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...as Walkinshaw eyes Mecachrome

TOM WALKINSHAW is negotiating for a supply of Supertec engines for 1999 and 2000. The Arrows team boss has struggled through this year using his own Brian Hart-based Arrows V10 engines but he has been unable to find anyone to pay for development and the team has suffered as a result.

Supertec is offering a fourth supply of its engines for $23m which is rather more than Tom has spent this year on the Arrows V10. The only question mark is whether Supertec and Mecachrome will be capable of expanding to four engine supplies without performance and reliability being affected.

Walkinshaw is in a fortunate position in that he has Pedro Diniz under contract for next year and the Brazilian brings around $15m of sponsorship each year from Parmalat. His connections in Brazil may also enable Walkinshaw to land other big deals. We understand that Tom came very close to a major sponsorship deal with Hollywood cigarettes recently but the deal was blocked by British American Tobacco's head of sponsorship Tom Moser because he wants BAT to concentrate all its efforts on the new British American Racing. Walkinshaw also has a contract with Mika Salo but the Finn is rumored to be talking to other teams and there have been hints that Tom might be willing to sell Salo's contract to gain another $5m to put towards an engine deal.

Worries about the Mecachrome supply are causing a lot of friction in F1 circles with Williams in particular wanting to make sure that it receives the best engines designed by Renault Sport - as dictated in its contract with the French manufacturer long before Mecachrome and Supertec appeared on the scene. We understand that Williams is threatening legal action if it is not supplied with the best engines.

There is talk of a new Renault Sport-designed Supertec engine for next season but no-one has been able to explain who is going to pay for its development as the owners of Supertec - Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and a mystery third party - are not likely to be dipping into their pockets to pay the vast costs of research and development on a new engine. Renault Sport does not have the money unless Renault is investing secretly in the project, which would be a very risky step as it would be highly embarrassing if unions and shareholders discovered such activity at a time when the company is trying to reduce its overheads.

Logic dictates that if there are plans for Renault to return to F1 and if a new engine is being developed, Williams should be the last team to be given the developments as there is a danger that information about the engine might leak to BMW, Williams's new engine partner. While Williams may be willing to go to law to protect itself, it is virtually impossible to prove that one is receiving different technology if the engine block is the same as those being supplied to the other teams.

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