NOVEMBER 25, 1996
Upheavals at Benetton
AS has been rumored since the summer of 1995, Benetton's technical director Ross Brawn and its chief designer Rory Byrne are both leaving the team. Fifty-two year old Byrne is retiring and 42-year-old Brawn is almost certainly moving to Ferrari, where he will link up once again with Michael Schumacher.
Benetton team boss Flavio Briatore has now announced that Pat Symonds will become technical director and that Nick Wirth will be the team's chief designer.
Forty-three year old Symonds has been with Byrne since the pair first worked together at Royale Racing Cars in the late 1970s. A Ford apprentice with an automotive engineering degree from the Cranfield Institute, Symonds followed Byrne from Royale to the Toleman Formula 2 team in 1979 and the pair designed the first F1 Toleman in 1980. Symonds was Ayrton Senna's race engineer when the Brazilian entered F1 in 1984 and remained with the team after it was taken over by the Benetton company. Byrne and Symonds both left the team briefly in 1991 when team boss Flavio Briatore hired John Barnard. The pair went to work for the stillborn Reynard F1 program before returning to Benetton after Barnard's departure. Symonds then became Michael Schumacher's race engineer - while also heading the team's research and development programs.
Thirty-year-old Wirth started his F1 career with the March team in 1987 but had a brief spell at Benetton before establishing Simtek Research with Max Mosley in August 1989. He designed his first F1 car in 1990 - a secret project for BMW - but grew frustrated selling his designs to uncompetitive teams and established his own F1 team in 1994. The underfunded team survived the death of Roland Ratzenberger that year but closed down in June 1995 and Wirth found work as Special Projects Engineer at Benetton, race engineering Gerhard Berger this year.
Although Symonds and Wirth take over the top jobs immediately, the B197 design will have been drawn largely by Byrne and his team.
Announcing the departures Briatore was eager to point out that despite the losses Benetton will be competitive "with the continuity of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger as the drivers".
Benetton's technical departments have also lost experienced men Richard McAinsh and Dave Rendall (to Stewart) this year. The team is expected to promote Christian Silk and Tim Wright to be race engineers.
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