FEBRUARY 13, 1995

Pacific loses Salo

The FIA Formula 1 Contract Recognition Board has decided that Mika Salo will not be driving for Pacific Team Lotus this year and is under contract to Tyrrell.

The FIA Formula 1 Contract Recognition Board has decided that Mika Salo will not be driving for Pacific Team Lotus this year and is under contract to Tyrrell. Tyrrell has yet to confirm that the Finn will be its second driver in 1995 but is expected to do so tonight in London, England.

Tyrrell and Lotus went to the Contract Recognition Board in Geneva a week ago, fighting over who had the rights to Salo, who is rumored to have $3.5 million in sponsorship for the year ahead. Tyrrell looked to have a very strong case, despite the fact that Salo appeared to have a binding contract with Team Lotus. As the team had announced it would not be racing in 1995, Tyrrell was confident that it would win. This confidence was boosted by the fact that former Lotus boss Peter Collins had agreed to appear as a witness on behalf of Tyrrell - against his former team.

The Contract Recognition Board lawyers and Tyrrell representatives were, therefore, astounded when Team Lotus owner David Hunt announced to them that the Lotus name would be in F1 in 1995, having been leased to Pacific Grand Prix. This meant that there was a car available for Salo to drive.

After a couple of days of deliberation, the Contract Recognition Board announced that it had ruled in favor of Tyrrell because the Team Lotus which Salo had signed for was not the same Team Lotus which now claimed his services.

The result was a major blow for Hunt, who was hoping to recoup some of the losses he has suffered since buying Lotus last autumn. If Salo had driven for Pacific, Hunt would have received a percentage of his sponsorship money. It leaves Pacific strongly in the driving seat of the new "alliance" with Lotus. The Lotus badge is expected to appear on the Pacific car and the new paint job will feature the green and yellow stripe, which is often associated with Lotus.

Pacific now has to find a new driver to partner Bertrand Gachot, and there are not many available with money and talent. The team has talked to a variety of drivers, including Danish touring car driver Kris Nissen (who is rumored to be offering US$2.5 million in sponsorship); Vincenzo Sospiri (who is now expected to stay in F3000 for one more season with Supernova, before the team enters F1 in 1996); Erik Comas, Emmanuel Collard and JJ Lehto (who have no major backing) and Paul Belmondo (who drove for the team last year and will probably test for the team this year).

The man most likely to join Pacific, however, is former Lotus driver Pedro Lamy, who is due to visit the Pacific factory today (Monday) and is tipped to have a sensible budget for the team.

If negotiations with Lamy are unsuccessful, the team might start the season with Lehto, who drove for Pacific between 1987 and 1989, winning the British Formula Ford 2000 and British F3 titles in successive seasons. But such a deal could only continue if the team was able to find sponsorship.

Whatever the outcome of the talks, Pacific Team Lotus is to launch its 1995 program and the new PR02 chassis - designed by Frank Coppuck - at the Strand Theatre in London, England on February 23.