MARCH 18, 1996
...but what happens to Ligier?
WITH Tom Walkinshaw pulling out of the Ligier operation, the French team finds itself in a difficult situation for the year ahead and current owner Flavio Briatore is going to have to spend a lot of his time finding someone to run the team on his behalf.
Finding managers is not the problem - although finding good ones willing to work in France is not easy. There have already been suggestions that Cesare Fiorio will be called back to run the team once again.
But Ligier's major problems will be in rebuilding the engineering departments as the recent lay-offs have wiped out both the Ligier drawing office and the production staff.
Most of the other top engineers at Ligier - notably Frank Dernie, Loic Bigois and Andre de Cortanze - are all under TWR contract and when Walkinshaw pulls out at the end of July they will go with him. Walkinshaw already has Ligier R&D man Steve Clark under contract in England.
Putting together an entirely new design office and production department in the time available will be virtually impossible for Briatore, and research and development will inevitably be compromised, despite the fact that the Magny-Cours windtunnel is now fully operational again, after a TWR refit.
The most obvious course of action will be for the team to take the existing design and modify it - although this will mean that the car is likely to be less competitive than this year's model - which is little more than a development of the 1995 Benetton-lookalike car.
Another option is for Briatore to transfer some of Benetton's engineering staff to France - as happened with Dernie two years ago when Briatore bought Ligier. Recent recruitment suggests that Benetton has more than its fair share of capable engineers who might be parachuted into Ligier - notably Nick Wirth, Frank Coppuck and Andy Tilley.
However, transfers of engineers away from Benetton will inevitably weaken Benetton at a time when the team needs to be developing faster than anyone else to catch up with Williams.
This difficult situation could convince Flavio to sell his entire shareholding in the Ligier team. Indeed, it is hard to find a logical reason for the Italian to continue an involvement if the team returns to French government ownership.