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... as do 28% of Ligier's French crew

ALTHOUGH they have been expected for some time, the cutbacks at Ligier announced last week left the motor racing community at Magny-Cours reeling as 28% of the work force was told that it was out of work.

In total 37 people have been fired from a total of 110 staff at Magny-Cours. The purge has wiped out the entire drawing office, while the 10-man composite department has been reduced to just three.

The implication in the cuts is clear - all the design, research and development and carbonfibre work for the team - except small repairs between races - will henceforth be done at the TWR headquarters at Leafield in England.

As we predicted as long ago as March last year, the team will ultimately be moved to England in its entirety and very few of the French staff at Magny-Cours can expect to have jobs as in general they do not speak English and do not want to move to England.

The team says that the cuts have been necessary because of a serious reduction in budget since the French presidential election last Spring. When Francois Mitterand was still President, Ligier enjoyed favored status and government companies Loto, Elf and Gitanes were forced to sponsor the racing. The arrival of Jacques Chirac's new government put an end to that and sponsorship negotiations between the team's new owners - Flavio Briatore and Tom Walkinshaw - have failed to net anything close to the $50 million which the team was used to receiving. Loto has pulled out completely, Gitanes has handed the sponsorship over to its sister brand Gauloises but is only paying around 60% of the previous budget and Elf is said to have thrown in only $3m to ensure that its driver Olivier Panis is retained.

As a result we hear that this year's budget is down to $26m with $6m of that needed to pay for the supply of Mugen Honda V10 engines. The high value of the French Franc has obviously not helped as producing anything in France has become hugely expensive.

It was these figures which convinced Ligier management to accept Brazilian pay-driver Pedro Diniz as second driver. He is believed to be bringing $10m to the party to boost the Ligier budget to $36m.

The forthcoming Ligier-Mugen Honda JS43 is expected to be little more than a rehash of the JS41, allowing for the 1996 regulation changes and improving the most obvious faults of the JS41. The composite work for the new car will be carried out at Astec (also known as TWR Composites) in Derby, England.

The work to establish a complete new design department at the TWR corporate and R&D headquarters at Leafield - a 30-acre site 20 miles west of Oxford - will continue this year.

In short, Ligier is planning to spend as little as possible this year and is preferring to concentrate on finding major non-French sponsorship for the future so that the team can be run from England.

And that is not good news for the remaining 73 Ligier staff at Magny-Cours...

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