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Mahathir drops in

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad flew to England yesterday for a 10-day visit which is expected to include a visit to Lotus in Norfolk and, almost certainly, talk with the bosses of MG Rover, the struggling car company. Dr. Mahathir is rumored to be interested in buying a shareholding in MG Rover as he seeks to expand production of Malaysian cars. Proton is now controlled by Sauber's title sponsor Petronas and the oil company's plans in the motor industry are of great interest in F1 circles as, in addition to funding Sauber's engine supply deal with Ferrari, Petronas is providing much of the team's financing for the next few years.

The MG Rover group is now being run by a group of former car industry executives who bought the firm from BMW last summer for a nominal $16. BMW wanted to dump Rover because it was making huge losses and dragging the whole group down. The management said that they would cut costs and rebuild the firm before selling it on to another car manufacturer. None of the major car companies has shown any interest but there are hopes that Proton might take the gamble as a way of improving Proton's cheap and cheerful image. The MG Rover management says that it has the capability of producing BMW standard machinery in large numbers. The deal will also save the jobs of the 7,000 workers at the Longbridge factory.

What is interesting for Formula 1 is that Proton could decide to use the Lotus name, which it owns, and there may be a long-term plan to use Formula 1 to promote the cars being built in Europe.

Dr. Mahathir will be back in Kuala Lumpur in time for the Malaysian Grand Prix, an event to which he is closely linked as part of his plan to give Malaysia an international image of being a high-technology trendsetting nation.

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