AUGUST 14, 1995
Walkinshaw's plans for Ligier
IT may not yet be officially confirmed, but Scotsman Tom Walkinshaw is now rumored to have completed the share exchange with Benetton boss Flavio Briatore and has ceded his interest in Benetton Formula in exchange for a majority shareholding in the Ligier F1 team.
In recent months there has been an uneasy alliance between Walkinshaw and Briatore but it is now clear that Briatore's involvement has all-but ceased and Walkinshaw is very much the man in control.
Tom is now looking at how to make the team more competitive and he seems to be adopting a policy of building on what the team has rather than starting again from scratch. There is no question that in the long term Tom intend to establish the team at his new TWR headquarters at Leafield, near Witney, Oxfordshire. An F1 facility is secretly being put together by ex-Benetton team manager Gordon Message.
Tom's problem is that in order to keep the French sponsorship from Elf and Gitanes Blondes (albeit, much reduced compared to previous years) he has had to agree not to lay-off the staff at Ligier's current base at Magny-Cours. Having had time to look at the Magny-Cours facilities it seems that Tom and his men have decided that the Ligier factory is of little use. Ligier's wind tunnel work is already being done at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and the old Ligier wind tunnel has been shut down. The Magny-Cours test track is also not much good as it has a very smooth surface, quite different from all the other F1 tracks. In addition, Magny-Cours is poorly located.
We hear stories that Tom is now trying to reconcile all these problems by moving the race team into the old Larrousse factory at Signes, in the south of France. This is owned by the local authority which appears to be willing to lease the factory for a nominal rent. The Signes factory is right next door to the Paul Ricard racing circuit, which is a much better track on which to test. The weather in the area is a lot better than at Magny-Cours and the south of France is much more attractive to engineers. There is also an airfield capable of taking decent-sized jets next door to Paul Ricard.
A move south would entail massive relocation of the Magny-Cours workforce and there is no question that this would result in a lot of resignations, which would ease Tom's problems of having to avoid lay-offs.
In the short-term the Leafield F1 unit will be used to house a permanent test team for Ligier and Silverstone would become Ligier's nominated testing facility, enabling the engineers to test with other F1 teams and thus gain a better idea of how development work is going.
In an effort to replace the French money in the longer term, Walkinshaw is believed to be in the process of building up a marketing department capable of challenging the best in F1.
Although the team is expected to re-sign shortly with Mugen Honda, there is little doubt that in the long term Walkinshaw is planning to build his own F1 engines, with a team of engineers led by ex-Cosworth man Geoff Goddard. These will ultimately be badged by a manufacturer to help pay for the racing. Walkinshaw is extremely well-connected among the motor manufacturers and is currently doing major business with Volvo, General Motors Holden and Saab.