Collard tests for Benetton

The Benetton team sometimes has the strangest ideas about public relations. Last winter the team sent out a press release about its managing-director Flavio Briatore having a back operation, but it has so far failed to tell the world all about its new test driver Emmanuel Collard, who drove a Benetton for the first time last week at Imola.

Collard only recently turned 24 years of age but he has already completed thousands of miles of testing for the Williams team. Collard got the Williams test drive thanks to support from the French oil company Elf, and his as-yet unannounced deal with Benetton came as a result of Elf donating $1 million to the Benetton team bank account.

Collard is one of four young Frenchman currently being placed in F1 by Elf: Ligier's Olivier Panis is the only one with a regular drive but Jean-Christophe Boullion is testing for Williams and Franck Lagorce for Ligier.

The youngest of this gang of four, Collard is actually younger than most of the next generation of Elf drivers currently in F3000 and clearly has a big F1 future ahead of him.

From Arpajon, near the Montlhery racing circuit to the south of Paris, France, Collard has been racing since he was 11 becoming World Karting Champion in 1988 in the Super 100cc Formula A category. Unable to get a driving license in France until he was 18, he needed a special dispensation to start racing in 1989 in Formula Renault. In his first year in car racing he finished second in the championship to Panis and won the title the following year, while also - would you believe it - test-driving for the Ligier F1 team!

In 1991 he moved to French Formula 3 with a family team but this was a disaster, although at the end of the year he had a couple of Formula 3000 races with the Apomatox team and showed considerable promise. He spent 1992 and 1993 with Apomatox in F3000 but the cars were rarely competitive, although Elf kept the faith and put him in at Williams as a test driver in 1994.

With increasing maturity and considerable F1 experience, Collard is expected to become a regular F1 runner in the years ahead.

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