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Agip to Ferrari!

THE Italian oil company Agip is to return to Ferrari next year as the team's fuel supplier and as a major sponsor. Agip - which is owned by ENI, the huge Italian petrochemical company, was a Ferrari sponsor for 22 years between 1974 and 1995. When Ferrari was looking at a much bigger budget in 1996 - to help pay Michael Schumacher's enormous salary - Shell is rumored to have doubled Agip's bid with an annual sponsorship to Ferrari of around $20m.

At the time Agip could not easily react as it was in the process of being privatized and it was not until 1997 that the company name reappeared on the Benettons. That deal has not been a big success and the oil company is unhappy with the team's results.

It seems that Agip has now decided to outbid Shell for the Ferrari deal and it is likely that the deal is worth as much as $30m a year to Ferrari. It is bad news for Shell which has used the relationship with Ferrari as a major commercial promotion and was hoping to continue the association.

It may, however, be good news for another team as Shell may decide to use the same money to buy more space on a team other than Ferrari.

There is much uncertainty in the oil business at the moment with consolidation including the merger of Exxon and Mobil and the battles between TotalFina and Elf to create a single French oil group. Exxon has never shown much interest in F1 and if it swallows up Mobil it is possible that the deal with McLaren may end, which would open the way for a new deal between McLaren and Shell. On the other hand Shell might prefer to do a deal with the new Ford F1 team or even renew its links with Honda.

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