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Curious rumors

WE have heard some interesting rumors in recent days which suggest that one of the private consortiums which tried to buy Rolls Royce Motor Cars early this year is looking to buy itself a Formula 1 team. At the time the group - which was linked to Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone - said it had $800m available to stop Rolls Royce being sold to Germany's BMW. As the top price for a midfield F1 team at the moment is only in the region of $50m money would obviously not be a problem.

At the time the Rolls Royce Acquisition Consortium was headed by Kevin Morley, who has a background in the automotive industry and as managing-director of Austin Rover before it was taken over by BMW. The group indicated that its main objective was to keep Rolls Royce - the last big car manufacturer in Britain - under British control. As that has failed it may be that the group's aim has changed and it would like to use Formula 1 to revive the British car industry. There are still some big car factories in Britain, but they are all owned by foreign motor manufacturers.

It is interesting, therefore, that in the same week another rumor has popped up which suggests that Jaguar Cars Ltd. - one of Britain's most famous and evocative automotive names - may be entering Formula 1. Jaguars Cars Ltd. has been a Ford subsidiary since 1989 and is doing very well, with rising sales and plans to build a "Baby Jag" at the Ford factory in Hailwood.

One could speculate that the group might be thinking of buying Jaguar to return it to British ownership. There is, however, no obvious reason why Ford should sell.

The fact that Morley was once a Ford executive could indicate that the Rolls Royce consortium would secure a supply of Ford V10 engines and rebadge them Jaguar. This was done in sportscar racing in the early 1990s when Tom Walkinshaw used Ford engines in his Jaguar sportscars.

The Scotsman is an obvious name to link with any Jaguar rumors, given his enormous success with the company's products between 1983 and 1992. He is also actively looking for considerable backing at the moment. It is worth noting that when the sportscar world championship was cancelled at the end of 1991 there were suggestions that Jaguar might enter F1 but these came to nothing.

One scenario which should not be excluded is that Walkinshaw is working at putting back together the old Silk Cut Jaguar combination - which became a famous international brand in its own right between 1987 and 1992 thanks to TWR's successes in sportscar racing.

With tobacco advertising closing down in Europe in 2002, except in Formula 1, we would expect tobacco companies to pour even more money into the sport in the years ahead and although Gallaher - the owner of Silk Cut - is already involved in F1 with Benson & Hedges there is no reason why it should not promote two brands.

It remains to be seen if there is any fact in the various stories, which may simply be rumors being floated for other reasons, notably to put pressure on Stewart Grand Prix to perform.

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