MAY 20, 1996

Ligier's future uncertain despite Panis's win

OLIVIER PANIS's remarkable victory at Monaco will have done Ligier no harm at all - but the future of the team is still far from settled, and there were even rumors at Monaco that the Magny-Cours-based team might be facing closure unless something positive happens very quickly.

Since the Australian GP, when Tom Walkinshaw announced he was pulling out of the team, little has happened and the team has slid backwards, struggling for money and in need of new investment and new staff. It is unlikely, however, that the French cigarette company SEITA - which owns the Gauloises Blondes and Gitanes Blondes brands and has invested heavily in the team since 1976 - will want to protect their investment.

When Panis climbed the steps to the podium in Monaco to collect his trophy from Prince Rainier, he was met by Guy Drut, the French Minister of Youth and Sport, who was delighted to congratulate the first French driver to win at Monaco in a French car since Rene Dreyfus won for Bugatti in 1930.

Drut was in Monaco to discuss the future of the Ligier team. He and his right hand man Jean-Michel Schoeler have been involved in negotiations since January when Guy Ligier organized a meeting between Drut and Flavio Briatore, who owns 85% of the company. The Italian agreed that he would sell 35% of the shares to French investors if suitable candidates came forward. It was agreed that such a move would help the team raise more money in France because French companies have not been keen to support the team under Italian ownership.

In Monaco Alain Prost, who currently works with the McLaren team, confirmed that he would still like to form his own F1 team one day.

"France has all the necessary elements - drivers, engines, team managers and engineers - to put together a good team," Alain told Monaco television, "but we cannot seem to get them together. We have to be careful because it is easy to put together a mediocre project. To make a competitive team is very difficult."

Panis's Monaco victory will have done no harm at all.