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Ligier's mystery tester

THE Ligier F1 team heads to Estoril a week from today intending to continue its evaluation testing of young drivers. The team recently ran Emmanuel Collard, Vincenzo Sospiri and Jeremie Dufour at Mugello, with Collard and Sospiri recording around the same sort of time during the two days of running. Dufour did only a few laps but impressed the engineers with his feedback.

The Ligier test team - under engineer Ian Reed - is heading off to Estoril without knowing who is going to be driving: team boss Tom Walkinshaw and team manager Tony Dowe refusing to say. There are plenty of rumors, notably that Olivier Panis will stay in 1996 - thanks to his French connections with sponsors Gitanes and Elf. It is logical to keep Panis as he has had two seasons of experience at Ligier and is thus a more logical choice than another Elf-supported driver such as Collard, Jean-Christophe Boullion or F3000 runner Emmanuel Clerico.

Word in the F1 paddock is that Ligier still needs a lot more money for 1996 and that team owner Flavio Briatore - who appears to still have a majority shareholding despite Walkinshaw's efforts to gain control - wants a pay-driver in the second seat. As a result, rumors have linked Ligier with Brazilian rich kid Pedro Paulo Diniz, who has a pot of gold available for any team which would like to run him. Sospiri, the current F3000 champion, is also believed to have some money available for a drive. Walkinshaw, however, has never been very fond of such compromises, and would prefer to sign a charger and find money to run him. The name Johnny Herbert has been mentioned as a possible Ligier driver, and it could be Herbert driving the car at Estoril. At the same time we hear that former British F3 Champion Kelvin Burt, who spent 1995 racing for the factory Ford team in the British Touring Car Championship, is to test for Ligier and may be signed up as a test driver for the F1 team, while racing a Tom Walkinshaw racing Volvo in the BTCC. Burt was formerly a Jordan F1 test driver.

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