NOVEMBER 8, 1999
Villeneuve to quit BAR?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE is reportedly threatening to quit British American Racing if Adrian Reynard replaces Craig Pollock as the team's chairman and chief executive. The reports appeared in Canadian newspapers and quoted Villeneuve as saying that "Craig was "a big reason for me joining the team" and "a key element for me remaining in the team".
Reynard is arguing that the team needs to be completely reshuffled after it failed to score a single point in its first season of Formula 1 - despite lofty claims before the start of the year.
"We are very unhappy with the results this year," said Reynard. "The directors want to see changes in the team from top to bottom, so that we can improve our performance and prove to Honda that we are a credible team."
The relationship with Honda is a key element in the future of the team and everyone is well aware that Honda is maintaining a loose alliance with Jordan Grand Prix in case BAR flops again in 2000. This would give the Japanese two possible courses of action: to buy BAR and run the team as an all-Honda operation or to drop BAR and go with Jordan - the long-term aim being to buy-out Eddie Jordan and take over the team. From Honda's point of view the second course of action is less attractive as Jordan is a much smaller operation and will need more investment in new facilities.
BAR has good facilities but is clearly too new to have been forged into a proper team. There are too many staff members without sufficient F1 experience and the management is split into factions. Solving the management problem and putting new people into key positions could turn the team around quite quickly but in order to do that the team needs someone who really understands how to run a racing team. Pollock has not been convincing in that role but there is no guarantee that Reynard will do a better job - although he is well-regarded by Honda, particularly in the United States.
Villeneuve's value to the team is questionable. He is a high profile driver but if the team is not doing well this is counter-productive. Jacques is also expensive - with a salary of around $12m he is the second best paid driver in F1. This is an important point as the team is expected to have a much tighter budget next year. BAT management needs to be seen not to be wasting money at the moment as it has just announced a series of cutbacks in Britain with the closure of an entire factory at Spennymoor in County Durham with the loss of 440 jobs. Another 70 are to be axed as other BAT facilities are consolidated. Villeneuve's threat to quit may come as a gift to BAT managers as they can replace the Canadian with a cheaper driver of similar stature. The fact that Alex Zanardi may be looking for a way out of the mess at Williams will not have escaped the attention of Reynard and a deal with BAR would suit him very well. His presence would please Reynard, Honda and BAT.
The fact that Villeneuve is also believed to be a shareholder in the team - owning a percentage of Mount Eagle Inc., an American company which controls 35% of BAR's shares - is not really important. Mount Eagle partner Jerry Forsythe has said that he wants to increase his involvement in the team and has the money to do so. Adrian Reynard is also not short of cash and could acquire the extra shares if necessary.
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