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Larrousse: a deal with DAMS?

THE Larrousse F1 team has been included in the official FIA F1 World Championship entry list, but it is uncertain whether the French team will actually be at the first race in March.

Larrousse has struggled financially since the end of last season. The team used pay drivers at the end of the year, and the last few months have been very difficult. This has led to friction between the Larrousse shareholders and delays in the production of a new car for 1995. Larrousse UK Ltd - owned by Robin Herd (a Larrousse shareholder) - designed a chassis; but, because no funding arrived, that car has not been built, and it is now too late to produce it for the start of the new season. The only possible way of saving Larrousse therefore, is if the team can find another organization with a car which is already built. There might have been a chance that Larrousse could use the Lola F1 car, but Larrousse and Lola fell out several years ago when the French team failed to pay for chassis which Lola had built on its behalf. The only remaining option is for Larrousse to make some arrangement with the DAMS Formula 3000 team.

Driot Arnoux Motor Sport (DAMS) is jointly owned by Parisian oil trader Jean Paul Driot and former Grand Prix star Rene Arnoux. It was founded in 1989 from the remains of the GBDA Motorsport - which was owned by four French partners: Gaignault, Blanchet, Driot and Arnoux and dated back to 1987. The team has won the International F3000 title three times; with Erik Comas in 1990, Olivier Panis in 1993 and Jules Boullion in 1994 and was hoping to run its own F1 operation in 1995. Driot commissioned an F1 design from Reynard Racing Cars but failed to register for the championship because he had not finalized a budget. He decided, however, to push ahead with the car and the first chassis is now nearing completion the headquarters of Brunet-Sicap, near Lille in northern France. Brunet-Sicap is a subsidiary of the huge French SNPE company, which already builds F1 chassis for MTV Simtek Ford.

Driot has been talking to Larrousse throughout the winter but had been unable to agree a deal. Gerard Larrousse has been trying to convince DAMS to run his F1 operation for him, using the Reynard chassis. Larrousse does not own his own factory or machinery but this is not a problem as DAMS has its own facility at Le Mans. The problem is that DAMS is not interested in such a deal unless Larrousse is willing to give them total control, and the DAMS bosses would prefer to buy Larrousse and run the team themselves. Larrousse is not worth a great deal apart from having an entry and having qualified for FOCA travel benefits. These two items amount to around US$1.3 million. Larrousse wants more as he owes a great deal of money elsewhere.

And while Larrousse wants to up the price, DAMS wants to reduce it as it can always choose to wait until the 1996 season before being launched into F1.

The discussions are being further delayed by the fact that Larrousse is not the sole owner of his team. He owns only about half the shares with the rest being split between Robin Herd, former F1 racer Patrick Tambay and his business partner Swiss Ferrari dealer Michel Golay.

Despite the team's entry and nomination of Erik Comas as driver, a deal is not yet formalized; and even if the team is now taken over by DAMS, it is highly unlikely to be very competitive. Only one chassis has been built and there are no parts for another. If the go-ahead was given today, it would still be a rush to get a second chassis finished in time for the first race.

If the team does survive Comas will probably be joined by a paying driver (Paul Belmondo perhaps) although the team's engineers are keen to run American Elton Julian, who made a very strong impression in testing last autumn.

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