MAY 1, 2000
The revolution begins at Benetton
AS we suggested last week, change is afoot at Benetton and the first sign of that came with the announcement that Jordan's chief designer Mike Gacoyne will move to the Enstone team in July 2001. Gascoyne has been hired by Flavio Briatore to design the Renault Formula 1 car for the 2002 season. The 37-year-old Gascoyne has agreed to a five-year contract with the French car manufacturer.
Gascoyne has been with Jordan since July 1998. He has been involved in the sport since he joined the design team at McLaren in 1989. After a season with the World Champions he moved to nearby Tyrrell where he began to work with Dr.╩Harvey Postlethwaite on the revolutionary 019 chassis. When Postlethwaite moved to Sauber in June 1991, Gascoyne went with him, staying with Swiss team until the end of 1993 when Postlethwaite, by then back at Tyrrell, asked him to return. Gascoyne stayed with Postlethwaite until Tyrrell was taken over by British American Racing when he moved to Jordan.
The Benetton statement said that Gascoyne will "strengthen the existing technical team" but it is hard to imagine that it will not disrupt the current arrangement. The ambitious Gascoyne is unlikely to have transferred to Benetton unless he was being offered the top job. The current Benetton technical director Pat Symonds is only 46 and he has been with the team since it was the Toleman Formula 2 team in 1979. He had a brief spell working at Reynard in 1991 (when Briatore hired John Barnard) but he has otherwise remained loyal to the team. He has been technical director since November 1996 when Flavio Briatore promoted him to replace Ross Brawn.
It should also be noted that Benetton already has a chief designer. He is former Tyrrell man Tim Densham, with whom Gascoyne has worked in the past. In addition the Benetton design staff includes two other notable ex-Tyrrell men; chassis designer Chris Radage and aerodynamicist Ben Agethangelou.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Symonds. According to the Benetton press release Symonds is "delighted" and looking forward to working with Gascoyne.
It is possible that Symonds has decided that he does not like being a technical director and will be happier working in research and development, an area he enjoys but it is not very likely that Gascoyne would have agreed to go to Benetton without having a clear picture of what was going to happen.
There have been rumors in recent days that the team may also be looking at hiring Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia to replace Alexander Wurz this year. Pizzonia won last year's British Formula Renault title and has been dominant in this year's British╩Formula 3 series in a Manor Motorsport Dallara-Mugen, with wins at Thruxton and Croft. Benetton may give Pizzonia a test later in the year and if he goes well could sign him for the 2001 season.
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