DECEMBER 22, 1997

Benetton wins the new race

BENETTON has won the race to be the first Grand Prix team to run its 1998 car.

BENETTON has won the race to be the first Grand Prix team to run its 1998 car. The prototype Benetton B198 - which is powered by a Mecachrome V10 engine - ran for the first time at Silverstone on Thursday in the hands of GiancarloÊFisichella. The test was severely restricted because of snow storms at the Northamptonshire track but the team hopes to get down to some serious testing after Christmas. The B198 is due to be officially launched on January 15.

The next car expected is to the new Ferrari, which should be finished over Christmas and is expected to be shaken down at Fiorano before its January 7 launch. The Italian team was to have tested last week but snow at Fiorano meant that NicolaÊLarini found himself unemployed. The first tests of the new car are scheduled to take place in Jerez on January 12.

Prost should have its new car up and running early in January but testing last week in Barcelona was badly disrupted by rain which meant that tire development work had to be aborted. Olivier Panis and Jarno Trulli concentrated on brake and gearbox development work. Also in Barcelona were McLaren (doing Bridgestone development), Sauber (running Jean Alesi for the first time), Arrows, Minardi (which ran damper tests with drivers Luca Badoer and Tom Kristensen) and Stewart.

At Paul Ricard, Williams and Tyrrell were in action with Jacques Villeneuve having a fairly large accident in high winds and low temperatures. The World Champion took half a day off, complaining of a sore neck and Williams continued its evaluation work with Juan-Pablo Montoya and Max Wilson - one of whom is likely to end up as the team's test driver in 1998.

The new FW20 is expected to be unveiled at the end of January while the team's new Winfield color scheme will be introduced in the New Year.

Jordan has given up its testing at Silverstone and is not now expected to be in action again until the New Year when DamonÊHill is due to have his first runs for the team. The new Jordan-Mugen Honda 198 will be unveiled on January 19.