JULY 10, 1995

How did Benetton get ahead at Magny-Cours?

WHENEVER Benetton beats Williams in a fight in the pitlane, there are always questions as to how such things are possible.

WHENEVER Benetton beats Williams in a fight in the pitlane, there are always questions as to how such things are possible. Benetton's super-efficient fuel stops have often led to skepticism since the team was found to have illegally tampered with a fuel filter last year. The FIA has threatened extreme penalties if such transgressions occur again and is keeping a very close eye on Benetton pit stops. So how is the team still doing such lightning pit stops?

The reality is that at Magny-Cours the Benetton stops were not special at all. Schumacher's first stop - which got him ahead of Hill - was actually not much quicker than Damon's (Michael spent 24.715s in the pits while Damon was there for 25.522s), and yet having been 0.3s behind Hill before their respective pit stops, Schumacher was 7.8s ahead when the stops were finished. This can be explained by the fact that Schumacher was a second faster than Hill on his "IN" lap, a second faster on his "OUT" lap and made up the rest of the time with some blistering laps on new tires while Hill was fumbling through backmarkers on his old tires.

What was interesting about Schumacher's first stop at Magny-Cours was that it occurred at the same time as Martin Brundle's Ligier. The design similarity between the Benetton and the Ligier suggests that the two teams should follow the same strategy. They did, but Benetton later switched Schumacher from his three-stop pattern onto a two-stop strategy when it became clear that Hill was no longer a challenge.

Both Schumacher and Brundle stopped on lap 19: Schumacher was in the pitlane for 24.715s and Brundle for 25.843s. And yet Schumacher would be able to go for 28 laps before his next stop, while Brundle came in after just 15 laps. The only possible explanation for this is that the Schumacher started the race with more fuel in his car and had less pumped in than Brundle at the stop. He was thus able to stay in the pits for a shorter period but stay out longer afterwards. This would fall in with the theory that the Benetton remains a car which handles better on full tanks than on light tanks - hence Williams's advantage in qualifying. Schumacher's advantage seems to come in traffic where he is consistently able to pass slower cars faster than can Hill.

In other words, Benetton's current advantage is all down to the driver... which explains why teams are willing to bid so many dollars to try and sign up Michael for 1996.