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Prost and Ligier

THERE has been much excitement in recent days about a possible announcement about the future of Ligier from Alain Prost. The problem appears to be that neither current owner Flavio Briatore nor Prost is particularly keen on owning the team in 1997. Prost's deals with French companies - rumors suggest that Gauloises Blondes, Canal Plus, Total, Peugeot and Michelin may all be involved - are all believed to be for 1998 and he does not have the money to buy the team in 1996 and run it in 1997.

Briatore wants to get rid of Ligier because he is busy trying to keep Benetton together and now has other responsibilities having recently become the major shareholder in Minardi - but he wants a good price for the deal.

Briatore knows that he must keep up a decent level of competitiveness in 1997 if he wants to get a good price from Prost and so has turned his attention to Japan in an effort to raise money - or reduce engine bills - by hiring Mugen prot?g? Shinji╩Nakano. Such a move will greatly reduce the $8m being demanded by Mugen to supply its V10 engines next year. Gauloises Blondes is continuing but its budget contribution is not thought to be more than $8m and with Elf pulling out next year Ligier needs more cash. The defection of Pedro Diniz (and his $10m Parmalat deal) to TWR Arrows was thus a major blow to Briatore.

To make things more difficult Ligier needs a new chassis this year if it wishes to be more competitive. The JS43 was nothing more than a tidied-up version of the JS41 which was, itself, little more than a copy of the Benetton-Ford B194, which was designed in the autumn of 1993.

The earliest we would expect a Prost takeover is after the team has completed putting together its 1997 package and, more than likely, it will not be until the mid-season - perhaps at the French Grand Prix in July.

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