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FEBRUARY 6, 2001

BAR and Ken Clarke

ONE has to be impressed by the skill with which Craig Pollock and Adrian Reynard run British American Racing from their respective home addresses in Monaco (in the case of Pollock) and the chic Swiss resort of Chesieres (in the case of Reynard). Running businesses from afar is a very hard thing to do and as the British tax authorities are always pushing Britons who say they live in tax havens to make sure that they are not telling lies, it can only mean that Pollock and Reynard do not get to the office as much as they would obviously like to do.

But to date this has been fine. The team has cruised along with flying visits from the men who have their names on the doors. But could the team be more effective if the two men were resident in Britain?

This is a question which may cross the mind of the new chairman of the team's holding company, the Right Honorable Kenneth Clarke. Clarke used to be the man who had to balance the books for Britain when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Conservative government. Clarke does a very good portrayal of an affable fellow but to become a top politician in Britain these days is the work for only those who have a core of steel. Clarke was good enough to challenge for the leadership of the Conservative Party after Prime Minister John Major disappeared but he was beaten to the job by William Hague. Hague was young, Clarke was not.

Having shuffled off the disappointment Clarke did what any self-respecting politician would do when faced by retirement. He got a well-paying job with a big company which wanted a big name on the board. In Clarke's case this was British American Tobacco. He still sits in the House of Commons, where he has been a fixture since 1970, but he also now has time to go to occasional BAT board meetings to discuss how best to sell cigarettes around the world. Now Clarke has been given a new part-time job - as chairman of the BAR holding company. The appointment is an indication that BAT wants to see a few more results from the team that bears its name. Clarke is the first full board member to have been involved with the racing team and this is significant. BAR has taken a great deal of BAT money and has given the tobacco company very little in return, at least in terms of concrete race results and television coverage. The value of a Formula 1 sponsorship is, of course, something which is very difficult to assess but ownership of a team is rather easier. Several Formula 1 teams have made a profit in recent years. British American Racing is not one of them. It is not necessarily a question of success because Alain Prost and Eddie Jordan have both turned sensible profits in recent years.

The good news for BAR's management is that Clarke likes motor racing. He is a member of the British Racing Drivers' Club and has served the industry well. When he was the Minister of Trade and Industry under Margaret Thatcher in 1988 he hosted the first major reception at the House of Commons to draw attention to the success of the British motorsport industry.

But just because he likes the sport does not mean that he is going to be nice to the boys at BAR. His first duty as a BAT director is to make sure that the company makes as much money as possible for its shareholders. Wasting money is not something which shareholders like very much. They buy shares in order to make profits and traditionally such costly activities as motor racing sponsorships rarely survive long in listed companies. There have been whispers for a year or so that the big guns at BAT were not happy with the racing team but rumors of possible sales have not become reality despite the fact that the Honda Motor Company is gagging to buy into F1, if the price is right. Obviously the price at BAR was not right and that is not really a surprise. The tobacco barons cannot sell the company for less than they have invested in it, at least not if they wish to be taken seriously by their shareholders.

The problem is that without some on-track success the team has not been able to attract any major commercial sponsorship. There have been a few odd little deals but the big money has stayed away. And without that BAR cannot expect to get to a position where it can make money. It is one of the dangers of team ownership.

The appointment of Clarke is an indication that BAT must now be taken seriously as a player in the team. Up to now the holding company has been led by Pollock and then by Don Brown of BAR's Canadian offshoot who has been Pollock-friendly because Brown knows the value of Jacques Villeneuve in his market and Pollock manages Villeneuve. The appointment of Clarke will end this cozy, and one must say, somewhat contradictory arrangement.

Clarke is the first main BAT board member to be represented at BAR. Perhaps there is more significance in the fact that another heavy-hitting BATman has been added to the BAR board in the person of Nick Brookes, the company's regional director of the Asia-Pacific market and the chief executive officer of BAT's American subsidiary Brown & Williamson. Brookes is a member of BAT's executive board of directors as are fellow BAR directors Jimmi Rembiszewski (BAT's international marketing chief), and Antonio Monteiro de Castro (the company's director for Latin America).

The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that BAT wants to see that it is getting value for money in Formula 1. As Chancellor of the Exchequer Clarke was always looking to increase productivity in Britain and the same will probably be true at BAR. And that could be bad news for the men in Monaco and Switzerland.