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Engine politics

ALTHOUGH the discussions remain low-key there is a good deal of activity in Formula 1 circles at the moment as the teams try to sort out their engine supplies in the long term. While all the major teams are locked into deals with manufacturers the second rank of teams are jostling for position with Prost, Sauber, Arrows and Jordan all trying to figure out the best route for the future.

At the moment there is no sign of any obvious F1 activity from General Motors and Volkswagen. All the other big car companies are involved (or intend to be involved) in F1. Of the smaller car companies Honda, Ferrari and BMW are all involved. Peugeot is involved but there are increasingly signs that the relationship with Prost will finish at the end of this season. There have been occasional suggestions that Peugeot might decide to play double or quits and buy into a team but this is not very likely.

Prost's target is to get a secondary supply of Mercedes-Benz V10 engines but we hear that McLaren - which has control of whether the deal is extended - is currently not keen to give up its exclusivity. Prost has been in serious negotiations in recent days with Ferrari but, as the Italian team is supplying Sauber, providing a third supply to Prost will be more difficult. The other option for Alain is Renault but there appears to be little enthusiasm on either side for a deal. Prost's talks with Ferrari may be an attempt to persuade McLaren to agree to supply Alain to stop him joining the Ferrari back-up team.

At the same time there are very clear signs that Sauber and Petronas are looking to take a step forward from their current level of competitiveness by doing a deal with a car manufacturer. No-one is very interested except that if all goes to plan Petronas will soon agree a new five-year deal with the team and that will provide money to pay for commissioned engines rather than having to rely on old Ferrari V10s. The only obvious candidate for such a deal is Porsche and there is no doubt that the Malaysian government (which is the controlling force behind all the moves going on) would like an association with the German car company to help boost the high-technology image it has been trying to build up for Proton and Lotus. Porsche has often said that if the money is right it will become involved in F1 although such a decision would probably have to be made by the shareholders rather than the management and the Porsche Family, which still has a big voice in the company, is not that interested in F1 as Porsche is currently producing big profits and has a great image. Becoming involved in F1 has an element of risk which is not necessary. Many inside the company remember the Porsche debacle of 1990 with the Footwork team.

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