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Irvine and Jaguar

EDDIE IRVINE has denied reports that he has signed to be the number one driver with the planned Jaguar Formula 1 team for the next three years. But the World Championship leader has not ruled out the possibility of the deal - which we believe is finalized but yet to be signed.

We would expect that the deal will be concluded within a matter of weeks and that an announcement about Jaguar and Irvine will be made by Ford at the 58th annual Frankfurt Motor Show in mid-September.

The deal is believed to be worth $9m a year for Irvine for the next three years.

Although Ford management remain coy, there is no doubt that the program will be a Jaguar-badged operation, with the cars most likely to appear in British racing green, to enhance the company's British image.

Jaguar is intending to use the F1 program to support its successful sales drive with the new S-Type - which is setting records around the world - and to promote the new X400 "Baby Jag" which will go into production in 2001. We believe that Ford boss Jac Nasser intends to use F1 in the longer-term to turn Jaguar into a sporting brand to rank alongside Ferrari. This may sound unlikely but it is worth remembering that there was a huge following for Jaguar when the company was taking part in the Le Mans 24 Hours in the late 1980s. The company does seem to have a certain mystique among fans which is yet to be fully exploited.

Irvine's place at Ferrari will almost certainly go to Rubens Barrichello, who has signed a letter of intent with Ferrari.

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