Richards rumours dismissed

Speculation that David Richards has been axed as team boss of BAR has been dismissed by sources close to owner British American Tobacco, although the company is currently undergoing its annual review and considering options for the outfit's short and long-term future

Richards rumours dismissed

Although Richards has helped steer BAR to its most successful season since entering F1 in 1999 by securing second place in the constructors' championship, there have been wild rumours this week that he has been dropped by the team because of the fall-out from the Jenson Button affair and the fact that the team has failed to land any major new sponsorship deals.

However, sources close to team owners BAT have told autosport.com that the stories are wide of the mark. The source said: "David Richards has not been sacked."

Although Richards himself is unavailable for comment because is currently taking an end of season holiday, a BAR spokeswoman confirmed that his role with the team was unchanged. "David is part of the management team appointed by BAT and the contract has another two years to run," she said.

Despite dismissing the current Richards speculation, BAT is undertaking a review of its plans for the team - and part of that process includes the future role for Richards and his Prodrive company which is contracted to run the outfit.

Insiders suggest that the main dilemma facing the team at the moment is the threat posed by tobacco legislation, especially the law that bans cigarette advertising and sponsorship within the European Union from July 31, 2005.

The problem for British teams is that under the current wording of the British Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act it will be illegal for any organisation based in Britain to have an involvement with a business intended to promote the sale of tobacco products in Britain. This British teams will not be allowed to run with tobacco sponsors even if they are racing outside of the EU, because television images and photographs could find their way back into the United Kingdom.

Those British-based teams with tobacco backing are therefore currently considering their future options and demanding urgent clarification from the government about their position.

Should the wording of the law not be changed, then it will mean tobacco sponsors needing to be taken off the cars from the middle of the season - and it could even result in cigarette manufacturers deciding not to continue at all into 2005.

One possibility is that BAT decides it no longer makes sense to promote its Lucky Strike brand through F1 involvement and chooses to consider other plans - which might involve a possible sale of the team to current engine partner Honda.

Such a scenario could lead to Honda installing its own team principal - which could be where the current speculation has surfaced from. One name mentioned as a possible favoured choice by Honda is BAR's current managing director Nick Fry, who is a close associate of Richards.

Honda itself has made no secret of the fact that it would be interested in buying into BAR, but only if it decided that it was the best way of winning the world championship in the future.

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