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All quiet on the Sauber front

TALKS between Sauber and Ferrari appear to have resumed after last week's tumultuous announcements in which Sauber announced a deal to run Ferrari V10s and Ferrari denied any such arrangement.

Magazines in Europe are suggesting that Ferrari was forced to deny the deal because its sponsors Shell and Marlboro were not happy that their investment in Ferrari is being siphoned off to Sauber. Our sources indicate that this is not true. Marlboro is reportedly not bothered by the deal as Sauber does not have any tobacco sponsorship and Shell is working with Petronas in a number of areas around the world and is understood to be quite happy with the deal.

The details of the arrangement - which will see Sauber using 1996-spec Ferrari V10 engines in 1997 and 1998 - are still being sorted out. It is now so late in the production process for the 1997 cars that Sauber will have to have parallel gearbox programs for the Ferrari V10 and the Ford V8 - to cover all eventualities.

It is thought unlikely that there will now be any public announcements about a deal until Sauber unveils its new car in February with what will be a Petronas V10 - a rebadged Ferrari V10 - in the back.

Ferrari is expected to take advantage of the recent publicity to pressure Sauber into accepting an Italian driver as part of the deal. Such a move would be logical for the Ferrari management which is trying to avoid criticism in Italy over the Sauber deal because it has consistently refused to allow its old engines to go to Minardi.

The man most likely to get the drive is 32-year-old Ferrari test driver Nicola Larini, who is available to race now that the International Touring Car Championship has collapsed. Larini has raced in 44 Grands Prix since 1987 when he made his F1 debut with Coloni. He spent two years with Osella, making his mark in 1989 by running second in the rain-soaked Canadian GP. In 1990 he was snapped up by Ligier and did a good job despite poor machinery. He was fired at the end of the year and joined the ill-fated Modena Team. He began test driving for Ferrari in 1992 while racing for Alfa Romeo in touring cars. He has competed four times for Ferrari, replacing Ivan Capelli at the end of 1992 and standing in for the injured Jean Alesi in 1994. He finished second in the disastrous San Marino GP of 1994 but his achievement was overshadowed by the death of Ayrton Senna. If Larini does go to Sauber Gianni Morbidelli is thought likely to become Ferrari's test driver.

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