AUGUST 12, 1996
Briatore buys out Guy Ligier
Quite what Briatore intends to do with his new acquisition remains to be seen. The team recently signed a new - and expensive - engine-supply deal with Mugen Honda and this is expected to gobble up most the budget being offered to the team by French cigarette company SEITA - which owns the Gauloises Blondes brand.
At the moment the French economy is such that companies do not want to get involved in racing, and building racing cars in France is an expensive business. If Ligier was run by a Frenchman he might perhaps be able to raise money but it is hard to imagine that French companies will agree to back an Italian-owned operation.
The logical conclusion, therefore, is that Briatore has bought out Ligier so that he will be in the position to sell the team to the French at a later date. On Friday night in Hungary - just hours after the sale of Ligier's shares was announced - Briatore was dining with Alain Prost.
Prost is the obvious buyer for the team - although he only seems to be interested in running his own team if money can be found from elsewhere to fund the project. Although well-connected in the French government, Prost has been unable to find the money to put his dream team together. Once it is up and running he will probably be able to attract investment in France - French president Jacques Chirac, for example, is very keen to showcase French technology through motor racing - and may even be able to convince companies such as Renault and Elf to return to the sport.
One suggestion we heard in Hungary is that Prost might combine with wealthy Brazilian driver Pedro Diniz to take over the team. Diniz paid around $10m this year to drive for Ligier and gave another $8m to Forti in 1995. He may be coming around to the opinion that buying a team is more sensible than paying out vast sums each season.