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OCTOBER 20, 2000

Understanding what is happening at BAR

THE British American Racing team arrived in Kuala Lumpar demoralized by the stories appearing in British magazines about political infighting within the team and a bid by a consortium led by Adrian Reynard to take over the operation.

The success or failure of Reynard's bid will be decided upon by whether or not British American Tobacco decides to stay in Formula 1 or whether the tobacco giant feels that it has wasted enough time and money and agrees to sell out to Reynard and his partners, who are believed to include BAR technical director Malcolm Oastler, former team manager Robert Synge and CART team owner Barry Green.

If BAT does agree to sell its 50% shareholding in the team, it will mean that Reynard and his colleagues will control 65% of the team and that will mean that they would be in a position to outvote Craig Pollock's allies on the board of directors. This would mean that Green could then take over the running of the team - as has been rumored.

The problem originally appeared to be financial with the Reynard consortium needing to find around $100m to buy BAT's shares. We hear that BAT may agree to such a deal simply to get out of Formula 1 before more money is spent. Getting $100m back would mean that BAT executives could just about explain the F1 program to investors. The tobacco giant is contracted to continue as the team's main sponsor until the end of 2001 but that deal could be negotiated away or Reynard and his group could agree to run with BAT livery for one more year (in much the same way as the Benetton-Renault takeover). Reynard would then need to find the running budget for next year, although his allies at Honda would probably make life easier for him by not charging for the engines.

Our sources say that BAT has made the decision to try and salvage some coverage by disappearing off to the World Rally Championship where the firm enjoyed much success with Prodrive and Subaru in the 1990s.

If that decision has been taken it would help to explain the resignation last week from BAT of Pollock's closest ally Tom Moser.

The situation is intriguing in the light of strong rumors we heard in Malaysia which suggest that Adrian Reynard has agreed a deal to sell his shares in Reynard Motorsport to David Richards's Prodrive organization. Two years ago Adrian Reynard tried to float the company on Wall Street in a deal which have valued the company at $160m. The flotation was called off and since then Reynard has suffered a number of setbacks. The value of the firm is believed to have dropped to around $100m and Reynard's share of that is believed to be around $85m.

This would be a good price for Prodrive to pay as the company would gain not only a major racing car manufacturing business in Britain but also a specialist transmission company, an American racing car company (Riley & Scott) and an automotive research center in Indianapolis, complete with a state of the art windtunnel. In addition to all this, Prodrive would almost certainly land the BAT budget in the World Rally Championship to continue the success story in that series with Subaru.

If the stories are confirmed Reynard will achieve his ambition of entering F1 with a major manufacturer behind him although it will be interesting to see what happens in the years ahead as Honda is still believed to want to own its own F1 team. Perhaps Reynard and his gang will simply run the team for a couple or years and then sell it on to Honda at a profit and leave F1.

Whether a Reynard takeover of the team will be greeted with enthusiasm amongst the current BAR staff is another issue. Inside the team there are a lot of people who feel that Reynard's influence at BAR has been rather less than constructive in the course of the last two years.

If at the end of the day, however, everyone comes away with a good deal, it is hard to imagine that such a deal will not go ahead.

The most interesting thing will be to see how Jacques Villeneuve reacts to the news (if it is true). He might, of course, consider that he would prefer to move elsewhere next year. In which case Benetton would be willing to welcome him with open arms. All of this might help to explain the recent attempts to destabilize Giancarlo Fisichella...