JANUARY 6, 1997
Wurz for Benetton
BENETTON will unveil its Benetton-Renault B197 in London on January 23 and at the launch the team is expected to reveal that in addition to regular drivers Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi it will use test drivers Jarno Trulli and Alexander Wurz in the course of the 1997 season. As part of the package the team is expected to announce new sponsorship deals with Italian oil company Agip and with Mobilkom Austria's A1 mobile phone network.
With Gerhard Berger's F1 career tailing off and Karl Wendlinger no longer fit to drive Grand Prix cars, Austria has been searching for new talent. This is particularly important now that the Austrians have secured a five-year deal for Grand Prix racing to return to the rebuilt Osterreichring.
Wurz is the man hailed as Austria's new star and his achievements to date - he is only 23 - have been impressive. He made his international debut in 1994 in the German Formula 3 series, winning his second race and finishing runner-up to Jorg Muller - now the test driver of the TWR Arrows F1 team - in the series and beating Jordan's new signing, Ralf Schumacher. Wurz opted to stay on in German F3 in 1995 but had a disappointing season, finishing only fifth in the championship.
Last year he joined Opel as a works driver in the International Touring Car Championship. In June he teamed up with Davy Jones and Manuel Reuter to win the Le Mans 24 Hours in a Joest Racing Porsche at his first attempt, becoming the youngest ever winner of the classic French sportscar race.
In August he tested an F1 car for the first time, lapping the new Osterreichring in a Sauber and in November he tested for Benetton, impressing Benetton engineers with his speed and technical feedback.
Although the results are impressive Wurz's inclusion in the Benetton line-up comes largely thanks to his support from Mobilkom Austria. The company - which was established last year - is the major sponsor of the rebuilt Osterreichring, which is now called the A1 Ring after its chief backer. A1's move into F1 comes because of its ambitions to expand its mobile phone services into the emerging markets of eastern Europe.
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