McLaren and Jaguar face legal battle

A costly and protracted legal action between car makers Ford and DaimlerChrysler was in prospect tonight after a major row over the future of top formula one car designer Adrian Newey with whom both the McLaren and Jaguar grand prix teams believe they have signed a contract.

McLaren, which is 40 per cent owned by Mercedes-Benz parent company DaimlerChrysler and Jaguar, which is owned by Ford, have both signed binding agreements with the highly rated British engineer.

Barely 12 hours after Jaguar released details of its contract with Newey, McLaren did the same. However, former world champion Niki Lauda, who as chief of Ford's premier automotive group helps run the Jaguar formula one team was, not impressed by McLaren chairman Ron Dennis's claims.

"First of all, Jaguar signed Adrian Newey on Tuesday evening to a binding contract," said Lauda. "If McLaren have also signed a contract with him then I shall be interested to see how he is going to design two separate formula one cars for different teams from 2002.

"Ron can jump up and down all he likes. We didn't steal Newey away from him, we did a deal for when his contract ends in 2002."

This morning Jaguar confirmed that Newey had signed a deal to join their team as technical director from August 2002, when his current contract with McLaren expires. It was seen as a major coup for Jaguar's chief executive officer Bobby Rahal who had worked with Newey when he raced Indycars in the USA during the mid-1980s.

"I have enjoyed hugely my four years at McLaren," Newey was quoted as saying. "But, in the end, the prospect of working with my close friend Bobby, whom I have known since 1984 at March Racing, combined with the prospect of the exciting challenge that Jaguar Racing offers proved irresistible."

This release had been issued after a backdrop of dramatic negotiations throughout Thursday evening which saw Newey visit Rahal's new home at near London to discuss the matter with the Jaguar racing chief.

Later Rahal boarded a plane to the USA where his CART team is competing in Sunday's oval track race at Milwaukee, near Chicago. While he was airborne, the drama unfolded back in the UK.

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