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FEBRUARY 3, 1997

Technical analysis: Benetton-Renault B197

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 well-known names as Sergio Rinland and Frank Coppuck.

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 program 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 center of gravity which is 15mm lower than last year.

"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 Defense 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 programs supplied by a company called Fluid Europe.

A great deal of attention has been focused 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.