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New Benetton launched today

THE Benetton-Renault B196 is being launched today at Taormina in Sicily - the town in which Jean Alesi's family lived before they emigrated to France. The prototype will run next week at Estoril, although it was probably shaken down quietly at a European track during its 1500 mile journey south to Sicily.

The B196 is the work of Rory Byrne and his team of designers at Enstone, and is believed to be fairly conventional, following the design philosophy of the recent models with which Michael Schumacher has enjoyed such success.

There will be some changes in the sponsorship package: Mild Seven and Elf will remain but German backers Bitburger and RTL - which were attracted by Schumacher - are not likely to be seen again. There have been rumors for some months that there will be an Indian company involved with the team, and there were lengthy negotiations last autumn between Benetton and Anglo-Indian businessman, Veejay Malik, owner of the Kingfisher beer brand, which is a big seller on the Indian sub-continent.

Benetton wants access to Malik's distribution network in India, where the company is planning to open several hundred shops.

The team is expected to nominate a new test driver, and all the indications are that this will be Frenchman Franck Lagorce, who has backing from Elf as did last year's Benetton tester Emmanuel Collard.

Benetton is now officially an Italian team - the regulations have been changed so that it can nominate Silverstone as its preferred testing facility.

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