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Villadelprat bows out at Benetton

BENETTON's Director of Operations Joan Villadelprat is to leave Benetton Formula at the end of the season after nine years with the team. The Spaniard is currently denying the move but we understand that the Benetton Family has been informed of his plans - which would seem to suggest that the rumored Spanish takeover of Minardi may be going ahead.

Others sources in the paddock insist that the Spanish team is not going to happen as there are political problems within Telefonica - the main backer of the project. This does not mean that Villadelprat will not be involved as he may be linked with another bid to buy the little Italian team. Villadelprat has very strong links with Flavio Briatore, the two having worked together at Benetton until Flavio was ousted by the Benetton Family in the autumn of 1997. Since then Briatore has been running the company which supplies Supertec engines to F1 teams but has been looking for a way to get back into team management as he enjoys the high profile of being an F1 team boss.

A former McLaren mechanic, Villadelprat has worked his way through the ranks. He followed John Barnard to Ferrari in 1987 where he became chief mechanic and then broke into team management with Tyrrell in 1990. In 1991 he moved to Benetton and has gradually moved from the role of team manager to that of Operations Director. The fact that he is leaving the team suggests that he has been offered a more interesting role elsewhere and this can only involve a position where he is running an entire team - or has a shareholding - as his position at Benetton was a very powerful one.

The departure of Villadelprat leaves Rocco Benetton in an embarrassing situation as he has only recently rejected a deal for Rupert Manwaring to take over the running of the team. It is not yet clear who will take over Villadelprat's role although we hear it is more than likely to be more than one person as Joan's influence within the team was considerable. An obvious candidate for the job would be Swiss Max Welti who had been linked with a job with Jaguar. Another possible candidate would be Steve Nielsen from the defunct Honda Racing Developments team, although we hear that he is on his way to Arrows.

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