MOTOR RACING: Brundle moves back to Ligier

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The Independent Online
The Formula One driver picture became clearer yesterday when Martin Brundle rejoined Ligier from McLaren, who in turn indicated they were close to concluding a deal with Nigel Mansell.

McLaren and their new engine suppliers, Mercedes, have been involved in lengthy negotiations with Mansell and the man behind his grand prix come-back, Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's impresario.

The stumbling block has been money but it now appears they are on the point of agreement. Ron Dennis, the managing director of McLaren, said yesterday: "I know what I'm going to be doing this season with drivers and everyone else will find out in the next few days. Assuming Nigel drives for McLaren, and that is a possibility, then I think it will raise the performances of Nigel and Mika Hakkinen.

"Motor racing needs people like Mansell and Alain Prost for their skill and what they can bring to the sport. I will be disappointed if we do not win races this season."

Mansell, rejected by Williams -Renault, has been in discussions with McLaren for several weeks. He is said to have been offered $7m (£4.5m) for a one-year contract, but is seeking nearer $16m. He is also anxious to keep some of his own sponsors, which conflicts with traditional McLaren policy. They made an exception for Ayrton Senna, as Mansell will have reminded them.

Ligier presumably view Brundle's return as acceptable compensation for the loss of Johnny Herbert, now free to accompany the world champion, Michael Schumacher, at Benetton-Renault.

Ligier and Brundle have still had to accept a compromise arrangement to accommodate the requirements of the team's new engine partners. Mugen Honda demanded a Japanese driver and Aguri Suzuki will share one of the cars with the Englishman. France's Olivier Panis will drive the other car.

However, it seems Suzuki's appearances will be limited - the two Japanese races are doubtless on his projected schedule - and Brundle is confident he can establish himself as the team's No 2 driver, as he did at McLaren last season, despite the competition from Philippe Alliot.

Brundle, 35, had an excellent season with Ligier in 1993, form which helped him secure a move to McLaren last year. He had a less satisfying experience with the former champions and, aware of the negotiations involving Mansell, ultimately decided he should take the offer on the table.