Benetton wins winter race

THE Benetton Formula 1 team may not have won a Grand Prix in 1996 but the Enstone-based team has emerged as the winner of the race to build the first 1997 chassis. Stewart has already launched its car but it was not competing in the 1996 World Championship and thus had an easier task.

The Benetton-Renault B197 ran very briefly on Thursday afternoon on the south circuit at Silverstone, Gerhard Berger doing six laps of systems checks in the new car before darkness fell. The Austrian returned the following day to complete 61 laps of the track despite rain and fog. Jean Alesi was present to watch the tests but is not expected to do any running until the New╩Year.

The rush to produce the Benetton before Christmas is little more than a publicity stunt as it is not expected to be run again until the New Year testing begins. The team said that a special effort had been made in order to give the team more time to test in preparation for the 1997 season so that the car will be fully-developed when the new season begins in March.

What the team did not say is that it was among the first teams to produce its new car in 1996 as well - shortly after the Sauber and the Jordan ran - but that the extra development time did not help make the B196 competitive.

The Benetton-Renault B197 has been designed by the same team of engineers which built the B196, although chief designer Rory Byrne has since left the team. The B197 will be officially unveiled on January 23.

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