Buyer must be in place by November

Updated: September 23, 2004, 1:13 PM ET
Reuters

SHANGHAI, China -- Ford has had strong interest in its Jaguar Formula One team but will only sell to a buyer offering real hope for the future, according to boss Tony Purnell.

"There's been masses of interest," the Jaguar team principal told a news conference at the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix on Thursday, a week after Ford said it was quitting at the end of the season and selling the team.

"Formula One generates a lot of people who want to take a chance and we're sifting through (to separate) the realistic buyers from the chancers.

"I think one's got to be fairly confident that a solution will be found," he added.

"The idea of buying a Formula One team is a little bit of a misnomer. It's more about funding a Formula One team on an ongoing basis.

"We're only going to change the ownership to somebody who's got the means to do a credible job for two or three years."

The alternative will be for Ford simply to close down the team and they must make a decision by mid-November when entries for 2005 must be submitted to the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA).

Purnell, asked specifically about Austrian Red Bull energy drink magnate Dietrich Mateschitz, refused to comment on potential purchasers.

But he was confident a transfer of ownership could be achieved by Nov. 15 and said the sale would include all the team's assets -- machines, wind tunnels and staff.

"The whole process is a confidential one but rest assured that I've contacted every potential buyer that I know of," he said. "One of the big challenges at the moment is trying to find time just to sleep.

"It's a global business and I'm getting phone calls day and night."

Purnell said that if a credible buyer could not be found it would say far more about the state of Formula One as a business than the team's health or prospects.

"I can't imagine handing someone who wanted to be in F1 a better starting point," he said.

Jaguar is seventh in the championship, a point ahead of Toyota, before Sunday's race. Australian driver Mark Webber has already announced he is moving to Williams next year.

Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone agreed that it would not be in Formula One's interests for Jaguar to be bought by someone without the resources for them to be competitive.

"It's not so much a case of a rich man buying it, it's more a case of the rich man needing some manufacturer support as well," he told reporters in Shanghai.

"If an independent comes in with a manufacturer behind them, then it's good. It's difficult to be competitive without a manufacturer engine."

Ecclestone said last week that Jaguar did not have the financial clout to be among Formula One's leading players and should have pulled out last year.

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