Champions Benetton return to their roots By Timothy Collings in Taormina, Sicily BENETTON took over the ancient Sicilian town of Taormina yesterday to launch their Renault-powered assault on this year's Formula One world championship. For...
Champions Benetton return to their roots
By Timothy Collings in Taormina, Sicily
BENETTON took over the ancient Sicilian town of Taormina yesterday to launch their Renault-powered assault on this year's Formula One world championship.
For the Enstone-based, Anglo-Italian team this spectacular event, rumoured to have swallowed up close to #1 million, was proof of 'life after Michael' and a public statement that both Schumacher and Damon Hill can expect a virile defence by Benetton of their cherished constructors' crown.
The launch was a chance for Benetton to return to their Italian roots and those of Jean Alesi, a Frenchman of Sicilian descent, after five years dominated by the teutonic efficiency of the double world champion.
Since Alesi and Gerhard Berger have both joined from Ferrari, they have much to prove in Italy, too, and Benetton's spectacular show yesterday proved they are eager to woo the scarlet team's disenchanted followers.
The locals filled the piazzas and vias in the morning, when Alesi and Berger drove a pair of B195s through the cobbled streets, and later the 2,000-year-old Teatro Greco to see the B196 unveiled.
"We are not like other teams," said managing director Flavio Briatore. "We have not taken over a garage for the day, but a whole town. This launch takes us back to Italy and back to the people who are sometimes forgotten in Formula One."
The new car features a revised cockpit in line with the safety-conscious regulations for 1996, a seven-speed longitudinal gearbox, revised suspension and new rear-end aerodynamics.
There is a determination to succeed. "We have lost Michael to Ferrari and that is our motivation this year," said Briatore, who also confirmed that the international F3000 champion, Vicenzo Sospiri, will be Benetton's test and reserve driver this year and that the team will, unexpectedly, run an F3 team in the German series, with 21-year-old Italian, Jarno Trulli, leading the challenge.
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