NOVEMBER 18, 1996
WE hear from France that Alain Prost now has all the necessary financial backing to buy the Ligier team from its current owner Flavio Briatore - but Prost is waiting to move on the sale because Peugeot will not commit itself to supplying the team with its engines for 1998 and beyond.
The team is going into the 1997 season with a one-year deal for Mugen Honda V10 engines, sponsorship from Gauloises Blondes and Olivier Panis and almost certainly Shinji Nakano as drivers. Ligier is expected to use Bridgestone tires - having failed to close a deal with Goodyear. This suggests that part of Prost's plan will be for the team to use Michelin tires when he takes it over.
Briatore would like to get rid of the team because it is unlikely that the team will score many results in 1997 and the price will therefore drop. Prost does not want to take it over unless he knows that he has a solid engine supply for the future.
The problem for Alain is that there is no reason why Peugeot should make a decision about 1998. This may mean that Prost will have to turn his takeover into a two-stage process and risk not getting the Peugeot deal.
Peugeot's unwillingness to make a decision is quite understandable. It would destabilise the relationship with Jordan - Peugeot hopes to be able to win races this year with Eddie Jordan's cars. It would also narrow Peugeot's options in 1998 when both the Williams and Benetton teams will be without engines and will be looking to Peugeot for a deal.
Peugeot's situation is complicated by the fact that the French car manufacturer is still suffering badly because of the state of the French economy and there are sections of the management which want the company to stop wasting money in F1. Current chief executive Jacques Calvet has to retire at the end of September next year and his expected replacement is his deputy Jean-Martin Folz.
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