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British American Tobacco and Minardi

HAVING failed in its bid to buy Tyrrell, the new F1 team to be funded by British American Tobacco is now being widely tipped to buy the Minardi team. The BAT-financed bid involves Jacques Villeneuve, his manager Craig Pollock and Reynard Racing Cars. The intention is for the team to begin testing in 1998 and enter F1 - with Villeneuve as one of the drivers - in 1999. The budget is rumored to be in the region of $250m for five years and the team will have Mecachrome engines for testing in 1998.

The purchase of Minardi, so the rumors suggest, will give BAT access to a share of the TV income, which is worth around $12m a year for the next five years.

The problem for BAT is that Minardi's ownership is complicated and it will be expensive to buy out everyone involved. Giancarlo Minardi and some of his friends, who control 30% of the team, may not want to sell at all. Minardi has spent his entire career trying to build his team into a competitive operation and only gave up control of the team because he was worried that his debts would force the team to close with the loss of employment for his 70 staff. He will want the Minardi name to continue.

F1 rumor-mongers forget that Minardi is a family team and Giancarlo is not going to sell to a foreign company, which will close down the Faenza factory. BAT and Reynard do not want a small and poorly-equipped facility in the middle of Italy.

The other 70% of the team is supposedly owned by an international holding company which involves Flavio Briatore, Gabriele Rumi, Sandro Nannini and others. Briatore will no doubt sell his shares if the price is right as his interest in F1 is more financial than sporting but Rumi has long wanted to be part of an Italian F1 team - he owned Fondmetal before buying into Minardi.

Even if Giancarlo Minardi and his allies are forced to accept a sale and a change of name, BAT faces a serious problem in getting all the other F1 teams to agree that the team should be called BA Team Reynard. Alain Prost had big problems changing the Ligier name to that of Prost.

Even if all these problems can be sorted out the team will have to be built from scratch in England. It is, therefore, much more logical that the BA Team Reynard principals should try to negotiate a share of the TV income rather than buy a team which is of little use to them. They will find eager allies in Stewart Grand Prix, which does not get a share of the TV money.

Now is a good time to negotiate as the payment of TV money is somewhat dependent on what happens in the battle over the flotation of Formula One Holdings Ltd.

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