Simply referred to as ‘Benetton', the Benetton Formula Ltd. was a Formula One manufacturer that produced vehicles from 1986 through 2001. The Benetton family also ran a worldwide chain of clothing stores at the same time that they owned the team. The team was bought by Renault in 2000 thought it competed as Benetton for the '01 season. The following year the team became Renault F1.
The principal of one of the most well-known companies of Italy, Luciano Benetton began his career as an entrepreneur of clothing. His sister was responsible for knitting the bright colored pullovers, and Luciano transported to his customers by bike. The head of one of Italy's most prestigious dynasties, he was responsible for introducing to the world a diversified international group of high reputation that was so involved in different sectors like electronics or investment business. His fashion shops are worldwide and run on a franchise base and promoted by heavily discussed advertisement campaigns with contents like capital punishment or aids and are aimed at the well-paid, young middle class public.
Benetton discovered Grand Prix Racing by promoting their message to their potential customers, and in 1983 they entered the racing industry with a title sponsorship deal for the ream of old lumberjack Ken Tyrrell. Aiming for the two most important single markets, Benetton got a two car entry for Michele Alboreto from Italy and Danny Sullivan from Kentucky. In early 1983 Benetton received their first Grand Prix victory with Michele Alboreto winning the U.S. Grand Prix at Detroit. This unfortunately was the final triumph for a normally aspirated engine for several years. Benetton chose to put their millions into their Italian countrymen with the state owned Alfa Romeo team. Despite having Italian superstar driver Riccardo Patrese and U.S. driver Eddie Cheever competing in the turbo powered Alfa Romeos in '84 and '85, success wasn't in the cards for the team yet.
In 1983 the Benetton Group entered in Formula One as a sponsor company for Tyrrell and then Alfa Romeo in '84 and Toleman in '85. It wasn't until the end of 1985 that Benetton Formula Ltd. was actually formed when the Toleman team was sold to the Benetton family. Insurance millionaire, Ted Toleman, owner of the team of British transportation was facing great difficulties and because he was out of tire contract for the 1985 season, he needed to make a serious decision. Benetton chose to the buy the team of Spirit Hart to transfer their Pirelli contract to Toleman where they became the title sponsor the same year with their brand United Colors Of Benetton. At the same time, the Alfa Romeo team was falling into a deep crisis and once Benetton retired as their title sponsor at the end of the season to concentrate onto the Toleman project and the Italian team disappeared from Grand Prix Racing.
Originally the team used BMW engines but eventually switched to Ford engines. Benetton established themselves as constructors in their own right for the 1986 season. The very powerful BMW 4 cylinder turbo engine was joined with the still Rory Byrne designed chassis and at the same time Gerhard Berger from Austria joined the Whitney based team that was partnered by Teo Tabi. At the end of the season at Mexico City, Berger achieved the first Grand Prix victory as constructors for the team. Since Benetton was the only customer at BMW, Benetton began searching for a works backing, and this was found with the Ford Motor Company from the USA for the '87 Grand Prix season.
The Team's performance looked exceptional with Teo Fabi driving the Benetton Ford V6 turbos and Thierry Boutsen from Belgium but unfortunately they suffered from a bad standard of engine reliability. Due to this Ford chose to return to the normally aspirated engines, only should be allowed because of the technical regulations introduced for 1989 step by step. With Boutsen and Alessandro Nannini, Benetton became the official Ford Grand Prix team.
From 1990 through 1997 Flavio Briatore managed the Benetton team. In 1998 the youngest Benetton, Rocco joined the team as aerodynamics engineer and he fired Briatore and replaced him with Prodrive boss David Richards. Poor Richards barely lasted a year before being fired over a disagreement with the Benetton family regarding their future strategy. Rocco managed the team for the next three years until it was sold to Renault. It was Rocco who successfully managed to achieve 'an unheard of sales-price in F1 terms'.
Rival teams accused Benetton during the 1994 season that they had found a way to violate the FIA-imposed ban on electronic aids tat included Launch Control and Traction Control. After investigating, the FIA found 'start sequence' 'launch control' software in the Benetton B194 vehicles along with a host of other illegal software in rival teams' vehicles as well. Since there was no evidence that the software had ever been used, the FIA didn't dole out any punishment to the teams. In the Benetton vehicles, no traction control software was found. In 2001 Flavio Briatore stated 'Our only mistake was that at the time we were too young and people were suspicious'.
In the 1995 Benetton won the World Constructors' Championship title as a British team. The Benetton Team carried an Italian license from 1996 through 2001 and a U.K. license from 1986 through 1995. The family of Benetton wanted an F1 team of their own country and this is why they had this change of nationality, and the team was based in the UK throughout.
The Benetton team won their second Grand Prix victory overall in the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Benetton achieved 3 further victories in 1990 and 1991. At this same time, Benetton had adopted the system of multi-sponsoring for their Grand Prix team making companies like Camel, Autopolis, Gancia, Gillette and several other companies enter the business as their financial base. The cigarette brand Camel from the USA became Benetton's title sponsor beginning in the 1990 season for the next four years. Eventually it was replaced by another cigarette brand, Mild Seven of Japan until the end of the team's existence until 2001.
German rising star Michael Schumacher joined the Enstone based team in autumn of 1991. Schumacher is famed for successfully winning 19 of the teams' 27 career victories and their 2 drivers' championships. The first drivers' world championship for Benetton was won by Schumacher in 1994. Unfortunately this was a difficult year as Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were killed at the Imola weekend and Schumacher was disqualified from both the British and Belgian Grand Prix due to offences against the regulations. He was also banned from two further races. .
Once the team switched to Renault engines, the Benetton team also won the constructor's championship in 1995 with the aid of Johnny Herbert and Schumacher. Schumacher decided to move to Ferrari along with Nigel Stepney, Rory Byrne, Ross Brawn and 11 other key players from his two championship winning seasons with Benetton. Unfortunately this hurt the Benetton team deeply and it was never the same.
After numerous years at Ferrari and McLaren, Gerhard Berger returned to Benetton and was also joined by Jean Alesi from France. The final triumph achieved by Benetton Formula 1 Ltd. Was at the 1997 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
Renault withdrew from racing until 2001 at the end of 1997. Benetton entered officially under the name of some of their subsidiary companies called Playlife until 2000 with their remaining customer Mecachrome or Supertech. The team was sold to Renault on March 16, 2000 for $120 million U.S. dollars. Flavio Briatore was brought back as team manager as part of the new restructuring being done on the team. Drivers Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella were often on the back two rows of the grid during their final season in 2001, due partly to the new 111-degree wide-angle engine.
For 2001 season, the team was renamed Benetton Renault and continued to be sponsored by Mild Seven. Unfortunately the Benetton team fell into a deep crisis in their final season, but they did recover from it at the end.By Jessica Donaldson