Motor racing: BAR cars' provocative show

THIRTY YEARS after tobacco sponsorship made its first appearance in grand prix racing, someone has found a way to promote two brands of cigarette simultaneously. The controversial new British American Racing team unveiled the modified paintwork of their Formula One contender yesterday, revealing a design intended to circumvent rules which prohibit two cars of the same team being painted in different livery.

From one side, the BAR-Supertec 01 appears to be carrying the red and white livery of Lucky Strike cigarettes. From the other, it carries the blue and yellow of State Express 555. From the front, it looks like nothing on earth - or, perhaps, an accident that couldn't wait to happen.

Both brands are produced by British American Tobacco, which set up the team last year in a pounds 250m five-year deal involving Jacques Villeneuve, the former world champion, and his manager, Craig Pollock, who is the team's managing director. At their official launch several weeks ago, they announced their intention to promote both brands. During that ceremony Villeneuve's car appeared in Lucky Strike colours while that of his team- mate, the 22-year-old Brazilian Ricardo Zonta, was in the 555 livery.

When objections were raised by the FIA, the international motor sport authority, Pollock threatened to take the case to the European Commission. He backed down after the FIA's arbitration panel found against the team, which was ordered to pay legal costs estimated at more than pounds 500,000. He was also told to appear before the World Council, the FIA's disciplinary body, on 12 March to explain BAR's conduct. A heavy fine, if not a suspension, is expected.

The team's solution to their problem was eagerly awaited, and yesterday's unveiling took place as part of the car's final shakedown run at Silverstone in preparation for the Australian Grand Prix, the first race of the season, which takes place a week on Sunday in Melbourne. Villeneuve's driving suit, and the uniforms of his mechanics, were still based solely on the Lucky Strike logo, while Zonta's half of the team reflected the State Express design.

"While this design is obviously not our first choice," Pollock said yesterday in a prepared statement, "we believe it provides value for our sponsors and maintains the first-class image of the team." The FIA's attitude is unlikely to be softened by the compromise livery, which it may see as a further provocation.