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Nissan pulls back

TOM WALKINSHAW's hope of a long-term deal with Nissan in F1 took a dive last week when the Japanese car company announced that it was cancelling its Le Mans 24 Hours program. This is not an altogether unexpected announcement given the recent drastic cutbacks inside the company with the closure of five factories and 21,000 jobs being lost in an effort to cut costs. It would have been hard to keep the Le Mans program going without the company facing criticism at home.

This does not, however, mean that Nissan will not invest in F1 at some point in the near-future. The firm needs not only to cut back but it also needs to revamp its very poor image with good products and good publicity. Success in F1 is the fastest way to create a new image.

Hajime Kawasaki, Nissan's senior vice president in charge of motorsport activities, said that the company wants to be back as soon as possible. "But only," he said, "when our resources will allow us to be fully competitive."

Nissan's partner Renault is expected to make an official return to F1 in 2001 and despite rumors of a deal with Walkinshaw it seems that the Benetton team is the most likely partner. One-time Benetton boss Flavio Briatore is currently trying to weave a deal which gives the Benetton team Renault engines but which also puts him back in charge of the team. It remains to be seen whether the Benetton Family - which needs an engine deal - really wants this to happen. The option for Benetton would be to do a deal with someone who would be acceptable to Renault as team boss.

Walkinshaw could be that man. He worked with the Benettons in the early 1990s and is widely credited with having been behind the successful - if controversial - program which resulted in Michael Schumacher winning Benetton's first World Championship in 1994.

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