Lauda's appointment means he will be the immediate boss of American Bobby Rahal
Lauda takes Jaguar role LE MANS RACE

LONDON, Feb 6 (AFP) - Austrian three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda announced his return to motorsport here Tuesday taking over the reins at struggling British Formula One team Jaguar.

Lauda, who has signed a contract that runs to 2003, said the history of the British marque had been a key factor in his decision to return to the sport full-time after a brief spell five years ago as consultant to Ferrari.

"Jaguar is the only team, apart from Ferrari where the car manufacturer has a history in racing - the link between the two is right," said Lauda at a London hotel press conference.

Lauda, Formula One world champion in 1975, 1977 and 1984, survived an horrific crash at Germany's Nurburgring in 1976 but since retiring from driving in 1985 he has run his own airline business, Lauda Air.

"When I was a driver I was in charge but afterwards I had to educate myself to working at a lower speed. In the airline business I was on the throttle but 2,600 other people were on the brake," joked Lauda referring to his former workforce.

Lauda has sold his airline business to Austrian Airlines in order to concentrate fully on his new role and is set to live in England in order to be close to Jaguar's Milton Keynes base in Buckinghamshire, southern England.

Wearing his trademark red cap, Lauda explained that his role was to help co-ordinate the work of Jaguar, motorsport engine manufacturer Cosworth and electronics system company PI Group, all of whom are now wholly owned by the Ford Motor Company.

"I see myself as a team player," said Lauda. "We have a base but we have room to make a lot of improvement." Jaguar finished a lowly ninth in the constructors' championship last season scoring just four points in comparison to winners Ferrari's 170.

Lauda's appointment means he will be the immediate boss of American Bobby Rahal, the chief executive officer of Jaguar Racing. Rahal, a former IndyCar champion, has no previous experience of Formula One but both men insisted that Lauda's appointment was not a slight on Rahal's abilities.

"I see Niki as an ally," said Rahal. "His knowledge of all aspects of Formula One racing and his proven credentials as an astute businessman make him the ideal choice for this position. Niki's new role will enable me to clearly concentrate on developing Jaguar Racing into a championship team."

Lauda, who said he would be present at the first few Grand Prix of the new season, added. "Next week I will discuss with Bobby how we will do it (work together) and where do we stand. But Bobby is in charge of the team."

Jaguar's No.1 driver Eddie Irvine is someone Lauda knows well from the time when they were both at Ferrari and he is looking forward to working with the Ulsterman again.

"Eddie is capable of going very quick if he's in the right mood but Bobby will take care of that."

Lauda, who will also have a role in supervising Ford-owned Aston Martin's Le Mans 24 hour challenge, said the long-term goal was to make Jaguar into a major force in Formula One.

"It took Ferrari 21 years to win the championship again. I hope it won't take us that long. We have a base line and this year we must stick with what we've got but then we must move forward."