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... and delay deals for 1998

THE uncertainty over whether or not Bernie Ecclestone will float his Formula 1 Holdings Ltd. company on the London Stock Exchange this summer is blocking a number of vital decisions which are currently holding up future developments in the F1 paddock.

The most important of these is the decision as to what British American Tobacco intends to do in Grand Prix racing in the future. BAT's international sponsorship manager is Canadian Tom Moser. He was formerly head of sponsorship at Imperial╩Tobacco - Canada's number one cigarette maker - and funded Jacques Villeneuve's rise to prominence in Formula╩Atlantic and Indycar racing. Moser was in Montreal and confirmed that BAT is looking at what it might do in F1.

"We are the second biggest tobacco company in the world," he said, "and we want to be number one. Grand Prix racing seems to be a good way to strength our sales. The final decision is not yet taken so we do not know whether we will be involved in the creation of a new team or if there will be an agreement with an existing operation."

Moser also confirmed that he has sought advice from Villeneuve's manager Craig Pollock. Moser has received proposals from most of the existing F1 teams and several operations which would like to enter F1. Moser is expected to make his recommendations to the BAT board within the next two months, with the program expected to start in 1999.

This will, however, largely depend on whether or not F1 Holdings is floated. If the flotation goes ahead it makes sense for BAT to buy out an existing team - the obvious ones being Tyrrell or Benetton - and thus get access to the TV revenues and shares in the business, which would offset some of the expense of setting up a completely new operation. If the flotation does not go ahead it is more logical to establish a new team, probably involving Reynard Racing Cars.

The destination of the BAT millions appears to be the reason that decisions over engines are being held up. BAT would obviously like to ensure that whichever team it is involved with would have the best available engines. The first choice appears to be Mecachrome V10s but we hear that Mugen Hondas would also be acceptable. Obviously the engine companies are waiting to see what happens before committing themselves to existing teams. We believe that this is the reason that Hirotoshi╩Honda has delayed his choice of teams for the Mugen V10, which has left Jordan and Arrows in an uncomfortable position.

It seems that Peugeot will announce next week that it will not be supplying Jordan next year and will concentrate entirely on Alain Prost. Jordan had been hoping to be able to make an announcement about its future engine deal at the same time but this does not now look likely.

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