TECHNICAL

Benetton-Renault B197

The Mild Seven Benetton Renault team unveiled its 1997 car in a rather chaotic fashion in London's chic - but rather too small - Planet Hollywood nightclub on January 23. The Benetton-Renault B197 will be driven by Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi and tested by Austrian rising star Alexander Wurz.

The Benetton technical team has been restructured considerably in the last 12 months with technical director Ross Brawn moving to Ferrari and chief designer Rory Byrne retiring from the sport. Pat Symmonds has been promoted technical director and Nick Wirth is the new chief designer. In fact Wirth has been responsible for a lot of the design work on the new car, in addition to acting as Berger's race engineer in 1996. The 30-year-old prodigy joined Benetton at the end of 1995 after his own Simtek F1 operation ran out of money and had to close down.

Wirth and Byrne worked closely on the B197 with the team's experienced and highly-respected drawing office manager Graham Heard, who actually coordinates the work done by the various design sections. Under his control are the composite design team, headed by Andy Moss; the transmission department under vastly experienced F1 engineer Dave Wass (a former technical director of Arrows); the stress analysis department headed by Andy Wyman, and the mechanical design team under Martin Tolliday. The team is certainly not short of talented and experienced engineers and currently includes such wellknown names as Sergio Rinland and Frank Coppuck.

Team boss Flavio Briatore - who runs the team on a budget of around $50m a year - described the disastrous 1996 season, in which Benetton failed to win a single race, as being "a year of transition". He said that the team had changed too many things but added that he believes that "this winter we have worked very well and we now feel prepared and will be able to pose a serious challenge to our competitors".

To date the B197 has gone very well in testing, Berger and Alesi completed over 1000 miles or running before the launch in Silverstone and at Jerez without any major dramas, Gerhard setting a best lap at Jerez of 1m21.273s. The new Williams-Renault FW19 has yet to run at the Spanish circuit but Heinz-Harald Frentzen recorded a best lap of 1m21.90s in the old FW18B, which suggests that Benetton has made a big leap forward in comparison to last year. It remains to be seen whether it is enough to stay ahead of Williams when the team has its new FW19 car ready.

The Benetton B197 is fundamentally an evolution of last year's car, the philosophy being to eliminate the weaknesses and build on the strengths of the B196. The Benetton designers have also had to incorporate a completely new Renault V10 engine and the changes necessary mean that all the parts on the new car are new. There has been a major weight-saving programme and, in addition, changes have had to be made to allow for the alterations in the regulations.

The engine change has meant that the rear of the car has been substantially altered because the new Renault unit has a new v-angle and, as a result, a centre of gravity which is 15mm lower than last year.

"This engine is completely new," said Renault Sport technical director Bernard Dudot. "It is the first time we have changed the v-angle of our engine. It is a 71-degree V10 compared to the 67-degree engines we have used past. We have paid particular attention also to the weight."

The RS9 weighs in at 121kgs - which is 11kgs lighter than the RS8 used in 1996. The result, according to the drivers, is a very effective new engine.

"I have to say that Renault did a very good," said Gerhard Berger, "and I am very confident for this year."

The Austrian's confidence comes not only from the new engine but also because he feels much more confident in the B197 than he did in the B196, which was designed with Michael Schumacher's driving style in mind. The German's style of driving is, apparently, very different to other F1 stars and both Berger and Alesi complained last year that they found the B196 very nervous.

The change of engine gave Benetton's aerodynamic team, led by James Allison, the opportunity to revise the rear of the car. The work was done at the Defence Research Agency's 40% windtunnel at Farnborough. Benetton is in the process of building its own windtunnel at Enstone but the work is not likely to be finished until the late summer. The team currently also has a deal with Fondmetal Technologies in Italy - Jean-Claude Migeot overseeing advanced research and development projects for Benetton in the Casumaro windtunnel.

The team is also using advanced computational fluid dynamics programmes supplied by a company called Fluid Europe.

A great deal of attention has been focussed in the design of the B197 on development of a hydraulic differential and a power-steering system both of which will be raced all this season.

The team currently manufactures 90% of its cars on-site in its 85,000 square feet factory at Enstone. The team has 240 members of staff but is continuing to expand its technical department.

Nick Wirth

"Rory Byrne and I worked together on this project. We divided the car up into areas and, basically, I looked after the back end of the car. I had input on all areas really but basically we shared the work. Obviously Rory was in the drawing office all the time while I was out engineering Gerhard but when I was there I scurried around the drawing office.

"The rear is the area where the biggest changes were made but, basically, we did a lot of work in all areas. We knew that the 1996 car was not good enough. It was too heavy. It had some aerodynamic disadvantages which we could not cure, so we set out with a clean sheet of paper to do this car; to fix the areas which we felt were wrong and build on the areas which had been good. I think we all realized that there was a fundamental lack of performance in the car. That hampered us in qualifying particularly. There were other things which meant we were much closer to Williams in the races than our theoretical performance should have allowed us to be, so we tried to keep those aspects. I hope we have achieved that. I think we have.

"We worked on all areas of the car and all areas have improved. Traditionally aerodynamics is what makes a difference in the lap times so obviously we concentrated on that. The aerodynamic improvement has come, I think, from packaging rather than producing better wings and bodywork.

"We are still using the old windtunnel. We are building a new one and we are making enormous programme with computer technology as well. We are working very hard to cement a very solid engineering foundation in Benetton."

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