APRIL 15, 1996
The Nogaro track is a curious mixture of tight corners and high-speed straights and can be used in a couple of different configurations, but neither will be much use to Ligier in preparation for the medium-speed corners of the Nurburgring and Imola. Normally F1 teams go to Nogaro to test set-ups for the twisty Monaco circuit.
The team will continue to struggle as all it can do at the moment is limited development work. To accelerate this will need a major recruitment program and that will cost money. Ligier is currently without a full composite department as a result of a purge in January which wiped 37 people off the team's payroll, reducing the 10-man composite shop to just three individuals and all but closing down the drawing office. The cuts were necessary because of a 30% reduction in budget due to the refusal of French companies to support the team. At the time the intention was for all Ligier R&D, design and composite work to be done in England by TWR.
With TWR pulling out a month ago, Ligier has been left in serious trouble as many of the staff which had been fired did not hang around and found work elsewhere. A number of others have transferred to TWR. In order to rebuild the composite department and resume R&D, Ligier will need to invest money and, at the moment, this is rather thin on the ground.
This will be very frustrating for Mugen Honda which is now producing very good engines. The Mugen effort, incidentally, now includes more and more of the old faces from the Honda F1 effort of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it is clear that Honda is already gearing up to return to F1 in an official capacity in 1998. The problem for Ligier is that Mugen Honda will not be very interested in continuing with them next year - even if the French team can afford the $6m necessary to secure the supply. With the long-term future of Honda clearly not involving Ligier, it is likely therefore that Mugen Honda will move to TWR Arrows next year.
It should also be remembered that Mugen Honda was seriously embarrassed last year by Ligier boss Flavio Briatore. The Italian had convinced Mugen Honda to break an agreement with Minardi and promised to take care of any damages which resulted. When Briatore did not pay, the Italians started legal action against Briatore in both Italy and England. Briatore responded by having the Minardi team's equipment seized at the French GP because Minardi owed one of his companies money for its Ford engine supply in 1993. Minardi had stopped paying Briatore when it became clear that Flavio would be paying damages for the Mugen deal. A compromise was worked out but the Japanese had been severely embarrassed by the affair - and are unlikely to forget it.