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French sponsors ponder policy changes

WE hear from France that both Elf and Gitanes Blondes are planning to alter their sponsorship strategies in Formula 1. At the moment both companies support Ligier heavily, while Elf also backs the Renault-powered teams and supplies a number of customers with fuel and lubricants. The Renault deals are expected to remain in place, but we hear that in future the French oil company has decided to give its sponsorship to individual drivers rather than to teams and thus promote the use of more French drivers. Elf invests heavily in developing new talents but at the moment has too many drivers to find seats for in F1. This will probably mean that next year both Emmanuel Collard and Franck Lagorce will have regular F1 drives in addition to the Elf-backed Olivier Panis and Jean-Christophe Boullion. This is good news for some of the smaller teams which will be able to find much-needed backing from drivers with talent, but it is bad news for Ligier which will probably suffer a large cut in Elf income.

To make matters worse, Loto has already decided that it is pulling out of F1; and Gitanes Blondes is considering cutting back its involvement and spreading its money around among several teams - a policy which has long been used to good effect by rival cigarette maker Marlboro.

Last Friday in Magny-Cours the Gitanes top brass met Guy Ligier, Jacques Laffite and Ligier's nominal boss Flavio Briatore at Le Renaissance hotel in Magny-Cours, to discuss the future. In the meantime, the man actually running Ligier, Tom Walkinshaw, had sponsor-hunter Guy Edwards with him again. The team is expected to become Walkinshaw's officially at the end of the month, after all the sponsorship decisions for 1996 have been made. Tom will then own 80% of the company but will no longer be involved in the Benetton team. Guy Ligier retains 20% of the shares and says that he will withdraw his name from the team if it is moved to England - which is what Walkinshaw wants to do. If this happens, Tom will have to buy out Ligier and also start from scratch next year in terms of the F1 travel fund, which is worth millions of dollars. In all probability, therefore, the cars will become known as TWR Ligiers in 1996 with elements of the Ligier race team being retained in France.

Last weekend, Ligier ran with the colors of Speedy vehicle repair chain, a one-off deal for the French GP, in which advertising Gitanes is banned.

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