OCTOBER 30, 1995
Will Diniz be a Ligier driver?
RUMORS in Japan say that the team is about to sign a contract with Brazilian Pedro Diniz, who has $8 million of sponsorship for any team which wishes to sign him up. Pedro has confirmed that he will not be staying with Forti next season and hopes to announce his new team shortly.
However there is opposition in the Ligier camp to the deal because Tom Walkinshaw is not very keen on running pay-drivers as he is trying to turn Ligier into a serious racing team. In Suzuka, Tom even went so far as to deny any contact with Diniz when asked about a possible deal. We hear stories that the discussions over Diniz led to serious friction between Tom and nominal Ligier owner Flavio Briatore before the Pacific GP. There is little doubt that Briatore still has considerable influence at Ligier, despite the fact that Walkinshaw has run the team and rid himself of most of the people Flavio put in. However, Briatore is still represented at Ligier by French accountant Bruno Michel and until he disappears the team is clearly not totally in Walkinshaw's hands.
Briatore is - naturally - keen to take $8 million from Diniz but Walkinshaw wants to be in a position to choose the drivers he wants. His problem is that money is short. The SEITA (Gitanes and Gauloises) has reduced its budget for 1996 by around 25% and Elf is insisting that teams it supports take some of its drivers. Loto is pulling out of F1. Walkinshaw has been trying very hard to find money in recent weeks but has yet to land the big deal. This is frustrating and we have even heard suggestions that Walkinshaw is fed up with trying to work in such circumstances and is thinking about pulling out of Ligier and preparing his own F1 program for a couple of years ahead. This may not be easy as Tom has intricate links with the Benetton family which may force him to continue.
One possible solution is for Ligier to look for an alternative fuel supplier to Elf. This would enable Walkinshaw to find money without having to accept a driver as well.
Elf, however, has a problem because Ligier provides the oil company with a place to put drivers from the La Filiere scheme which is designed to take young drivers and make them into racing stars.
At the moment Elf has a problem because it has promoted too many young drivers at the same time and so there are now six Elf-backed Frenchmen all trying to find a place in F1. Olivier Panis and Jean-Christophe Boullion have been quite successful but Franck Lagorce and Emmanuel Collard are still trying to break into Grand Prix racing. At the same time Emmanuel Clerico and Guillaume Gomez have both completed two years in F3000 and have nothing to gain staying on.
The only possible solution other than increasing the budget with Ligier to such an extent that the team has to take an Elf driver is to throw all the money at the DAMS project. If not, Elf could find itself with a staircase of talent leading nowhere.
Likely targets for Elf replacements at Ligier are the Q8, Texaco and BP oil companies, while Petrobras - the national oil company of Brazil - should not be overlooked if Diniz does sign up.
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