Battling over British Petroleum

SEVERAL Formula 1 teams have been fighting to win backing from the huge British Petroleum company in recent weeks. An announcement is expected within a month but it is not yet clear if the deal will go to Jaguar Racing or to Williams.

BP has had a long and very successful history in motor sport. At the end of the 1960s the company withdrew from Formula 1 and concentrated on other formulae but returned to F1 in 1983 with Toleman. This was followed by an involvement with the Beatrice team and then a collection of small sponsorships into the early 1990s. At the end of 1994 the company withdrew from Grand Prix racing again and in recent years has focussed itself on environmental issues. In recent months, however, there seems to have been a subtle switch in the direction of innovation and technology driving progress. Formula 1 fits very neatly into this without really damaging the company's "green" image. The interest in Formula 1 may also have been stimulated by the announced that Exxon is to back the Toyota Motorsport team next year. This leaves BP as the only one of the top three oil companies not to be in F1.

There is a further incentive in that after a wave of acquisition in recent years, including the swallowing up of Amoco and Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), the firm is now consolidating and has recently been rebranded and renamed. The green "flower" brand retains BP's green and yellow color scheme and these are important as BP wishes to continue to be seen as a very British company and at the same time as an environmentally-friendly organization.

Williams, which is sponsored by BP subsidiary Castrol, is in the running for a deal but there are problems to be overcome as BMW bought the styling rights to the Williams and want to retain the blue and white image of the team. The team however is very British and if this problem can be overcome (perhaps with a first-fill agreement between BP and BMW) the deal could go ahead.

The other team in the running is Jaguar. The British racing green team is perfect for BP and there could easily be a first-fill agreement between BP and the Ford Motor Company's Premier Automotive Group (including Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin) to help make the deal happen.

The decision will be made by Sir John Browne, Group Chief Executive of BP, who was keeping a rather low profile at Monaco on Sunday...

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