By Cameron Curwood - Motorsport.com
Today, the Premier Automotive Group, Ford's London - based luxury car division (Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Volvo) announced that Niki Lauda would become head of its new Premier Performance Division. The Premier Performance Division will comprise a union of three companies: Cosworth Engineering, Pi Research and Jaguar Racing.
"It will be Niki's role to take these three companies and make them one performance entity," said Wolfgang Reitzle, the president of the Premier Automotive Group. "We want to use these the unique companies in a new set-up to really perform and win in motorsport. It should be a winning set-up in the future. We have had Bobby Rahal as head of Jaguar Racing for a couple months now, so with Niki our leadership set-up is complete. We have the prerequisite to win, and you should expect from us a steady, constant improvement. That is our personal commitment."
"We needed someone to take direction of the 3 companies," said Rahal, who know reports to Lauda. "We want to keep the strengths and directions of these small companies but ensure they are working together. Niki will be an ally with me to take Jaguar to the success we want. This is truly an historic moment."
"I am really happy to be here with the Premier Performance Division," said Lauda. "My job will be to make sure the three companies understand each other and can move forward."
Lauda talked about how this challenge was much different than LaudaAir - an airline he owned and operated in Austria. "In racing, you have people who want to win in a short a time as possible. In the business world it is not like this. You must fight and deal with unions. You must motivate people to do a little more or work a little harder. I learned a lot from my experience with LaudaAir and I am glad I went through that experience. Now it is good to be back in racing."
Lauda also commented, when asked, on Jaguar's driver line-up. "Eddie is a good driver when he is in the mood to do well. Burti I do not really know."
Lauda, who will be based in England, is committed through 2003, though he does not guarantee success within that time. "It took Ferrari 21 years to win their championship, hopefully it won't take us as long," he joked. "This year we have to stick with what we've got. We will run the car and analyze it and try to make it better. Next year we will take some small steps with improvement. Then in the third year, we will see the big improvements." Rahal and Reitzle agreed.
"We are looking for respectability this year," said Rahal. "We need to put in place the processes and disciplines to move forward. Today is one of those steps." Reitzle added, "This year we build the ground for the future. We won't know where we are until 2 or 3 races into the season. Bobby has made car very reliable lately."
They all also agree that this year should be better than last year. "We did not perform last year. We under performed in every area," said Reitzle. "We analyzed and saw the transition period (from Stewart Racing) caused difficulties." He does not believe however that the team was quite as bad as looked last year, nor was it quite as good as it looked when it finished 4th in 1999. "We had a little bit of luck finishing 4th as Stewart in 1999. We scored more points than how good we were. Last year we got less points than we should have for how good we were."
Lauda, who signed his contract with the Premier Automotive Group a mere two hours before the press conference, will attend the first few races to see how the team is performing. Then, he will head to England where he will begin to oversee the 3 companies of the Premier Performance Division.