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David Richards and Proton

ONE interesting story which was doing the rounds in Spa was that David Richards is still hoping to get involved in FormulaŹ1 next year, despite denials that he is talking to the Benetton Family about taking over the running of the team from Flavio Briatore. Richards - like Tom Walkinshaw before him - wants a shareholding of the operation to give him a level of control in the team.

The Benettons are asking a great deal of money and we have heard that Richards offered to exchange a shareholding in Benetton for a shareholding in his Prodrive operation. The Benettons are not really interested in automotive engineering after their adventures with the TWR Group and so we hear that Richards is trying to put together a deal in which the Malaysian car company Proton - which owns Lotus - provides money to buy into Benetton in exchange for shares in Prodrive. The Malaysians are known to be interested in being involved in F1 to train up Malaysian automotive engineers but are much more keen on getting their hands on advanced automotive technology - which is not easy to find. Richards could provide them with such information - just as Sauber is doing for Petronas.

It is worth noting that while Petronas is a government-controlled company, Proton is in private hands and while it would be cheaper for all concerned to use the same engine - the Petronas V10 which is due on the year 2000 - it may be that a deal could be struck for Proton to buy old Renault engines - just as Petronas has done with Ferrari - and run these in F1 using the Proton name. This might explain Flavio Briatore's reticence in announcing the name of his 1998 engine supplier and may also explain how the new BAT team will be able to use Mecachrome engines when Frank Williams has a deal with Mecachrome which precludes more than two supplies. Renault would no doubt appreciate the income.

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