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Walkinshaw and 555 - a deal in the making?

THE FIA Formula 1 World Championship entry list revealed that Tom Walkinshaw's Arrows team did not nominate a title sponsor. The team - which will run Damon Hill and Pedro Diniz next season - will have backing from Austrian drinks company Power Horse, from Italian dairy company Parmalat and from Japanese tiremaker Bridgestone - but none of these are big enough to give the sponsor the naming rights to the team. This is interesting and indicates that Walkinshaw must be going after an even bigger fish.

With Williams having grabbed Castrol the team is without an oil company and it currently has no cigarette money at all. As long ago as September (INSIDE F1, Week 40) we speculated that Walkinshaw was after a deal with the world's second largest tobacco company - British American Tobacco.

BAT has backed Arrows, Williams and Jordan in recent years through its Barclay brand. Now it seems the company has decided to get more involved in motor racing as advertising restrictions around the world tighten. The first step in this expansion is the Kool-sponsorship deal which Team Green has landed for Indycar racing.

BAT sells Benson & Hedges around the world - except in Europe and the United States - but Jordan's current B&H deal is not BAT-funded, the money coming from Gallaher Ltd., which markets B&H in Europe. BAT, however, controls a variety of other big brands - notably Gold Leaf, Kent, Lucky Strike, Barclay, Viceroy and State Express 555. Much will depend on the market BAT wants to aim for, but all the indications are that with Asia becoming a more and more important market for F1 it will go for a brand which is big in the Asia/Pacific region.

BAT was once the biggest seller of cigarettes in China but the Communists stopped all imports in 1949 and, as a result, BAT lost 25% of its worldwide sales. When the Chinese began to liberalize BAT started to rebuild, using State Express 555 as sponsor of the Hong Kong-Beijing Rally. More recently 555 was chosen for a five-year sponsorship of the Prodrive Subaru team in the World Rally Championship. That deal is now coming to a close and the increasing interest in racing in Asia could lead BAT to make 555 Walkinshaw's sponsor.

We believe that Tom is trying to conclude a long-term deal - possibly for as long as 10 years.

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