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Benetton: Marconi and Mitsusada

BENETTON launched its new Benetton-Playlife B200 car last week in Barcelona and says that it is looking ahead to a revival after a string of seasons which have produced poor results. The team has not won a race since the German╩Grand╩Prix in 1997 and last year slipped back to sixth in the Constructors' Championship.

In recent months there has been a complete restructuring inside Benetton with the departure of the heads of the design, marketing and operations departments. Chief designer Nick Wirth was edged out but both David Warren and Joan Villadelprat left of their own accord, adding to speculation that team boss Rocco Benetton has yet to prove that he has the necessary skills to make it in F1.

Launching the new car at the National Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona, Rocco admitted that in 1999 "we did not deliver" but hopes that the new package will be more competitive. The team has managed to retain all its major sponsors with the continuing support of Mild Seven, Korean Air, D2 and Agip. It was interesting to note that at the launch there was no sign of backing from the United Colors of Benetton and Playlife - both of which figured prominently on the car last year. While this suggests that the parent company is no longer funding the team, it may simply be because Benetton has managed to land a major sponsorship deal with Marconi plc. It is not clear how much money is involved in the three-year deal but certainly Marconi has been given considerable space on the car.

The team also announced a sponsorship agreement with Japanese Internet provider MTCI. The deal has paved the way for Japan's Hidetoshi Mitsusada to be named Benetton's official test driver. The 29-year-old from Osaka has been racing in Formula 3000 and Formula Nippon in Japan since 1994 but did not win a race until this year when he finished third in the championship.

The signing of Mitsusada will do little to help the current crisis F1 is facing in Japan with no Japanese driver racing in Grands Prix for the first time since the mid-1980s.

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