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The fight for Renault begins

THE moves by the French government to turn Ligier back into a French racing team have begun a battle of influence to see who will use Renault engines in 1998 and beyond.

Renault Sport boss Patrick Faure denied there was any chance that Renault Sport would supply a third team in 1997, saying that such a program would compromise the existing relationships with Williams and Benetton.

Faure, however, remains a public servant as Renault is still controlled by the French government and so he will do as he is told. In the past Renault has never been able to withstand political pressure from the government which resulted in Ligier receiving Renault engines twice in the 1980s. Renault men argue that as the company is now being privatized that influence is reducing.

Asked if Renault could resist political pressure Faure said there had been none - although he admitted that he had met with Guy Drut, the French Minister of Sport, who is trying to put the deal together.

Faure said that he expected to begin talks with the teams about engines at Monaco and announce the decisions taken at the French GP. If the French government insists on a Ligier deal and Renault cannot expand to three teams, one of the existing partners will have to go. Paddock rumor in Sao Paulo suggested that Renault is unlikely to dump Williams and may decide that Benetton's performance without Schumacher is not sufficiently good to warrant continuing in 1998 and 1999. Faure however admitted that the company does not yet have plans for 1998 and 1999.

Some French sources say that the government has also been sounding out Peugeot to see if Ligier might get engines from them. The Peugeot company is privately owned and was once involved with Ligier through the Talbot deal in the early 1980s. It is unlikely to be repeated.

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