MAY 26, 1997

Mugen close to Jordan deal

HIROTOSHI HONDA, the boss of Mugen Honda, is to decide shortly which team he intends to supply with his F1 engines in 1998.

HIROTOSHI HONDA, the boss of Mugen Honda, is to decide shortly which team he intends to supply with his F1 engines in 1998. Jordan and Arrows are the front-runners for the deal for the impressive engines although Benetton could also be a player. All the indications in Barcelona were that Eddie Jordan will get the deal, thus completing a swap of engines with Prost Grand Prix - which will use Jordan's Peugeot V10 supply next year.

Tom Walkinshaw had been considered the favorite for the deal but the impressive performance of Jordan this year seems to have swung the deal in Eddie's favor. It should also be remembered that Walkinshaw upset Honda in 1995 when he agreed a deal to use the engines when he was in charge of Ligier on the understanding that Aguri Suzuki would drive one of the cars but instead Tom drafted in Martin Brundle for the majority of the races. In his favor Walkinshaw has Bridgestone tires, Damon Hill and top designer John Barnard.

Jordan is pushing for a quick decision as Gary Anderson wants to begin work on the design of the 1998 Jordan in order to minimize the disruption of an engine change. There has been a slim possibility since March that the team would be able to continue with Peugeot engines in 1998 as a second team to Prost. This course of action is logical for Peugeot from a practical point of view but is virtually impossible from a political standpoint. To supply Jordan for one more year makes no sense and to supply the team for two years would undermine Peugeot's commitment to Alain Prost, a deal which was organized in the highest levels of the French government.

We believe that Peugeot has asked Jordan to wait before signing a Mugen Honda deal but that Jordan has said he is not interested in the Peugeot engines unless the deal is for at least two years.

The only slight problem for Jordan is that Ralf Schumacher has a contract which dictates that he has a factory engine every year. Mugen is very close to Honda - Hirotoshi Honda owns 45% of the Honda Motor Company - but officially Mugen is independent of Honda. If this is the case Schumacher Jr could leave Jordan to join McLaren, which is under pressure from Mercedes to get a German driver in one of the cars. Jordan might consider selling Ralf's contract to McLaren - which would help the team pay for the Mugen Honda engines. The vacancy created by the departure of Ralf could open the way for DamonÊHill, David Coulthard or Jean Alesi to join Jordan.

Jordan is also believed to be considering a switch to Bridgestone tires next season and there were meetings between the team and the Japanese tire company in Barcelona last weekend.

One story which popped up in Barcelona suggested that Benetton would be willing to swap Jean Alesi for Shinji Nakano and thus get free Mugen Honda engines and give Prost both French F1 drivers. It is hard to imagine this happening but FlavioÊBriatore showed with Ligier that he is quite capable of doing such deals if it makes financial sense.