AUGUST 29, 2001

Brickbats and few bouquets between Rahal and Lauda

WHAT was once described by a Jaguar Racing insider as a 'formidable one-two leadership pairing' has descended into a transatlantic squall.

WHAT was once described by a Jaguar Racing insider as a 'formidable one-two leadership pairing' has descended into a transatlantic squall. Bobby Rahal, returning to his championship-challenging CART team in the USA, has begun to speak of his feelings after his dismissal from Ford's Formula 1 project and the man who has taken over his place, Niki Lauda.

Rahal has returned to the USA following last week's showdown with Lauda and Jaguar chief Wolfgang Reitzle to resume his post at the head of Team Rahal, bidding for victory in the Champ Car series with Kenny Brack. "I've got a great thing here," he said. "And it's refreshing to come back to CART because the ability to compete is so easy compared to F1 and all the politics."

"Niki and I clearly had very different management styles," Rahal added. "And you can't have one guy doing one thing and the other going another direction. This was surprising, certainly, but I guess people do what they have to do."

Lauda meanwhile implies that Rahal wasn't the right person for the job in the first place, being an 'outsider' to F1. "Bobby realized the big operational differences between his CART business in America and his commitments to Jaguar Racing," said the Austrian.

"I will spend most of my time in the short-term understanding our internal processes and figuring out how best to utilize the resources at my disposal. I must do this first before I am well placed to take critical decisions on the running of this team."

For his part Lauda has been quick to assert that his influence as the chief of Ford's Premier Performance Division of Jaguar Racing, Cosworth Racing and Pi electronics has already had a direct bearing on the fortunes of the team since his appointment in February by Reitzle. Now he is dropping his interest in the other two arms of his empire to fill Rahal's position and to lead a Formula 1 team for the first time in a colorful and - as a driver - illustrious career.

Having written off this season by quarter distance, Lauda blamed a conservative approach to the design brief of this year's R2 chassis from his and Rahal's predecessor Neil Ressler - a charge that Ressler vehemently denied. Nevertheless Lauda is fired-up only by the prospect of the team's 2002 challenger, the R3.

"I have been involved with this project right from day one, but the nature of my role meant that my involvement with the car itself was at arms-length," Lauda said. "As team principal, this accountability now rests with me and the 2002 challenger is by far our most pressing task."

It is at least a topic on which Lauda and Rahal agree both privately and in public. The team of technical director Steve Nichols and aerodynamicist Mark Handford, brought in by Rahal, is expected to produce a much more competitive package in 2002 and there will be one member of the CART paddock keeping a close eye on the situation.

"The biggest disappointment will be not being around to see the new R3 chassis," Rahal said. "I believe Steve Nichols and Mark Handford have designed a very good car. And I think Jaguar has a good team. It's not that far off."