AUGUST 18, 1997

Fondmetal Technologies and BAT

FOR the last month there have been recurring rumors that British American Tobacco is planning to buy the Minardi F1 team.

FOR the last month there have been recurring rumors that British American Tobacco is planning to buy the Minardi F1 team. This is difficult to accept as BAT and Reynard Racing Cars, which will build the cars, do not want a small and poorly-equipped facility in the middle of Italy.

The only obvious value of Minardi is that it is a signatory to the Concorde Agreement, a fact which guarantees an income of at least $10m a year and travel bonuses.

This week, however, we have heard rumors from Italy which might help to explain what is going on. The stories suggest that plans are being discussed for Minardi to move from its base at Faenza, to a new factory 70 miles away, alongside the impressive Fondmetal Technologies windtunnel at Casumaro, near Ferrari. The Minardi employees would be offered jobs at the new factory.

This makes a lot of sense. The team is owned by a holding company controlled by a consortium of investors - which includes the boss of Fondmetal Gabriele Rumi, Flavio Briatore and Sandro Nannini. Part of Rumi's deal when he joined the consortium was that there would be a technical involvement between Fondmetal Technologies and Minardi.

If the Minardi team moves and Fondmetal Technologies is then bought by BAT the new team will acquire not only the Casumaro windtunnel and access to Jean-Claude Migeot's team of experienced F1 research & development engineers but will also acquire the status of a Concorde Agreement signatory.

A few weeks ago we heard that Rumi was in the process of buying out his partners in the Minardi holding company so he could take over the team. Certainly Rumi is the only investor who is showing any interest in the operation at the moment.

With modern communications a research and development program in Italy could be linked directly to a BAT/Reynard facility in England. Williams and Stewart have both shown that such things are possible with their use of the Swift windtunnel at San Clemente in California.

The only obvious problem remaining would be the change of the team's name from Minardi to BA Team Reynard. If all the details could be sorted out before a new Concorde Agreement is in place, however, there is no reason why Minardi cannot join the party under a different name. There may be a couple of teams refusing to agree to a name change but money is a powerful weapon in F1 circles and most F1 team bosses are willing to compromise, particularly if large checks are waved in their direction.

Minardi celebrates its 200th Grand Prix at Spa this weekend but Giancarlo Minardi was downbeat about the future last week.

"My biggest regret about Formula 1 is that in the past it was possible for a small team like ours to win. Unfortunately this is no longer possible."