MARCH 13, 1995

When is a Benetton not a Benetton?

You can also expect to hear of more controversy about the new Ligier-Mugen Honda JS41 in the weeks ahead.

You can also expect to hear of more controversy about the new Ligier-Mugen Honda JS41 in the weeks ahead. The JS41 bears a remarkable resemblance to the Benetton-Renault B195 and some rival team owners are suggesting that it is the same design, simply modified to fit a Mugen Honda V10, rather than a Renault.

Sources at the FIA say that the governing body's technical experts are going to have a look at the two cars in Brazil to gauge just how close to one another they actually are.

The Concorde Agreement outlaws cars of the same design being used by two different teams; but it will be very difficult for FIA engineers to prove anything but a strong similarity, particularly as Benetton seems to have little fear of the FIA and has adopted a robust attitude towards the governing body. This was demonstrated last year when Benetton was found guilty of using an illegal refuelling system at the German Grand Prix. The FIA decided not to take any action against the team because it feared the possibility of civil legal action from Benetton.

So will Benetton and Ligier get away without anyone asking questions? Much will also depend on the reaction of rival teams. Some are known to be upset about the JS41 because, they argue, Ligier will be a lot more competitive - and that will cost them millions of dollars in prize money and FOCA benefits. Others are waiting until Brazil to have a look at the JS41, which up to now has only been seen testing at Magny-Cours.

If the governing body will not act, there is a strong possibility that other teams may take action in a civil court where copyright laws are clear-cut.

While all the controversy smoulders away, the JS41 has been testing with Olivier Panis and Aguri Suzuki doing the driving. Mugen boss Hirotoshi Honda turned up from Japan to have a look at the team's facilities, which gave Ligier the opportunity to announce that - as predicted in F1 Foreign Report last week - Suzuki has been confirmed as the team's second driver in Brazil.