Ligier-Alfa split on eve of Rio

After Alfa Romeo took a year's sabbatical from Formula One in order to develop a brand new four-cylinder turbocharged engine, the Italian firm's partnership with the Ligier team ended even before the first race of the year had been run.

Ever since it was taken into the Fiat organisation, it had been felt that Alfa wished it had never got involved in F1 again. Fiat wanted a strict pecking order established, whereby Ferrari represented the group in F1, Lancia in rallying and Alfa Romeo in the touring car arena.

Unwittingly, Rene Amoux gave Alfa its let-out clause in a verbal outburst over the engine's performance at a pre-season Imola test session. Arnoux, fed up to the back teeth with the engine's poor standard of reliability, not to mention its abysmal track performance when compared with the Honda-engined cars, verbally vented his spleen about the situation.

It was an outburst which sent Italian journalists racing to grab the nearest telephone and, the next day, Alfa senior management was incensed to see the whole matter laid out for public scrutiny in the national newspapers.

This was just the excuse Alfa needed. It announced to the Italian press that Arnoux's outburst represented a breach of contract, and that its partnership with Ligier was over. It then telexed these facts to a furious Guy Ligier.

Ligier responded with an appeal to Fiat overlord Gianni Agnelli, but Alfa Romeo was not to be swayed. Unable to compete in Brazil, the French team threatened legal action against the Italian car company.

In an effort to placate Ligier, Alfa responded by offering six engines and a handful of technicians for the first three races of the year, after which Ligier would be expected to make other arrangements. But it is understood that a pre-condition of this reprieve would be the dropping of the planned legal action. Ligier decided to decline the offer.

As we went to press, the team was casting round for an alternative source of engine supply: Motori-Moderni, Mader BMW Megatron and naturally-aspirated Cosworth DFZ are all possible choices. Whichever route he finally takes, Ligier reckons he will be back on the F1 trail by the end of May.