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AUGUST 21, 2001

Ford tightens its belt - will F1 suffer?

JACQUES NASSER is being forced to take drastic action to keep Ford Motor Company competitive, and there is little or no solace for its Jaguar Racing team. Late on Saturday the announcement came that 5,000 management jobs in North America - 10 percent of its salaried workforce - would be cut in order to save $300 million to $400 million annually... but that the move was just the first in a raft of cost-cutting measures across the board.

Ford, which is suffering as car sales flatten out in what is thought to be the beginning of a global recession, has seen its share price dip to a four year low and faces still more outlay of the costs already incurred through its massive enforced recall of Firestone tires following a series of fatal accidents.

Most worrying for the Formula 1 program, Nasser said that Ford is going to have to reevaluate how its niche luxury and performance brands - including Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin - are worked and where money can be saved.

Chief Financial Officer Martin Inglis said: "I would say nothing is off limits." He and others in Ford apparently are laying a lot of blame for the downturn in focusing too hard on the lower volume brands and higher marketing expenses they incurred - of which Jaguar Racing is one of the most prominent.

After the unparalleled success of the 18-year Cosworth DFV program, which more than repaid the initial $150,000 investment in creating the powerplant in 1967 by selling its supply to a total of 36 teams during its lifespan and scoring 155 victories.

Since then Ford has been no less prolific - bringing the total number of teams it has supplied to 51 by the end of 2001 - but vastly less successful.

A half-hearted attempt at a turbo unit in 1986 was followed up by a customer program through the 1990s that netted 19 victories with McLaren and Benetton and culminating in Michael Schumacher's first world championship in 1994 - even after the V8 engine was proven to have been running with illegal driver aids at the start of the season.

Thereafter Ford engines went exclusively to first Sauber, then Stewart - netting its 175th victory - before buying the team and converting it into Jaguar Racing.

Some income is due to be restored with one customer program for Arrows confirmed for 2002 and another supply to European Minardi - replacing its three-year-old Cosworth units - under consideration.

Nevertheless, Ford's sporting programs across the board are likely to come under increased scrutiny from the financial minds in Detroit and Cologne for some time to come, and doubtless many tricky questions will need to be answered.