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Questions over Petronas

WHILE Malaysian oil company Petronas did not suffer greatly as a result of the recent financial crisis in Asia, there are still worries about the future of the Sauber Petronas V10 engine program because of the enormous costs of the project. At the end of 1996 Sauber bought the right to use Ferrari V10 engines for the 1997 and 1998 seasons. In order to maintain and develop these engines Ferrari agreed to establish an operation in Maranello, independent of its main competition department. At the same time Sauber and Petronas established an operation in Hinwil with the intention of designing and building a completely new V10 engine for the 1999 season. Sauber Petronas Engineering is not, however, allowed to open the current engines unless the team is willing to pay a vast sum of money for the Ferrari technology inside.

The deal runs out at the end of this season and Sauber Petronas Engineering is nowhere near ready to build its own engines and we understand that Ferrari is balking at continuing the deal as it would prefer to use the engineers involved on other projects, unless Sauber Petronas will agree to pay even more money than it currently does. This puts Sauber in a difficult situation and although there is no question that the Petronas sponsorship of the team will continue into the next century, the engine deal with Ferrari may stop, forcing Petronas to look to another manufacturer for a similar deal. We understand that Sauber Petronas has already had lengthy discussions with Peugeot about a similar deal. This would be attractive to the French manufacturer as it would help to spread the costs of F1 but the question of access to secrets remains a big problem.

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