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Oil politics

THE acrimonious takeover battle between French oil companies TotalFina and Elf Aquitaine has ended with an agreement to merge the two companies, with TotalFina boss Thierry Demarest coming out on top and Elf boss Philippe Jaffre departing. The deal has to be agreed by the European Commission but it is expected to go ahead.

A new board of directors has been appointed with Demarest having two deputy chairmen - one from each company - and then three members from each company. The new company's involvement in motor racing will come under the control of marketing director Jean-Paul Vettier, a TotalFina man, although for the moment the Elf and Fina sponsorship budgets will remain independent. Fina is currently a big sponsor of Prost Grand Prix while Elf is a longtime backer of Renault activities and has been mentioned as a possible sponsor of Arrows. It was interesting to note that Elf's Dan Trema made his first appearance for some time in the F1 paddock and was business wheeling and dealing with both Prost and Arrows. It is possible that Trema will commit a large chunk of his 2000 budget to support Olivier Panis. This would mean a clash with Spanish oil company Repsol, which supports Pedro de la Rosa.

The new oil giant may, however, make more moves in the months ahead with speculation in financial circles that the company will make a bid for the Italian ENI company (which owns Agip) to form a vast new European oil company with an annual income of around $95bn. Repsol is also being mentioned as a possible takeover target. The contraction of the European oil industry will inevitably deprive F1 of several of its most active sponsors. Agip, incidentally, has failed in its bid to oust Shell from Ferrari although the Italians will probably try again in the future.

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