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Jackie Stewart gets Ford

THE Ford Motor Company is planning to make a major motor sporting announcement at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 4, and the word on the street in Formula 1 is that the press conference is being held to reveal Ford's plans in Grand Prix racing for 1997 and beyond.

Our spies in Detroit are whispering that a deal is in place for Paul Stewart Racing to be the Ford factory Formula 1 team in 1997 and beyond. This is an extraordinarily brave decision by Ford.

It is no secret that the company was forced into a two-year deal with Sauber at the end of 1994, when Benetton left it in the lurch, and a deal with Jordan was spiked at the last minute when Jordan landed its Peugeot deal. This year's performance with Sauber has been promising but not sensational, and although there are great hopes for 1996, Ford has obviously decided not to continue with Sauber and to look for a different kind of partnership instead. With all the top F1 teams currently involved in partnerships with other manufacturers, Ford was out in the cold. In this respect PSR is a logical choice. It is fronted by motor racing legend Jackie Stewart, who is both well-connected within Ford and also has F1 ambitions as a team owner. It is, however, an enormous risk for both Ford and Stewart.

The risk for Ford is fairly clear. PSR has done well in the junior formulae, winning on a regular basis in Formula 3, but has won only occasional races in the more competitive Formula 3000 - against teams such as Pacific, Forti and DAMS - which have all struggled or already failed in F1.

As these teams will tell you, there is a vast difference between the junior racing championships and F1. The biggest problem is that the newcomers do not have the industrial infrastructure and equipment necessary to be competitive against the established teams. They need vast investment in their early years in F1 - or a lot of luck - to guarantee survival. The problem is that building an infrastructure takes time and is expensive.

The only way to circumnavigate the problem is to buy an existing team and take over its facilities. This could be a possible route for PSR as it is located not far from the Arrows team base in Milton Keynes, England. Arrows bosses Jackie Oliver and Alan Rees might be convinced to sell - but they will not do so cheaply.

If PSR decide to build up its own infrastructure, it will need a lot of backing from Ford. Its traditional sponsors include Mobil, Boss and Forte Hotels. The first two are tied to McLaren in F1 - and Forte may be short of cash next year as it is currently fighting off a $5 billion hostile takeover bid from the Granada Group.

PSR has a number of ex-F1 people working for it, notably F3000 team manager David Stubbs (a former Williams team manager) and F3 team manager Andy Miller, who worked briefly in F1 in the early 1980s.

There are risks in F1 for Jackie Stewart as well. The Scotsman is very proud of the fact that his name is associated with success. He sells this image to companies such as Ford, Goodyear, Moet et Chandon and Rolex, and to date has been able to maintain PSR as a winning operation.

Jackie's connections in the world of international corporations will certainly help the team to raise money - which is vitally important - but if the team is not a success, that failure would have repercussions for Stewart himself.

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