Benetton Formula Ltd., commonly referred to simply as Benetton, was a Formula One constructor that participated from 1986 to 2001. The team was owned by the Benetton family who run a worldwide chain of clothing stores of the same name. In 2000 the team was purchased by Renault, but competed as Benetton for the 2000 and 2001 seasons. In 2002 the team became Renault F1.
The Benetton Group entered Formula One as a sponsor company for Tyrrell in 1983, then Alfa Romeo in 1984 and 1985 and finally Toleman in 1985. Benetton Formula Ltd. was formed at the end of 1985 when the Toleman team was sold to the Benetton family. The team began with BMW engines and then later switched to Ford then Renault and finally Playlife.
The team was managed by Flavio Briatore from 1990 until 1997. In about 1991, TWR acquired a one-third stake in the team, bringing in Tom Walkinshaw and Ross Brawn to run the engineering operations. Rocco Benetton, the youngest son of Luciano Benetton joined the team as Chief Executive in 1998 and fired Briatore. He replaced him with Prodrive boss David Richards, who lasted only for a year when he too was fired, due to a disagreement with the Benetton family about future strategy. Following Richards' departure, Rocco Benetton managed the team for three years until its sale to Renault.
The Benetton team is best known for its success with Michael Schumacher, who accounts for 19 of the team's 27 career victories and their 2 drivers' championships. After switching to Renault engines, they also won the constructor's championship in 1995 with Schumacher and Johnny Herbert. After 1995, Schumacher moved to Ferrari along with Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and 11 other key figures from his two championship winning seasons with Benetton.
On 16 March 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 still used the Playlife engines (although descended from Renault motors) they had been using for the last two years. The drivers were Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz. The team scored 20 points, as well as 3 podium finishes in 2000 at Brazil, Monaco and Canada.
During their final season in 2001 the drivers, Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella, were often on the back two rows of the grid. This was in part attributed to the new 111-degree wide angle engine. But continued development allowed Benetton to leave Formula 1 on something of a high, and the cars' performance lifted. Button and Fisichella scored 10 points for the team, including a podium finish for Fisichella in Belgium.
During the 1994 season, some rival teams claimed Benetton had found a way to violate the FIA-imposed ban on electronic aids, including traction control and launch control. On investigation, the FIA discovered "start sequence" (launch control) software in the Benetton B194 cars, and a variety of illegal software in rival teams' cars as well. FIA had no evidence the software was ever used, so teams found with the software received little to no punishment. No traction control software was found to be in the Benetton cars, however. Flavio Briatore, Benetton's chief in 1994, said in 2001 that "Our only mistake was that at the time we were too young and people were suspicious".
During the 1994 season Benetton removed a fuel filter from the refueling rig used during pit stops. This may have resulted in a fire that took place during Jos Verstappen's first pitstop at Hockenheim. This resulted in further inquiries by the FIA, during which, the refuelling rig manufacturer made clear that in their opinion the modification would have resulted in 10% higher flow rates than the rules allowed. Again the team went without substantial punishment.
Benetton Team had a British licence from 1986 to 1995 and an Italian licence from 1996 to 2001, thus becoming only the second constructor (after Shadow in 1976) to officially change its nationality. The Benetton family wanted this change of nationality in order to have an F1 team of their own country. Benetton remains the only constructor to have achieved victory while racing under two different nationalities. The team was based in the UK throughout. Firstly at the old Toleman factory, in Witney, Oxfordshire and then in 1992 moving to a new, modern, bigger factory at Enstone.
Benetton drivers (in order of appearance):Gerhard Berger – joined the team from Arrows for its first season in 1986. Scored the team's first and last wins, at the 1986 Mexican Grand Prix and 1997 German Grand Prix. He also scored the team's first podium finish at the 1986 San Marino Grand Prix. Berger also ended his Formula One career with Benetton in 1997. Recorded the fastest ever speed trap time by a turbocharged F1 car when he pushed his BMW powered Benetton B186 to 352.22 km/h (219 mph) during qualifying for the 1986 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Drove for both Ferrari and McLaren between stints at Benetton.
Teo Fabi – a driver when the team was known as Toleman in 1985. Scored the team's first pole position at the 1986 Austrian Grand Prix (and also scored Toleman's only pole at the 1985 German Grand Prix). He scored the team's first back to back pole positions when he scored pole at the very next race in Italy. Fabi ended his Formula One career with Benetton after the 1987 Australian Grand Prix.
Thierry Boutsen – drove for the team in 1987 and 1988. He finished 4th in the Drivers' Championship in 1988 with five 3rd-place finishes. He was also the highest placed "atmo" driver at the end of the season. Left Benetton after 1988 to join Williams where he would score his three career wins.
Alessandro Nannini – started with the team in 1988 after two seasons with Minardi and scored two third-place finishes at the British and Spanish Grands Prix, as well as recording the fastest lap in the wet German Grand Prix. Scored his only F1 race win at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix after Ayrton Senna's McLaren was disqualified. It was the team's second ever win and the first since 1986. Nannini unfortunately ended his Formula One career with Benetton in 1990 after he lost his right forearm in a helicopter accident one week after the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix where he finished third (his forearm was successfully re-attached by Micro-surgery and Nannini has since regained partial use of his right hand).
Johnny Herbert – signed to the team in 1988 while still in hospital recovering from his horrifying Formula 3000 crash and started his F1 career with the team in 1989, finishing only 1.123 seconds from a podium finish in his first race in Brazil, though he was replaced mid-season after it became clear that his injuries still needed mending. Returned to Benetton in 1994 and scored two of his three Formula One victories with the team at the 1995 British Grand Prix and the 1995 Italian Grand Prix.
Emanuele Pirro – when Herbert was replaced in mid-1989, it was Italian Touring car driver and McLaren test driver Pirro who replaced him for the remainder of the season. Had to be given permission by McLaren to race for the team and made his F1 debut with Benetton at the 1989 French Grand Prix. Despite high praise as a test driver, only scored 2 points in the final race of the year in Australia and was not retained by the team for 1990. Drove two more seasons in F1 for BMS Scuderia Italia before embarking on a highly successful Sports car career and where he would have 5 outright wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Audi.
Nelson Piquet – first (ex-)Formula One World Champion to drive for the team, joining after two unsuccessful seasons with Lotus. Led the team's first 1-2 finish at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix. Followed up to win the next race in Australia which was also the 500th World Championship Grand Prix held since 1950. Had his 23rd and last F1 race win while driving for Benetton in the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix. Piquet ended his Formula One career with Benetton in 1991 with a 5th-place finish in the rain shortened Australian Grand Prix.
Roberto Moreno – former Ferrari test driver and International Formula 3000 champion, started with Benetton in 1990 following Nannini's career ending helicopter crash and finished second behind Piquet in Japan. Retained for the 1991 season and set the fastest lap in his last race for the team in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix before being unceremoniously dumped in favour of young German Michael Schumacher.
Michael Schumacher – after making his F1 debut with Jordan at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, took Moreno's seat with Benetton at the next race in Italy. Scored his first Grand Prix victory at the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix and would win Drivers' World Championship titles in the 1994 and 1995 seasons for the team as well as helping the team win its first Constructors Championship in 1995 before moving to Ferrari in 1996. Schumacher would go on to win a further 5 World Championships with Ferrari. Holds the record for the most wins in a Benetton with 19.
Martin Brundle – former Tyrrell and Zakspeed and Brabham driver, the 1988 World Sportscar Champion and 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, only raced for Benetton in 1992. Had his best season in Formula One finishing 6th in the Drivers' Championship with 38 points and 5 podium finishes.
Riccardo Patrese – joined Benetton from Williams for one season in 1993 as Formula One's most experienced driver. Scored his 37th and final podium finish with the team by finishing second in the Hungarian Grand Prix (the race was the first win for the man who replaced him at Williams, Damon Hill). Had his record 256th and last Grand Prix start with the team at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix.
Jos Verstappen – perhaps most famous after his Benetton burst into flames during a pit stop at the 1994 German Grand Prix. The resulting fire (causing minor burns to Verstappen's face) led to advances in pit stop safety.
JJ Lehto – talented Finnish driver and former protégé of 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg, Lehto drove 4 races for Benetton. Was to be the #2 driver with Schumacher in 1994 but a pre-season test crash which resulted in a broken Vertebra limited his appearances with the team. Replaced by Verstappen for the opening 2 rounds of the season before making his belated start with Benetton in the ill-fated 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Was again replaced by Verstappen after four races when it was decided more rest was needed. Had his last two races for the team later in 1994 as a replacement for the suspended Schumacher.
Jean Alesi – former Tyrrell and Ferrari driver, finished 4th in the Drivers' Championship in both 1996 and 1997 with Benetton. Scoring 14 podiums in 33 races for the team.
Alexander Wurz – Austrian driver who got his start in Formula One with Benetton in 1997 as a replacement for countryman Gerhard Berger who was unavailable due to illness. Finished a fine 3rd in the 1997 British Grand Prix at Silverstone before Berger made his return. When Berger retired from driving at the end of the 1997 season, Wurz was signed as his replacement and would drive 3 seasons for the team, though he was unable to replicate his British GP result.
Giancarlo Fisichella – scored the team's last pole position at the 1998 Austrian Grand Prix and last podium finish at the 2001 Belgian Grand Prix.
Jenson Button – joined Benetton from Williams and raced for the team in its final season in 2001, finishing in 17th place in the Drivers Championship. He would win the 2009 Drivers' World Championship title with Brawn GP.
(key) (results in bold indicate pole position; results in italics indicate fastest lap)