JULY 24, 1995

Confusion over ownership damages Ligier

THE Ligier Formula 1 team is beginning to suffer because no-one is willing to reveal exactly who owns what.

THE Ligier Formula 1 team is beginning to suffer because no-one is willing to reveal exactly who owns what. Whenever the subject is mentioned, the principals involved fudge and mumble that it is a complicated business.

What we do know is that team founder Guy Ligier is still a small shareholder with probably 10% of the team. The original announcement when Ligier was bought in May, 1994, said it was, "Flavio Briatore supported by the Benetton Group." other sources said Tom Walkinshaw was involved, while there were suggestions that the entire sale had been funded by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to save the team from going out of business, following the arrest of former boss Cyril de Rouvre in December, 1993. Even before then, Briatore had been trying to buy the team in order to get his hands on Ligier's supply of Renault V10 engines.

After the announcement in May last year, the old Ligier crew - including team manager Dany Hindenoch and technical director Gerard Ducarouge - were dropped, and staff from Tom Walkinshaw Racing USA moved in at Magny-Cours.

Two months later, the TWR men were booted out and the team management was handed over to Cesare Fiorio - a Briatore nominee - and Flavio ordered Benetton engineer Frank Dernie to take over as technical director. Briatore's plans to run two teams, both using Renault engines, was torpedoed by Frank Williams's decision to stick with Renault; and so Briatore concluded a Renault deal for Benetton. As this was happening, Benetton was caught by the FIA using an illegal fuel filter at Hockenheim, Flavio was forced to promise to make "substantial management changes."

The target for this move was Walkinshaw, and Briatore appears to have decided to solve both his problems by moving Walkinshaw to Ligier. In exchange for his shares in Benetton, Walkinshaw would receive shares in Ligier. In the autumn, Walkinshaw took over the running of Ligier: it was the Scotsman who arranged for Johnny Herbert to join Ligier from Lotus, but it was Briatore who negotiated the ill-fated Mugen Honda deal for the French team. In October, Herbert was passed on to Benetton; and in December, Schumacher tested for the French team at Estoril.

In the New Year, however, Walkinshaw seemed to gain the upper-hand, and by the start of the new season was telling people that the team would be his in midsummer. But the matter is still not settled, and the team is beginning to suffer from the uncertainty as engine manufacturers, engineers and presumably sponsors - are unwilling to get involved with Ligier because they are not sure who is running the show. The only likely explanation for this is that Walkinshaw and Briatore are waiting to see whether Williams will continue with Renault for 1996, or if the teams can both use the French engines.

Whatever the case, you can expect an official change in Ligier ownership within a few weeks...