MAY 29, 2000

Peugeot decision due at French Grand Prix

PEUGEOT SPORT bosses say that no decision has yet been taken about the company's future (or lack of it) in Formula 1 and that there will be an announcement once the firm knows where it is going. This is expected to come at the FrenchÊGrandÊPrix. The company was reacting to speculation that it is to sell its Formula 1 operation at Velizy to an Asian consortium called Asian Motor Technics. This seems to involve a member of the Morita Family, which founded and still controls the Sony corporation, and former racer Tetzu Ikuzawa, who has been dreaming of running a Formula 1 team since the mid-1990s when he established Ikuzawa International in Basildon, Essex, and hired Argentine designer Enrique Scalabroni to draw a Formula 1 car for him. The Ikuzawa design bureau was closed in 1996 because there was no money to push ahead with the planned program. According to initial rumors, the intention is for Ikuzawa's group to sell the engines to customers but this does not seem very likely and nor does it explain the fact that Scalabroni and Bernie Ecclestone were spotted at the EuropeanÊGrandÊPrix visiting the Sauber team with a Mitsubishi executive in tow.

This is odd in that Mitsubishi Motor has recently come under the control of DaimlerChrysler. Mitsubishi Chairman KatsuhikoÊKawasoe said the deal was intended to bolster Mitsubishi's presence in Europe (which an F1 program would obviously help) but given that there might be access to Mercedes-Benz engine technology as a result of the partnership it is difficult to understand why Mitsubishi would want to buy the Peugeot project, except as a starting point from which to work. This might work out successfully if there are long-term plans for Mercedes-Benz to bow out of F1 and make way for another company in the group, but there is no evidence to support this theory.

While Asian Motor Technics is one possible buyer there are three major car manufacturers not currently involved in F1 which would greatly benefit from access to Peugeot information: Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors. Toyota does have it own F1 program under development in Cologne, Germany but our spies continue to insist that Yamaha (a Toyota affiliate) wants to get hold of the Peugeot technology in order to get back into F1. We hear that this program involves the purchase of Minardi in order to get hold of an F1 entry with a base being set up in Britain and a completely new team branding, which could later give way to a full manufacturer operation if things went well.

Peugeot's other choices appear to buy a team and battle on or quit the sport and take the technology with them. The latter route does not make sense and although Peugeot dealers are keen to see the F1 program continue if it is successful, they will not be complaining as loudly as they were three years ago, as the program has done them no good at all and there is now a successful Peugeot rally program being developed. In the circumstances a sale of the F1 technology makes the most sense as it would recoup some of the investment while also providing a budget for the WorldÊRallyÊChampionship.

Whatever the details, Peugeot insists that no deal has yet been done and that Peugeot president Frederic Saint-Geours is still trying to decide on his strategy. Alain Prost does not appear to want a Peugeot engine next year and appears to be prepared to pay for a Supertec supply rather than use the free Peugeots. Prost is also not showing any interest in selling his team to Peugeot.