SEPTEMBER 20, 1999

Keep an eye on the Redon Family

FRENCHMAN racer Laurent Redon has been busy wheeling and dealing in the paddock in recent weeks looking for a way to break into Grand prix racing next year. The 26-year-old has been knocking on the door of the sport since he became Minardi's test driver in 1997. He stayed in that role last year but last winter organized a deal to become Benetton's tester. This was largely due to the fact he brought a large chunk of sponsorship from the shoe company Kickers.

Although often written off as a pay-driver Redon is quick. He won the 1995 French Formula 3 Championship, beating his Winfield Racing team-mate, the highly-rated Nicolas Minassian. He failed to win any races in Formula 3000 with DAMS in 1996 and SuperNova in 1997. Despite this Redon should not be overlooked as a potential F1 driver in 2000 as he has extremely good connections and considerable financial backing from his family.

Redon is the son of Josette Redon (nee Zannier) who established the Z clothing company in the 1960s with her brother Roger Zannier. Groupe Zannier is now the world's leading company in childrens clothing with an annual turnover of around $600m. It controls the Z, Kickers, Absorba, Floriance, Confetti and 3 Pommes brands and holds a variety of licenses to sell branded goods such as Peter Rabbit merchandise. The company has 500 stores.

Seen by many as a junior version of the Benetton group, Zannier has a long tradition of successful sponsorships with cyclist Greg Lemond in the Tour de France, Alain Prost (a childhood friend of Roger Zannier) and Benetton. When Kickers ran into trouble some years ago it was briefly sold to Benetton's Flavio Briatore. Today the Zannier Family is firmly in control with a 60% share of Groupe Zannier and is estimated to be worth as much as $150m. When Alain Prost was putting together his plans for Prost Grand Prix there were suggestions that Zannier would be involved in the financing of the deal but at the time the group was in some difficulties and so nothing came of the rumors. Now, however, things are going well and Zannier may take the opportunity to follow Benetton's lead of buying a team rather than merely sponsoring one. Minardi is available if Telefonica decides against buying into the Italian team.

It is not impossible that Zannier and Briatore might team up...