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Big changes ahead at McLaren

MCLAREN finally confirmed Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard as its drivers for next year, adding that Alain Prost and Jan Magnussen would continue testing for the team. The news was not a surprise in F1 circles.

What was a surprise was the appearance of Indycar team owner Roger Penske at the Nurburgring and his appearance at the FOCA meeting in the company of Ron Dennis has led to intense speculation that the American is in the process of buying a stake in the McLaren empire, something which has been rumored for several months.

Penske ran his own F1 team between 1974 and 1976, John Watson winning the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix at the wheel of a Penske-Ford. Since then Penske has gone on to enormous success in American racing and a vast business empire which today employs 11,000 people in three groups of companies: transportation, retail and performance. These include Detroit Diesel and Penske Truck Leasing plus car dealerships across the USA. His performance division includes an Indycar team, a NASCAR team and Penske Cars in Poole, England. In addition he owns the racing circuits at Michigan and Nazareth and is a shareholder in Ilmor Engineering. Penske himself is on the board of directors of Philip Morris and American Express.

Only last week Penske bought the 860 Kmart automotive service centers for a bargain price of $112 million.

Penske Racing runs Mercedes engines in Indycar racing and has sponsorship from Marlboro (a Philip Morris brand) and Mobil. It is exactly the same package as McLaren has in F1.

Well-placed sources in F1 say that Ron Dennis's partner Mansour Ojjeh has decided that he no longer wants to be involved in the TAG/McLaren Group and is selling his shareholding. This is believed to be at least 60% of the company and we hear that Marlboro is to take 20%, Penske 20% and the two will split the other 20% between them. Some sources say that these shares will be controlled by Alain Prost. We understand that there is to be a very important meeting at the McLaren factory in Woking on Monday.

The ownership changes are likely to have been engineered by Marlboro which was responsible for the merger between TeamÊMcLaren and Project 4 Racing in 1980 which gave Ron Dennis control of McLaren International. Ironically, the man Dennis pushed out of McLaren at the time was Teddy Mayer, who today works for Penske Racing in the United States.

At the time, Marlboro was unhappy with McLaren Racing because it had not won a World Championship for four seasons and there had been no race wins for three years. In three races it will be four years since McLaren's last World Championship and two full seasons without a race victory.

We hear incidentally that both Boss and Courtaulds - longtime McLaren sponsors - have told the team that they are leaving at the end of this year.

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