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Walkinshaw to leave Ligier

TOM WALKINSHAW is to quit the Ligier team at the end of this season. The Scotsman made his decision on Saturday, having read a report in a French magazine "Le Nouvel Economiste" which suggested that French Sports Minister Guy Drut was trying to organize a takeover of the team to put it back into French hands by firing Walkinshaw and getting Briatore to sell 35% of the team back to Guy Ligier. The article, which was clearly an attempt to de-stabilize Walkinshaw, also claimed that Tom has stripped out the assets of Ligier to incorporate them into his own F1 team.

Rather than fight this, Walkinshaw simply decided to pull out and revealed the mysteries of Ligier's ownership. A majority shareholding in the team was sold to Cyril de Rouvre at the start of 1994. Guy Ligier retained 15%, but the rest went to Flavio Briatore. Unable to run the team himself, Briatore turned to Walkinshaw and initially a number of Walkinshaw's TWR personnel - notably operations manager Tony Dowe - were put in to organize the team. In July that year Briatore decided to put his own man in charge and hired Cesare Fiorio, but after just a few months it was clear that Walkinshaw was regaining control - he hired Johnny Herbert from Lotus in October. In the Spring of 1995 the TWR men returned.

Walkinshaw has now revealed what was going on, explaining that Briatore had an option to buy Guy Ligier's 15% and Walkinshaw had an option to buy the whole team from Briatore. The sales never happened, and when it was clear that he could not own the team 100%, Walkinshaw settled on an engineering contract for 1996.

"I don't need Ligier, and as far as I am concerned the French can have it back any time they want," said Tom on Sunday. "They only have to ask. I don't own it. I had the opportunity of owning it at one point but I turned it down because I didn't want it. I am sure there is a lot of maneuvering going on in France around Ligier. I just don't need aggravation like this doing an engineering job on a contract for someone. I want things stabilized."

What angered Tom most of all were the claims that he had asset-stripped the Ligier factory at Magny-Cours.

"There weren't any assets at Ligier worth taking to England," he explained. "It wouldn't have been worth the cost of the ferry to transport anything over. In competitive F1 terms, the factory is a rundown wreck of a place with old and obsolete machinery. There is nothing there that would be of any use to a top flight F1 team. Those claims are just nonsense. The only reason that Ligier has got a car on the grid here is that my company - TWR - funded all the R&D for Ligier from the later part of last year and agreed that Ligier could pay us back in the course of this year as their sponsorship money flowed in."

In the end, however, Ligier did not come up with the money, and Walkinshaw signed the Parmalat deal and last week added another big deal from Austrian energy drink company Power Horse. Until the weekend it seems Tom still held out hopes of taking over the team but the French article indicated to him that he was wasting his time, and he pulled the plug.

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