To keep a bird in a cage? (Part 3)

To keep a bird in a cage? (Part 3)
by Natasha Kholiavko

Let us try to leave out for a minute all the exciting negotiating games with driving contracts for the next season.

Everything flows, everything changes. Drivers come and go, - thus it was, thus it is, thus it shall be. But life and movement of F1 continue to bubble with inextinguishable vital energy and Formula One remains as the most imposing stage for the auto-racing drama playing on it, - drama that is skillfully directed by field managers and excellently played by actors-drivers. Tragedy and comedy, farce and pantomime, puppet show and circus stunts, - there are all genres of dramatic art are acted at this grand theatre! Captivating plot and always unpredictable denouement. And the same as at any other theatre the F1 stage has witnessed magnificent triumphs and bitter defeats, sensational debuts and grieving endings. And the same as at any other theatre there are not less curious intrigues and untiring battles usually unfolded in the wings...

Former successes Ligier, which reckoned one day to be contender to the top places in the World Championship, had gone into ages. Time by time the French team was rolling over from one's hands to another's until has found itself in full care of a serious gentleman and businessman, Flavio Briatore. It would have seemed there was the perfect chance for Ligier to arise and both parties must have been pleased: The Wolves have eaten much, and the sheep have not been touched. But not. Frenchmen relating to the team have found their patriotic pride risen against watching Ligier at the alien hands. They showed hard resolution in their intentions to buy the team back.

Habit is second nature.

National patriots are accustomed to turning things in one direction, in direction of chauvinistic feelings and traditional origins, while internationalists are disposed for the opposite tendency. Transfer of capitals from one country to another is a so habitual thing in the present-day integrated world that one never wonders with it, in spite of all furious shrieks about "immoral selling off the national possession". Taking into considerations that practically all teams in Formula One are in their essence international, such ultrapatriotism has being demonstrated by Frenchmen seems likely surprising.

Remembered at the start of this season Mr Briatore himself was ironing on Ferrari pretending to be called with a title of the national Italian team, while there were Japanese Osamu Goto as chief engine designer, British John Barnard as chief chassis constructor, Frenchman Jean Todt as team manager and drivers obviously German and Irish. Isn't that so, even tifosi never mind that beloved Scuderia performs under a flag of another state.

But it worth to look at the situation from opposite eyes so as to try to understand the patriots from the Seine' shores. Indeed, Frenchmen have paid serious contribution in Formula One history as well as in autosport development on the whole. But since the Larrousse team has fallen to the wayside, there was no any light in their window but Ligier. Therefore we ought to share the ocean of French sorrow on that Ligier all a sudden was appeared bought by foreigner, Flavio Briatore, acting from well-known selfish motive (to take Renault engine for his Benetton). As it is clear, the new owner sets up new regime. New lords - new laws! After a Briatore' plenipotentiary representative Tom Walkinshaw had been brought to Ligier as a technical director alarming hearsay have become wandering all over the team, - about that Ligier would be moving to the British land..., about that all French mechanics would be taken away...,- a new broom always sweeps clean! So, there is nothing to wonder new foreign owner was soon faced to mighty opposition protected by blue-white- red flag. Indeed, the French party deserves a lot of share and understanding, but still don't let us hurry to charge Flavio Briatore with all blame, -

As we said, the new owner devastated Ligier by taking away Renault engine. Thus it really was. But it shouldn't be forgotten that Briatore is a businessman and, let us confess, with his operations he unlikely exceeded principles of civil business morality. Yes, he has bought the control stock in Ligier not because he had been attracted by the very team itself, but by coveted engine. This bargain had to be as a decisive step to future Benetton' victories, - as it goes, one cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs...

All said above must help us to comprehend sources of the "new French revolution", which had been preparing for two recent years and was finished at last with a sheer surprising result a few weeks ago.

"The girl looks fine, but she isn't mine",- must have thought Guy Ligier about his native team watching it in iron embrace of Flavio Briatore. In common with Jacques Laffite, - one of the principal instigators of the boom,- Frenchmen became to have a talk that it is not exactly right the French team is owned by foreigner. Such ideas appeared to be supported on a state level, especially after Olivier Panis had succeeded unawares the first place at the Monte-Carlo circuit. All eyes were focused on the only aim - the control stock held by Briatore must to be bought back at all cost.

What was the result like?

After Hungarian Grand Prix there was press-release said that a founder of Ligier, Guy Ligier, has SOLD his 15% shares which he held in the team. The purchaser was ... Flavio Briatore.

Now let's turn back once again to history.

It worth to interest, why has Briatore been conserving Ligier in his possession after Renault engine had appeared at Benetton yet? Why did he need such burden, yoke at his back? Why did he send Tom Walkinshaw to France in spite of this talented specialist was of big services to Benetton?

This years last events have answered all this questions.

As we could see, in order to consolidate efforts in strengthening of friendly ties with Honda, Briatore succeeds an agreement with its subsidiary on Mugen Honda continues to provide Ligier with their engine. As a F1 team is not the only sports community but also a business enterprise, any owner dreams to see his capital profitable. As well Mr Briatore wanted Ligier, - in order to the team would remain as a more attractive bait at his hook, - hadn't to loose its middle position at the field. So, being experienced enterpriser, Italian couldn't let Ligier die nor to be sold. It was not Mr Briatore's nature to yield up his shares and rights to Frenchmen, even if he has been under mighty pressure and insistent persuading. He understood perfectly well that if one sells a cow, one will sell her milk too. And instead to give up holding the control stock in Ligier Italian has found himself as the only one, individual owner, who has collected in his possession all capital of the French team.

What may a mouse do against a cat, even there are a pack of mousses?

Willy-nilly, Frenchmen had to abandon their original plan to buying Ligier back. All patriotic efforts appeared in vain and French revolution feeding on the most noble-minded motives has choked off again.

So why Guy Ligier, who launched Ligier Sport in 1975 and has been acting passionately at attaching the team to the traditional origins, now ended so humbly with his dream?

Frenchmen kept a silence.

All of them were careful not to make a smallest hint at what had happened in reality and followed the English proverb which advises: don't speak of a rope in a house where someone hanged himself. Therefore all we could hear were the formal Mr Ligier' words declaring that while Flavio Briatore has been keeping Ligier in control everybody saw his excellent managing abilities, and that Ligier is in the reliable hands now.

But one cannot hide an eel in a sack, - truth will out all the same.

The matter looks like as if Messrs Ligier and Laffite rushed headlong into attack being conscious initially of that it is impossible to succeed. There were no financial resources to buy the Ligier team and they were not able to gather enough money. All that we could see was merely the next dramatic spectacle acted at the F1 stage.

Frenchmen played a comedy being getting red in their face like a clown lifting dummy weights. Very soon it has been discovered that their weights were made of paper, and they were driven off the stage at the same time as they was deprived of the bread and butter, for which they had been conceiving all this, -

you started speaking with delight, but finished with a sorry sight.

Besides all said, such situation allowed Flavio Briatore to strengthen his position not only at Ligier but at the F1 field on the whole. We could hear recently that Italian is keen on buying shares in Minardi, probably to further his native Italian interests in Formula One. Whether is it the patriotic feelings as well? - East or West, home is the best!

Anyhow the "French F1 revolution" presented to Flavio Briatore the new chance to demonstrate his infallible instinct of a gifted enterpriser. As a predator scents fresh blood, as the Italian maestro feels invisible sprouts of his future wins, doing with his inborn talent to appear in time at that very place where unfailing success yet waits for him, and making the Formula One ocean never still.

It seems Mr Briatore tirelessly carries his peculiar mission in F1, - to keep all the rest on alert, - as said goes,

A Pike Lives in a lake to keep all fish awake...

Will a time come when there won't be any pikes in Formula One? If it is so, then will not be any struggle, risk, captivating seeing and such hard competitiveness that for years attracts souls of all over the world.

Natasha Kholiavko
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