Benetton Formula Ltd
|Based in: Chipping, UK (until 1992); Enstone, UK (1993-2000)|
Founded: 1986 (active 1986-2000)
Managing director: Rocco Benetton
Technical director: Pat Symonds
Chief designer: Nick Wirth
Operational manager: Joan Villadelprat
From his base in Northern Italy Luciano Benetton built a chain of shops selling colourful clothes with a young appeal. He needed a way of promoting them to an even wider audience and the vehicle he chose was Formula 1. Initially as a sponsor of the Alfa, Tyrrell and then Toleman teams Benetton first got involved in the sport in 1983. He liked the results so much, he bought a team and in 1986 Toleman became Benetton.
Success was not long in coming with Gerhard Berger scoring a win in that years' Mexican Grand Prix. 1987 saw a switch to Ford power and it was the start of a relationship that would last for seven years and deliver up their first title. But not immediately.
Things started to happen with Benetton in 1989 when Flavio Briatore was appointed as team boss. Briatore had no racing experience whatsoever and he took a while to find his feet. However he did make two very important decisions that put the team on course to reach the top. In 1991 he struck a deal with Tom Walkinshaw's TWR outfit that brought about some major structural changes to the team. Most notable was the arrival of Ross Brawn, with TWR, and Rory Byrne, who finally abandoned the stillborn Reynard F1 project, into the teams design department. Of course all that technical prowess was useless with only a donkey to drive the car and it was in the procurement of a driver that Walkinshaw and Briatore pulled off the coup of the decade.
At Spa, in 1991, a young German F3 champion stunned the regulars when he took a Jordan to seventh place on the grid. His name was Michael Schumacher and his destiny was to be coloured by Benetton. Within a week Briatore had Schumacher's name on a contract. It caused a major outcry at the time but with hindsight it is easy to see that it was the single smartest move ever played by Benetton. The German simply dazzled from the word go. He outpaced team mate Piquet and regularly brought the car home in the points. The Benetton boys realised they had a potential champion on their hands and set about building a technical facility in the Costwolds that would serve up the tools to do the job. 1992 was a waiting year as Williams mastered active suspension before anybody else and Mansell simply dominated the season. 1993 saw the team making huge strides forward with the introduction of a semi-automatic gearbox and active suspension. Schumacher continued to improve and it finally all came together in 1994.
The B194 was quick right out of the box and Ford had worked wonders with their Zetec-R V8. Schumacher won the first two races of the year and when Senna was killed at Imola the door was left open. Schumacher was simply the class of the field and he ran away with the season despite accusations of illegal systems. In 1995 Michael repaid his team with another driver's title and their first ever constructors cup, before announcing that he would be joining Ferrari for 1996. Eventually Brawn and Byrne joined him and Benetton entered a two year period during which they would only visit the top spot of the podium once.
1998 was a year of major change for Benetton. Flavio Briatore stepped away to manage Mecachrome, being replaced at the helm of the racing team by Subaru rally team manager Dave Richards while the experienced pairing of Alesi and Berger left, leaving their seats to two young guns in the shape of Alexander Wurz and Giancarlo Fisichella. Wurz got off to an excellent start with a strong run in the early part of the season, but after Silverstone he failed to register a point. Fisichella, no doubt spurred on by his team-mate, managed two second places in Monaco and Montreal, but he too fell off towards the end of the season. Both drivers were also fortunate to survive the season at all. The image of Wurz barrell-rolling across a Canadian gravel-trap made the news all around the world, as did Fisichella's escape from the remnants of his blazing car in the Spa debacle.
By the final race of the season Dave Richards was fired after just 14 months following a disagreement with the Benetton family about the team's future. Rocco Benetton took over but failed to return the team to the front of the grid.
On March 16, 2000, the team was sold to Renault for $120 million US. As part of their restructuring, Renault brought back Flavio Briatore as team manager. The team however continued to compete under its own name until the end of 2001, even though their final year was entirely meant as a preparation year for Renault's official return to the sport in 2002.
|Car designation||Race years|
|Benetton B188||1988 - 1989|