Motor Racing: Britons bear fruit at Ligier

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The Independent Online
AMID the political in-fighting, the crossfire of accusations, the scowls and the moans of everyday grand-prix life, Anglo-French co-operation is creating a haven of harmony and prosperity. The once divided and ridiculed Ligier team are suddenly becoming respected members of Formula One society.

Their third place here, in Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix, brought their points total from the first four races of the season to 10. Not a spectacular showing, perhaps, and certainly not one to disturb Williams-Renault or McLaren-Ford. It does, however, leave them in fourth position, outright, in the world championship, only two points behind Benetton-Ford, and represents a remarkable upturn in performance from the Magny-Cours-based organisation. It took them six seasons to score their previous 10 points.

The momentum is even leading the management to believe they can achieve their target (set pre-season to the accompaniment of some mirth) of 30 points. The last time they passed that landmark was in 1981. Ligier were then regarded as a leading force. The season before was their best. They were runners-up to Williams.

Links with Williams' current car explains much of the revival in Ligier's fortunes. They have the same Renault V10 engine, the same Elf fuel and Williams' semi-automatic gearbox. The team have excellent facilities and a dedicated workforce.

There is another ingredient in this mini success story: the British connection. The latest four points were delivered by Martin Brundle, adding to the six for third and fifth places registered by his compatriot, Mark Blundell, in South Africa and Brazil.

Cyril de Rouvre, the man who took control of the team with a pledge to rebuild its credibility, was berated by the French press for hiring two British drivers, but now feels his policy has been vindicated. He said: 'Brundle and Blundell were chosen for their ability and because we knew they worked well together. I knew it was the best way to go forward.

'Mark has already had good results and Martin now has the result he deserves. I'm sure there will be many more. I wondered if 30 points was an optimistic goal, but we are ahead of schedule and I really think we can do it. We are improving the car and a lot of the credit for that must go to Martin and Mark, for the way they work and guide the team.'

Brundle was in danger of being driven out of Formula One during the winter. Released by Benetton after his best season, and rejected by Williams despite receiving a contract, he feared the doors to competitive options were closing in his face. He eventually decided to rejoin Blundell, his partner at Brabham, in 1991, only to be upstaged at the opening three races. It appeared his career was buckling. But buoyed by events last season, when he recovered from a poor start, he sustained his self-belief and on Sunday produced a heartening drive.

Brundle said: 'We're not fooling ourselves we are championship material, but we should get stronger as the season progresses. We ought to make regular visits to the podium and should be in with a chance of winning races if we get the package right.'