NOVEMBER 1, 1999
Developments at Benetton
THINGS are finally happening at Benetton. We hear that somehow or other the Italian team has managed to convince its operations director Joan Villadelprat not to leave at the end of the year. This would suggest that there is some kind of engine deal in the offing and our sources say that the most likely deal would be one with Renault, as the team is very well-connected with the French car maker. In the background is Flavio Briatore, who seems to have a remarkable influence in Renault decision-making and who is keen to get back into the forefront of Grand Prix racing, not least because he enjoys being in the limelight.
The interesting thing is that Briatore's former partner Tom Walkinshaw is also working hard to secure an engine deal for 2001 - when Renault Sport is expected to have an all-new V10 engine up-and-running. Walkinshaw has signed a big deal with Renault to produce road cars in his Swedish factory and it had been thought that there would be an F1 program on the back of this deal. If it is not signed, it is certainly what Walkinshaw is trying to achieve. The curious thing is that some of the Renault staff seem to be more interested in a deal involving Briatore and Benetton. Admittedly the team has good facilities but it has not been a winning operation in recent years and bringing back the same people who were previously in charge is not likely to make much difference. There are to be changes in the weeks ahead with a complete revamp expected in the technical staff with recent recruit Tim Densham likely to be named chief designer in place of Nick Wirth, and we also hear that there will probably be changes in the marketing structure.
Walkinshaw and Briatore are both men who should not be underestimated and it will be interesting to see who comes out ahead in this latest skirmish. It is also worth bearing in mind that Renault might decide to kill two birds with one stone and run one team with Renault engines and the other with Renaults badged as Nissan V10s. This makes a lot of sense from a marketing perspective.
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