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Sauber still hunting for engines

THE Ford Motor Company has yet to decide whether it is willing to supply its V10 engines to the Sauber team in 1997. The Swiss operation can run the engines if it accepts that the units will be one step behind those supplied to the new Stewart Grand Prix and that it is willing to pay for the supply.

Sauber may be forced to take this deal as there seems to be little else available, although it is unlikely that Ford would be happy to see Sauber beating Stewart. Although Sauber has had talks with Peugeot and Honda, it seems that the only real option will be to do a deal with Brian Hart.

Hart, however, may stay on with Arrows as Tom Walkinshaw's team needs an engine to tide it over until a new deal is available in 1998. The problem for Hart is that he needs a quick decision while Walkinshaw wants to keep his options open as long as he can. If Walkinshaw delays too long Hart may decide to cut his losses and do a deal with Sauber.

There were rumors at Silverstone that Sauber may be considering another option - to build its own engines with backing from the Malaysian government.

In January, Sauber announced a five-year deal with Malaysian national oil company Petronas. The deal included the establishment of a company called Sauber Engineering "to commercialize the technology it has available" from the F1 program. There have been suggestions that this company might be able to design and build an F1 engine of its own, possibly with backing from a car company such as Proton - which is also owned by the Malaysian government.

This is an interesting possibility but one which is hard to imagine being a reality. To build a competitive F1 engine takes around $50m a year and that investment needs to be continuous for at least five years - an investment of $250m, which is a great deal of money, even for a government.

Engine programs can be done for less money but to be truly competitive against the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and Ferrari requires an annual budget of around $70m a year.

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