SEPTEMBER 14, 1998

Zonta or Diniz for BAR?

RICARDO ZONTA and Pedro Diniz are fighting it out for the second seat at British American Racing.

RICARDO ZONTA and Pedro Diniz are fighting it out for the second seat at British American Racing. While Diniz might not be an obvious choice from a racing point of view - although he has done very well in the last two years against team mates Damon Hill and Mika Salo - he has very powerful commercial connections in Brazil. The Diniz Family runs the CBD distribution company, one of Brazil's largest. In addition the family's Pao de Acucar supermarket chain has 30 million customers a day. This helps to explain why Diniz is able to raise sponsorship from companies such as Parmalat as preferential placement of products in the Diniz supermarkets can produce big profits for the companies, which then plough some of these back into the racing, gaining what amounts to free advertising in addition to extra income.

Such an arrangement would be very attractive to British American Tobacco as it pushes into the South American market. In the days after the Italian GP a delegation of BAT executives was rumored to be flying out to Brazil for talks with the Diniz Family.

Zonta was the name on everyone's lips at Monza as McLaren and Mercedes are keen to place the Brazilian in F1. The only problem is that McLaren wish to retain some long-term control over the Brazilian, who has been racing this year in the Mercedes-Benz GT team, and so it does not make a lot of sense for BAR to invest in the youngster if he is planning to move back to McLaren in a year or two. BAR engineers will also be arguing that with a new team and a new car it would be wiser for BAR to find a driver with experience. In this respect Diniz would be a better bet as he has been in F1 for four seasons.

From Diniz's point of view the move also makes sense as it will give him a rather better engine than he currently has with Arrows but, more importantly, will give him the opportunity to shake off his image of being a pay-driver.

We understand that Pedro has been talking with several teams and is at liberty to move if he chooses to do so. If he stays at Arrows or moves to Sauber he will have to continue to supply the estimated $15m a year which he currently brings to a team. Tom Walkinshaw is keen to keep Diniz unless he can find an alternative budget.

Walkinshaw and BAT continue to discuss a deal for the Arrows team to be sponsored by one of the tobacco company brands as part of a deal which will see Walkinshaw agree to allow BAR to change the name of its cars from Tyrrell.

Until the finances are in place Walkinshaw's plans for 1999 cannot be finalized. Mika Salo's option with the team have to be taken up by the Tuesday after Monza. It is unlikely that Tom will release the Finn onto the driver market because he would be a popular choice for the available drive at Sauber. If Tom does take up the option he will need to pay Salo a rumored $2m and so he may risk it in the hope that Mika is not snapped up. He could then re-employ the Finn at a reduced salary.

One curious rumor we heard at the Italian GP was that Damon Hill has not actually signed his Jordan contract - although a deal has been announced by the team - and that Walkinshaw may be trying to lure Damon back with BAT money. This would be a good move for Arrows and for BAT but makes very little sense for Hill who is in an increasingly competitive car at Jordan.