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Richards leaves Benetton...

AS previously suggested (INSIDE F1. Issue 98.37), David Richards has left the Benetton team after only a year in charge. The boss of Prodrive is to be replaced as chief executive of the team by 29-year-old Rocco Benetton. Benetton - the youngest son of Luciano Benetton - has little experience in motor racing although he does have a degree in engineering from Boston╩University. After leaving college he spent four years running an investment company in New York prior to becoming Commercial Director of the team in September last year.

He will be supported by operations director Joan Villadelprat, marketing director David Warren and technical director Pat╩Symonds who between them run the team on a day-to-day basis.

The split between Richards and the Benetton Family appears to have come about as a result of the family's refusal to sell shares to the Ford Motor Company. Richards was understood to be pushing hard for a deal to ensure that Benetton became Ford's factory team in the year 2000. Ford wanted equity. "We could not agree on the future direction of the business," said Richards.

Benetton has a contract with Super Performance Competition Engineering - the company owned by Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and Gerald Casella - for a supply of engines in 1999 and 2000. These are the ex-Renault V10 engines, which are being distributed as Supertec Sport V10s but will probably continue to be known as Playlife V10s. The Benetton Family will be hoping that Renault decides to return to F1 in 2001 so that it can become the French company's factory team. This would be a logical choice for Renault although British American Racing seems to have a similar idea.

The announcement must be seen as a setback for Ford as it means that the company will still not be associated with a top╩F1 team for the next few seasons. The company's intention now appears to be to continue the development of Stewart╩Grand╩Prix and, probably, to buy into the operation. There may even be plans to purchase Stewart in association with Prodrive. One way or another, we expect that Richards will soon be running Stewart Grand Prix. To have left Benetton for anything less would have made little sense. Stewart is in no position to refuse Ford demands as the company could easily go to Jordan or Arrows and do a deal for equity.

It is interesting that just a few days before the announcement of the Benetton-Richards split Stewart announced that Neil╩Ressler, Ford's Vice-President of Advanced Vehicle Technology, had been appointed a non-executive director of Stewart╩Grand Prix. The move gave Ford a voice on the Stewart board and Jackie Stewart said that Ressler would, "play a significant role in the ongoing development of Stewart Grand Prix".

It is also interesting to note that Prodrive has just bought Arden International Motorsport Ltd., the Formula 3000 team which was previously owned by Christian Horner. This is expected to be used as some form of junior team for the Stewart operation.

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