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What is Ford playing at now?

ON Tuesday in Frankfurt the Ford Motor Company subsidiary Jaguar Cars will announce that it is entering the Formula 1 World Championship with the renamed Stewart Grand Prix team next year. Eddie Irvine will be confirmed as team mate to Johnny Herbert for next year - the Ulsterman having agreed a three year deal with Jaguar - and it will be announced that Jackie Stewart is to stay on as the chief executive officer of the operation. This is an extraordinary decision given that Ford bought the team so as to be able to dictate what goes on as the men in Dearborn were not entirely happy with the way the team was developing under Stewart leadership. The decision follows a power struggle between Jackie Stewart and Ford's Martin Whitaker over who should run the Jaguar team. Whitaker was thought to have a fairly good chance as the new Jaguar managing-director is Jonathan Browning who was Whitaker's immediate boss before he moved to Jaguar.

Stewart, however, seems to have convinced the Jaguar management that he is a much better idea and there was a strong Jaguar presence at the Italian Grand Prix with Jaguar's marketing director Phil Cazaly and marketing manager Rob Smettern both in attendance.

As we understand it Stewart's deal is for 2000 only and it may be that in the longer-term Ford still has plans for all of its motorsport operations to come under the control of someone else. The favorite for this role remains David Richards of Prodrive but he is still refusing to talk about his plans. This would enable Stewart to be fade out gracefully - he is now 60 - and retirement is not far away. The future of Paul Stewart remains in question although he is expected to continue as chief operating officer for the immediate future. We also hear that the team will continue to be sponsored by a variety of existing backers which will detract from the original plan for an all-Jaguar car. This could not be avoided as several of the deals were already in place and so it may be that Ford has concluded that it is best to have an interim phase before arranging the final structure of the Jaguar F1 team.

The current moves make some sense if this is the case because otherwise Ford is merely giving back to the Stewart Family what it has just spent a large sum of money acquiring... and that does not make any sense at all.

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