Motor Racing: Ligier's appetite for work

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The Independent Online
LIGIER has the dubious distinction of being acknowledged as one of the best eating establishments in Formula One. Alan Jones, the 1980 world champion, once observed of the French team: 'While they're off having their snails and Beaujolais, other teams will be getting on with their work.'

Gastronomic habits may die hard but Ligier have so encouraged their drivers for this coming season, Britain's Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell, that they have acquired an appetite for toil. On the evidence of testing here this week, that is just as well.

The broken part which caused one of Brundle's wheels to fall off and force Ligier to curtail proceedings on Tuesday may prove the least of their problems. Their limited running on this circuit has been sufficient to indicate the car may not perform so well without home comforts.

Back at base, on the silky smooth surface of Magny-Cours, the Ligier-Renault has produced impressive times. Here, at the track which stages the Portuguese Grand Prix, it has been significantly off the pace. Brundle said: 'The car is good at Magny- Cours, no doubt about that. Really good. But on a circuit like this, which is bumpy and has less grip, it's nothing like as effective, so there's something wrong.'

The ominous reality for Brundle and Blundell is that there are not too many surfaces as good as that at Magny-Cours, which has yet to be confirmed as one of this year's world championship circuits. The consolation for the pair is that no one in the camp should now have any illusions about the task confronting them.

Brundle said: 'We've got to turn it around here, and that's not going to be easy. There's a lot of hard work ahead of us. But we have a good package - Renault engine, Williams' gearbox, Elf's fuel and a nice car - and if we work at it I'm sure we can produce the results.

'What is encouraging is that everyone is prepared to work at it. Sure, they like their food, but then so do I. I've never eaten as well as I am doing with this team, nothing wrong with that. I tell you this, though, they're all still working at the factory at 8 o'clock at night, and they're not eating then.'

The signing of the two Britons provoked a storm of protest in the French press and among out- of-work French drivers. Ligier make no apologies, maintaining their concern was to recruit the best available, irrespective of nationality.

Brundle, 33, was released after his most productive championship last year, while Blundell, 26, was test driving for McLaren, arming himself with vital information on the latest technology. What is more, the two men have a good relationship, as they demonstrated at Brabham two years ago, a refreshing state of affairs for Ligier after enduring the conflict between Thierry Boutsen and Erik Comas all last season.

Blundell said: 'Ligier are looking for direction and hopefully we can give them that. Language isn't a problem because they all speak English and Martin and I actually speak to each other, which isn't something they've been used to around here]

'They believe we can do the job for them and that's what we believe. We're here on merit, as all the British drivers in Formula One are (Damon Hill, Derek Warwick, and Johnny Herbert are the others). There are a lot of drivers out of work, drivers with money to take to teams. We don't bring money but I think we bring them something more valuable.'

What they bring, perhaps above all, is motivation. Blundell wants to confirm his reputation as one of the brightest prospects in the sport, while Brundle is anxious to show Benetton-Ford they were ill-advised to dispatch him in favour of Riccardo Patrese.

Brundle said: 'I want to surmount what I did last year and prove a few things to certain people. Our aim has to be to score points consistently and challenge Ferrari for that fourth place in the championship. We have to be realistic and recognise Williams, Benetton and McLaren should be out of reach, but if we apply ourselves to the job there's no reason why we shouldn't be next up.'

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