CONSTRUCTORS: BENETTON FORMULA LTD.

Name: Benetton Formula Ltd.

Alexander Wurz, Italian GP 2000

Alexander Wurz, Italian GP 2000 

 © The Cahier Archive

Clothes manufacturer Benetton entered Grand Prix racing as a sponsor for Tyrrell in 1983, at the suggestion of former racing driver Nanni Galli, who supplied the company with wool. Benetton wanted exposure in the United States and so Danny Sullivan was hired to drive. The following year Benetton switched to Alfa Romeo which had Eddie Cheever driving. That relationship lasted through 1984 and the Benetton Family became rather disillusioned and concluded that they would have more control over the project if they owned a team. In May 1985 the Benettons bought the struggling Toleman team and changed its name to Benetton Formula. The new team was officially launched in February 1986. Peter Collins was hired from Williams to run the operation and a deal was struck for engines with BMW. Teo Fabi was joined by Gerhard Berger and it was the Austrian who scored the team's first win in Mexico in October that year, having outfoxed the opposition with a clever Pirelli tire strategy. The team finished sixth in the Constructors' Championship.

Berger signed to join Ferrari and Benetton hired Thierry Boutsen to be Fabi's teammate, while a new alliance began with Ford. Boutsen and Fabi failed to win a race but the team finished fifth in the Constructors' Championship. The following year Fabi was dropped and Alessandro Nannini joined Boutsen. Although the team scored only 39 points it finished third in the Constructors' Championship and Boutsen was lured away to Williams.

That winter the Benetton Family appointed Flavio Briatore as Commercial Director and he quickly fell out with the existing management. Collins was a great believer in Johnny Herbert and hired the young English driver for 1989. Herbert hurt his legs badly in a Formula 3000 accident just after he signed the Benetton deal but Collins stood by it. Johnny was not, however, ready to return and, after a brilliant debut in Brazil, where he finished fourth, he struggled with his injuries. Collins stood by him but Briatore won the dispute. Herbert was dropped and Collins departed soon afterwards. At the end of the year Nannini was credited with victory at the Japanese GP after the Senna-Prost collision, but the result came only after Senna was disqualified.

With Bernie Ecclestone's help Briatore hired Nelson Piquet to be Nannini's partner in 1990 and John Barnard was hired to be technical director. Many of the old technical team departed. Joan Villadelprat was drafted in from Tyrrell and a new team began to form. The team was not very competitive and disaster struck at the end of the year when Nannini was seriously injured in a helicopter crash. At the next race in Japan Piquet was partnered by Roberto Moreno and the pair finished 1-2 in a fairytale finish. Piquet followed up with another win at the Australian GP.

Much was expected in 1991 but despite a clever win from Piquet in Canada, Briatore and Barnard fell out and Barnard departed. At midseason Tom Walkinshaw became a Benetton shareholder. Initially Barnard's deputy Gordon Kimball was appointed technical director but he was soon ousted by Walkinshaw's nominee Ross Brawn, while designers Rory Byrne and Pat Symonds returned after a brief spell working on an abortive Reynard F1 project. Walkinshaw was quick to shake up the team and after German youngster Michael Schumacher impressed at the wheel of a Jordan on his GP debut at Spa, he was snapped up by Benetton - and Moreno was shown the door.

The 1992 season saw Schumacher teamed up with Walkinshaw favorite Martin Brundle. Schumacher became more and more competitive in the B192 and he won his first race that year at Spa. The following year was more of a struggle though he won in Portugal, but in 1994, armed with the Benetton B194, he was dominant in the early races and after Ayrton Senna's death seemed to have no rival for the World Championship. There were strong suggestions that Benetton was using illegal electronic systems and this created enormous controversy. There was further trouble when Schumacher's team mate Jos Verstappen was involved in a refuelling fire and it was found that the team had tampered with the refuelling equipment. The World Championship ended with Schumacher ramming Damon Hill off the track in Adelaide.

The team escaped any obvious punishment but a deal was struck in which Walkinshaw was transferred to run the Ligier team - which Briatore had bought at the start of 1994. This left Villadelprat running the team and with Briatore having got hold of Ligier's Renault engines for the 1995 season, the Schumacher-Benetton-Renault combination was too strong for the opposition. Schumacher kept his championship crown with he and Johnny Herbert scoring 11 wins between them. At the end of the year, however, Schumacher signed for Ferrari and Benetton signed up Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger.

Without Schumacher the team struggled and at the end of 1996 - after no wins - Brawn and Byrne departed to work with Schumacher at Ferrari. Pat Symonds became technical director with Nick Wirth named chief designer. The 1997 season was another disappointment, although Berger won in Germany. He then announced that he was retiring from the sport and, with Alesi deciding to join Sauber, Benetton hired youngsters Giancarlo Fisichella and Alex Wurz.

The lack of success in 1997 resulted in Briatore being ousted at the end of the year and David Richards was brought in as managing-director. He argued that Benetton should do a deal with the Ford Motor Company but the Benetton Family did not agree and so Richards departed in October 1998, leaving the team in the hands of 29-year-old Rocco Benetton, who had no experience of motor racing when he had been appointed Commercial Director of the team in September 1997.

The team had won nothing in 1998 or 99. At the end of the year there was a major technical reshuffle but it made little difference and at the start of 2000 Benetton announced that it had sold the team to Renault, which decided to put Flavio Briatore back in charge. The 2000 season was a disappointment but the team was again restructured with Mike Gascoyne coming in as technical director and Jenson Button being hired to partner Fisichella. Renault produced a new wide-angle V10 for the 2001 season but the team went into the year expecting reliability problems. In 2002 The team became known as Renault Sport.

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