News and Notes 2000-01-02

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Jan. 17, 2000 -- Benetton became the first Formula One team to officially unveil the car it will use in the 2000 season, which includes the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis on Sept. 24. The Mild Seven ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Jan. 17, 2000 -- Benetton became the first Formula One team to officially unveil the car it will use in the 2000 season, which includes the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis on Sept. 24. The Mild Seven Benetton-Playlife B200 was shown at the Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona on Jan. 17.

"We are starting this season determined to put the difficult times of the past few years behind us," said chief executive Rocco Benetton. "Last season was a tough one for everyone in the team, and we were disappointed in our performance. When I took charge a year ago, it was immediately apparent that major changes were required in the team's structure.

"We have taken on new staff on the technical side, and Tim Densham joined us as chief designer early enough last year to play a strong role in the design of the new car. Both Tim and his predecessor (Nick Wirth) worked together to ensure a smooth transition. Tim brought a new energy and sense of direction to the team, which is guided by technical director Pat Symonds."

Italy's Giancarlo Fisichella and Austria's Alexander Wurz return to the team for a third season.

"We have two of the best drivers in Formula One," Benetton said. "They are good team players and are very focused on their task."

While several teams have already tested their 2000 models, Benetton was the first to publicly debut its car.

"The B200 has been designed to use proven technology and methodologies with the aim of being consistently fast and reliable," Symonds said. "We have made improvements with the weight and conducted considerable research into aerodynamics and suspension geometry. On the engine side, we have worked closely with Supertec to produce a Playlife engine tailor-made for the car." Benetton uses a Supertec V10, rebadged Playlife, which is based on the Renault V10.

The team also announced that it had signed Japan's Hidetoshi Mitsusada, 29, as its test driver. A veteran of the Japanese Formula 3000/Formula Nippon series, Mitsusada will contest the FIA European Formula 3000 championship this season.

"I am very excited at the prospect of driving for the Benetton Formula One team," Mitsusada said. "Combined with my racing program, it will allow me to gain valuable experience of competing at the highest level on European tracks with the ultimate goal of racing in Formula One."

Benetton also announced that it has signed major multimillion-dollar partnership deals with Marconi and MTCI. Marconi will provide the team with a leading-edge communications and online information network. MTCI is an Internet provider service based in Japan.

***

M. Schumacher ready to challenge for championship: Michael Schumacher took to the ski slopes last week while attending Ferrari's annual winter press meeting at the Italian ski resort Madonna di Campiglio. Schumacher, who broke his leg last July, said he is nearly fully fit and ready to compete in the 2000 Formula One season.

"My leg is not giving me any problems," Schumacher said. "It think it's healed well. I'm practically not limping at all. It's a bit difficult if I have to run fast and play football, but otherwise it's OK.

"After all the difficulties that I had after my accident, I have to say that Ferrari and I grew closer together because of the way they treated me when I wasn't able to race. Sure, there were one or two hiccups, like the announcement of my return, but really the relationship is very strong between us."

Schumacher hopes that this season will be the year that he becomes the first driver since Jody Scheckter in 1979 to win the Drivers Championship in a Ferrari.

"In December I saw the mockup of the 2000 car, and I was very favorably impressed, not only with the car, but the figures produced by the new engine. I would like to win for Ferrari in the first year of the new century."

Schumacher joined Ferrari in 1996 after winning the World Championship in 1994 and 1995 driving for Benetton.

"I just hope the fans have the patience to wait for me to win the World Championship (for Ferrari)," Schumacher said. "After two seasons at Benetton, I accepted the challenge to drive for Ferrari and to try and win the World Championship for them. I wanted that challenge, and I have had no reason to regret the decision that I took at that time."

Talking of his new teammate, Rubens Barrichello, Schumacher said: "I've seen the results of Rubens' testing at Barcelona, and it's been very encouraging. I'm testing there (Jan. 17-18). Characterwise, I think Rubens is closer in character to me than Eddie (Irvine) was. He's married, like me, and I think we can work together well and become personal friends."

There will be no team orders, Schumacher said.

"It's never written into any contract that a driver is a number-two driver," Schumacher said. "The number two is always the slowest driver.

"Eddie Irvine was always number two because he was slower. I'm sorry, but I couldn't drive slower so that he could be number one! But it will be the same with Rubens Barrichello. If Rubens is quicker than me, then he will be number one and I will be number two.

"I think Ferrari made the right choice employing Rubens. I enjoyed four years with Eddie, but I think employing Rubens is a move forward for us." Asked if he would ever team up with his brother, Ralf Schumacher, Michael replied: "If that happens, it means that one of us has to win and one has to lose, and we wouldn't like that. I think things are best the way they are."

***

Williams tests young guns: Williams-BMW is testing two drivers as possible replacements for Alex Zanardi.

Britain's Jenson Button, 20, who finished third in the British Formula 3 series last year, and Brazil's Bruno Junqueira, 23, who placed fifth in the FIA Formula 3000 championship in 1999, both had a chance to drive for Williams at Spain's Jerez circuit last week.

Button was impressive Jan. 16, turning a fast lap only 1.4 seconds slower than the best lap of the day set by David Coulthard in a McLaren-Mercedes. Mechanical problems, however, created limited track time, so Williams will give them another chance to show their skills this week at Barcelona.

***

New cars: Three F1 teams plan to unveil their 2000 cars before the end of January.

Lucky Strike British American Racing will show its new Honda-powered car Jan. 24 in London. The following day, Jaguar, formerly Stewart-Ford, debuts its new car in London, and B&H Jordan-Mugen-Honda will unveil its car Jan. 31 in London.

Ferrari has delayed the official debut of its new car until sometime between Feb. 7-10.

"I would rather we showed the finalized car rather than one which needs additions after it is launched," said Ferrari's sporting director Jean Todt. Other confirmed launch dates include Gauloises Prost-Peugeot on Feb. 1 and Red Bull Sauber-Petronas on Feb. 2.

***

Irvine tries Jaguar: Jaguar has already been testing two of its 2000 cars at Spain's Jerez and Barcelona circuits. The team's new driver, Eddie Irvine, Johnny Herbert and test driver Luciano Burti have all been getting mileage in the cars.

"I was surprised how good the car felt straight out of the box," Irvine said if the Jaguar R1 "I was very impressed. It is neat, tidy and light and has a great engine. Having the new car this early as this allows us to do a lot of setup work before the new season."

Both cars ran in dark green livery, but this is not the paint scheme that will be used in the 2000 season.

"I'm a pretty lucky guy," Irvine said. "To go from four years at Ferrari straight to Jaguar is the perfect scenario. This is a young team that really wants to go somewhere. There is tremendous enthusiasm from everyone in the team to do well. Having finished fourth in the championship last year, we must be aiming to challenge for third in 2000."

***

BAR reliable: British American Racing has also been running its new car -- the BAR-Honda 02-at Barcelona and Jerez.

"We've done a lot of work figuring out suspension geometry and helping the Honda engineers to collect engine data," said former Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve. "We are not quick enough yet, but it's coming along." Villeneuve and other team members are pleased with the reliability of the car.

"We have done a great deal of useful work in our tests to date," said BAR's managing director Craig Pollock. "The car's improved reliability has allowed us to work on performance enhancement prior to the season in a way we were not able to in 1999. What's heartening from my standpoint is that we are not encountering the same problems as we were at this time last year." Ricardo Zonta covered 220 laps, including a simulated race distance, at Jerez.

***

Drivers pleased: Pedro Diniz and Mika Salo have both had a chance to drive the new Red Bull Sauber-Petronas C19. The car uses a 1999 Ferrari V10 rebadged Petronas, which is the one of the team's sponsors.

"The first day that I drove the C19 race car I was really impressed," said Diniz. "I did 25 laps, and the C19 is a big improvement compared with the C18 from last season."

***

Minardi confirms: Minardi has confirmed its engine and primary sponsor for the 2000 season.

Fondmetal, an Italian engineering company, has bought the rights to develop the Ford Cosworth V10 Minardi used in 1999. Fondmetal will, however, still have links with Cosworth.

Telefonica, the Spanish telecommunications company, becomes the title sponsor and the cars will be entered under the Telefonica Minardi Fondmetal name for 2000.

Marc Gene has signed as a driver through 2001.

***

Safety improved: The FIA has started a major research program to improve helmet safety.

"We intend to evolve a completely different level of crash helmet into a much safer device," FIA president Max Mosley said. "How the visor works and the whole structure are being looked at very closely."

***

Champions crowned: The FIA conducted its annual prize giving Jan. 15 in Monaco, where Mika Hakkinen was officially awarded the 1999 Formula One Drivers Championship and Ferrari was given the 1999 Formula One Constructors cup.

The Malaysian Grand Prix was given the award for having the best-organized race last year.

***

Enge's opportunity: McLaren has signed Czech driver Thomas Enge, 23, to drive for its West Competition Formula 3000 team. He will partner Stephane Sarrazin.

"To join a team like McLaren Formula 3000 and to become part of the McLaren Mercedes Driver Support Program puts me in a competitive situation for my second full season of Formula 3000," Enge said. "They have proven for the past two years that they are one of the leading teams in the Formula 3000 paddock, and I'm looking forward to working with everybody. It's a fantastic opportunity, and I'm confident that we will be competing at the highest level."

***

BAR restructures: British American Racing has clarified its senior management structure and announced two new appointments. Don Brown becomes non-executive chairman of the holdings company, while Rick Gorne assumes the role of motorsport development director.

The team also confirmed that Craig Pollock continues as managing director, while co-director, Adrian Reynard, as envisaged in the original partnership, continues to have specific responsibility for overall technical development. "I will continue to be 'technical guru' to the team," Reynard said. "I think that probably best describes what I do."

-USGP/IMS-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Giancarlo Fisichella , Jenson Button , Luciano Burti , Ralf Schumacher , Johnny Herbert , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Jacques Villeneuve , Ricardo Zonta , Tomas Enge , Bruno Junqueira , Marc Gene , Alexander Wurz , Mika Salo , Alex Zanardi , Hidetoshi Mitsusada , Jody Scheckter , Pedro Diniz
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , British American Racing , Minardi , Jordan