Minardi and Mecachrome

FURTHER to our story about Minardi doing a deal to use Supertec engines in 2001, the latest rumor in F1 circles is that the precision engineering company Mecachrome, which builds the current Supertec V10 engines, could be on the verge of buying the struggling Italian team. This is quite possible. Mecachrome is a very large precision engineering company with a staff of around 600 and a turnover in 1999 of over $100m. Until recently motor racing activities produced only about 10% of the company's income with the rest coming from the supply of parts to aerospace and defence companies such as Boeing, Airbus and Aerospatiale.

Mecachrome was established by Alfred Casella in 1937 in Paris and was primarily involved in aviation work with an involvement in the development of jet engines and later with parts for the Concorde program. The company has been based at Aubigny-sur-Nere, near Nevers, since 1962. Mecachrome was approached by Renault Sport in 1974 and began to do sub-contract engineering work on the F1 engines and when Renault expanded to supply customer teams in 1983 Mecachrome began to prepare engines. This continued in the 1990s with work on the Renault V10s. By 1995 the firm was supplying engines to Williams and Benetton.

In the late 1990s there were considerable cutbacks in French military spending and competition in the aviation industry also intensified and Mecachrome decided to increase its involvement in Formula 1 to promote the company's precision engineering skills. When Renault announced it was withdrawing from F1 Mecachrome bought the rights to the Renault V10 engines and agreed to pay Renault for development work. Mecachrome V10 engines were used in 1997 by Williams and Benetton but in May 1998 it was announced that Mecachrome had signed an exclusive distribution contract with a company called Super Performance Competition Engineering which paid Mecachrome to supply the same engines but these were rebadged as Supertec V10s.

The Supertec company is owned by Flavio Briatore but in partnership with Bernie Ecclestone and Mecachrome boss Gerard Casella. In the last two years it has made a considerable amount of money supplying the old engines to Williams, Benetton, British American Racing and Arrows.

With Renault Sport buying Benetton and planning its own new engine program, Mecachrome's obvious route was to go on using the old engines. The only team needing an engine was Minardi. Flavio Briatore announced when he returned to Benetton that he was no longer involved with Supertec and so presumably Casella is now acting alone, perhaps working on the principal that he will get more exposure for less money if he runs a team. It will also enable the company to expand into composite materials and there is plenty of expertise around Aubigny-sur-Nere as it is not far from the old Ligier factory in Magny-Cours. With Prost having chosen to take his team more international Casella may have seen the chance to snap up many of Prost disaffected French sponsors. Owning a Formula 1 team is increasingly a very good investment for those who can afford it. It may be, however, that he will go into business with a financial backer such as an investment bank.

Whatever the case, it is interesting to note that a few weeks ago Casella created a completely new holding company for the Mecachrome Group, called the Societe Financiere d'Expansion Mecanique which would seem to suggest that Casella is planning to expand.

Given then relationship between Casella and Briatore one cannot help but feel that the Italian will probably be involved somehow in the deal as he must take care of his future in F1 given that at the moment he is only a Renault employee and as he discovered with the Benetton Family, an employee can be fired.

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