FEBRUARY 27, 1995

Larrousse sells

The Larrousse Formula 1 team is still in business, but team founder Gerard Larrousse has had to hand over control of the operation to save his team - which entered F1 in 1987 - from closing down.

The Larrousse Formula 1 team is still in business, but team founder Gerard Larrousse has had to hand over control of the operation to save his team - which entered F1 in 1987 - from closing down. Larrousse retains a minority shareholding in the operation but this will decrease in the months ahead.

The majority shareholding in the team is now held by Frenchmen Laurent Barlesi and Jean Messaoudi, the two men behind the F1 Junior Team, which had planned to enter F1 this year but could not put a package together before the deadline for 1995 entries last November.

Larrousse was forced to cede control to his team because of the financial problems which have beset his team in recent years - despite considerable backing last year from Kronenbourg, Elf and Gauloises Blondes. This lack of money meant that Larrousse's independent British design office - Larrousse UK Ltd, run by Robin Herd - stopped work a 1995 chassis at the end of last year because Larrousse did not make the necessary funds available. Larrousse then began talks with Jean-Paul Driot, who was building an F1 chassis for the DAMS F3000 team for 1995 but did not have the sponsorship necessary to run his own team. Larrousse wanted DAMS to run its cars on behalf of Larrousse, but DAMS wanted some equity in the team. Larrousse and his partners failed to reach a deal with Driot despite months of talks.

Finally Driot announced that he has abandoned his plans to enter F1 this year. This left Larrousse with no choice but to return to his earlier talks with Junior Team, which is rumored to have $15m of sponsorship from the Malaysian oil company Petrobas.

While these talks were taking place Larrousse ordered his technical team under Michel Tetu to start modifying the 1994 chassis to meet the 1995 regulations in a desperate attempt to keep the team alive. In order to qualify for FOCA benefits and make use of its entry, the team needed to be at the first race of the year but without a car with which to compete the team was doomed.

The modified 1994 cars which will be seen in Brazil will be overweight and hopelessly uncompetitive as a result but the move bought time for the new Larrousse Junior Team - as the new operation will be called - to build 1995 spec machinery.

Messaoudi and Barlesi have announced that they have established a new design office - Racing Car Technologies Ltd - in Bicester, England, unrelated to Larrousse UK Ltd despite being situated in the same town.

As predicted in last week's F1 Foreign Report, Racing Car Technologies Ltd will be headed by former American engineer Steve Nichols. The 48-year-old from Salt Lake City, Utah worked in aerospace material research until 1980 when he joined John Barnard at McLaren and played an important role in building F1's first all composite chassis - the McLaren MP4/1. When Barnard left McLaren in 1986 Nichols took over the design team and in 1988 his design team produced the most successful car in modern F1 history, the MP4/4 winning 15 of the 16 races that season. Nichols left McLaren in 1989 and replaced Barnard as head of the chassis design department at Ferrari but after the unsuccessful F92A chassis, Nichols left Ferrari and became Technical Director of Sauber in early 1992 , doing the concept design for the first Sauber F1 car. Last year he worked with Jordan.

Nichols's job with Junior Team Larrousse will be to produce a new car as soon as is possible. Normally this process would take months, but Messaoudi and Barlesi are promising a new car by Imola at the end of April. This remarkable feat will be achieved by Racing Car Technologies simply taking over the completed Larrousse UK 1995 car, designed by Tino Belli, and building it up as fast as possible.

The team's drivers are yet to be decided but it is likely that both will be French as Gerard Larrousse is still trying to convince the French government to replace funding lost because France has a ban on tobacco and alcohol sponsorship. Erik Comas and Emmanuel Collard are both possible drivers - both with considerable F1 experience - but Eric Helary and Christophe Bouchut should also be taken into account as both have previously driven for Messaoudi in FF1600.

Larrousse SA, the company which previously ran the Larrousse F1 operation, remains in France's equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Gerard Larrousse's former partners: Patrick Tambay, Michel Golay and Robin Herd will have to wait and see if they will get anything for their troubles from the unsinkable Monsieur Larrousse...