JUNE 24, 1996
...so it is a fight for Honda
RENAULT's decision to quit Formula 1 at the end of 1997 is likely to focus attention on the battle going on over which team will use Honda engines in 1998. Rumors link Honda with Williams, Benetton, TWR F1, Tyrrell and - would you believe it? - McLaren.
Williams is the obvious choice as F1's only consistent winner in recent years, and the team used Honda engines with much success in the 1980s. Frank Williams's accident and Ron Dennis's persuasive ways led Honda to move to McLaren in 1988 - which will make both sides a little wary of a new deal.
Benetton's Flavio Briatore has been wooing Honda for some weeks already but trying to sell Benetton at the moment is not easy as the team's performance has been very disappointing. Briatore is cunning, however, and is trying to work a deal in which Benetton gets Honda engines and Ligier - which he owns - gets Mugen V10s. Having two teams together allows him to offer the second Ligier to Honda for a Japanese driver, probably Taranosuke Takagi, a prot?g? of Honda F1 star Satoru Nakajima.
Nakajima and Takagi have also been linked with attempts by Honda to buy the Tyrrell team - thus establishing a Honda-Honda operation, without having to invest vast sums in setting up a chassis department. If you throw enough money at any F1 team owner he will sell.
Tom Walkinshaw is pitching Honda very hard for the 1998 works deal and he is hoping that his Bridgestone tire deal will help his cause. Honda management know that, given the right backing, Tom is a winner - and that is what they are looking for.
The rumors about McLaren are odd and may be disinformation from rival teams. Ron Dennis's team is supposed to have a long-term contract with Mercedes. Dennis, however, is no angel and may be throwing his hat in the ring to disrupt negotiations and, therefore, slow down Honda's decision. This is a tactic he used with great effect in 1993-94 with Ford.
We expect Honda to make an announcement as soon as possible so that the engine can be thoroughly tested and competitive when it appears. For this to happen a decision will be needed within a few weeks...
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