weekend he denied this saying that the current situation with Ferrari was no different than Williams building chassis in England and using French-built Renault engines.

Wirth is also thought to be on Ligier's shopping list at the team's planned British design office, although there are conflicting rumors which suggest that Ligier boss Tom Walkinshaw is trying to convince not only Ross Brawn to leave Benetton but also Rory Byrne as well. If Byrne can be convinced to quit Benetton, it would result in an exodus of engineers, as men such as PatĘSymmonds and Dave Wass have worked with Byrne for many years and tend to follow him from job to job.

Wherever Wirth ends up, he is expected to take with him former Simtek chief designer Paul Crooks, a highly rated engineer who has worked for both Ligier and Benetton in the past.

Although very young Wirth has been involved in F1 design since 1987 when he joined the March F1 team straight from college as an aerodynamicist. In 1989 he joined forces with Max Mosley to found Simtek Research, which worked for BMW, FISA, March Engineering, Ligier and the French government on a number of design programs including three F1 projects, windtunnels, and a variety of other racing concepts. Wirth decided to found his own F1 team in 1994, but it closed its doors recently with the loss of $9 million.

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