Part 1 of this series covered the team’s creation as Toleman and the events that lead up to Benetton buying the team at the end of the 1985 season. Benetton had first appeared in F1 as a sponsor of Tyrrell in 1983, they moved through teams sponsoring Alfa Romeo 1984 and 1985 alongside Toleman. The change of ownership meant a change of engines and the team now used BMW turbo engines with Teo Fabi and Gerhard Berger driving. Berger was able to give the team its first win in Mexico near the end of the 1986 season. This helped the team to 19 points and sixth place in the constructors’ championship.
With Berger moving to Ferrari his seat was taken by Thierry Boutsen for 1987 and the engine was replaced by a Ford turbo, no wins but consistent points finishes saw the team score 28 points and move up to fifth place come the end of the year. 1988 saw Fabi replaced by Alessandro Nannini and the points increase to 39, and third place in the constructors’ championship. Boutsen moved to Williams for the 1989 season and initially was replaced by the promising Jonny Herbert who had been successful in F3000. However after five races the after effects of his massive accident at Brands Hatch the previous year meant he had to stop driving to fully recover. His place was taken by Emaneule Pirro for the rest of the year. The points haul was the same (39) but the team dropped to fourth.
1990 saw Flavio Briatore appointed as team manager, and Pirro replaced by Nelson Piquet. Following Nannini’s helicopter accident he was replaced by Roberto Moreno. The team scored 71 points and moved back up to third place in the standings, thanks in part to a one two finish in the penultimate race of the year (Senna having removed himself and Prost from the race before the first corner).
1991 saw TWR acquire a third of the team which saw Tom Walkinshaw arrive bringing Ross Brawn with him. The team started with the same two drivers it finished the 1990 season, but following Michael Schumacher’s debut at Spa for Jordan, Briatore took the opportunity to sign him for a full time drive before Eddie Jordan could get his name on a contract. This left Moreno without a drive, but would ultimately prove to be a turning point for the team. With the points system changing (10, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1) and Piquet winning one race, the team ended up with 38.5 points (the Australian GP was stopped after only 14 laps due to very wet conditions) and fourth place.
1992 saw Martin Brundle partner Schumacher and between them they scored 91 points to bring the team back to third place in the constructors’ championship. Schumacher getting his first win exactly one year after his debut at Spa. Over the winter the team moved from the Witney factory to new premises a few miles down the road at Enstone. For 1993 Riccardo Patrese replaced Brundle and again Schumacher managed a solitary win the 72 points was good enough to maintain the teams third place.
1994 was a chaotic year on the driver front, the team had signed JJ Lehto to replace Patrese, but an accident during pre-season testing left him with a broken neck. The teams young test driver, Jos Verstappen, then started the first two races alongside Schumacher. Lehto made his debut for the team at Imola, and was involved in the startline accident that brought out the safety car when he failed to get cleanly off the line and was rear ended by Pedro Lamy – this did not help his neck to recover. He persevered for another three races before Verstappen was put back in the car. Lehto did make a reappearance in the Benetton, standing in for Schumacher when he was banned for two races following excessive wear on the plank under the car. Jonny Herbert finally replaced Verstappen for the final two races of the year.
This was a year of controversy for the team, following the refuelling fire for Verstappen in Germany the team was found to have removed a filter in the refuelling rig to speed up the delivery of fuel. The team was also found to have launch control software still within its ECU. Although this required a specific sequence of driver activated events to access the ‘option 13’ and the FIA did not punish the team, as there was no evidence that the software had been used. Through all of this, Schumacher won his first championship with 8 wins through the year, although Williams beat Benetton into second place in the constructors’ championship (118 to 103). This was the final year that the team used Ford engines, and the final drivers’ championship powered by a Ford engine. Ford had so little interest in F1 at this time that no effort was made on their part to celebrate this fact, and Renault took most of the glory as they supplied the team from 1995 onward (and therefore had number 1 on a Benetton Renault).
Both Schumacher and Herbert were retained for the 1995 season, Michael winning nine race on his way to the championship and Jonny winning a further two. Unsurprisingly the team finally won the constructors’ championship with 137 points to Williams 112. One change that did happen though was the team raced under an Italian license for the first time (a practice they would continue until 2001), although they remained at their Enstone factory.
In 1996 Schumacher left for Ferrari, and Benetton took both 1995 Ferrari drivers in return (Jean Alesi and a reunion with Gehard Berger). This change didn’t help the team, and neither driver managed to win during the year, the team dropped to third place in the constructors’ championship. During this season Rory Bryne announced he would retire at the end of the year.
Unfortunately for the team, it wasn’t just Schumacher that left for the red team, for 1997 he persuaded Rory Byrne, Ross Brawn and 11 other key figures to join him. With the departure of Brawn, Pat Symonds (who had been with the team since the Toleman days) became the team’s Technical Director. The drivers remained the same although Berger stayed away for three races mid-season following illness and the death of his father. He was replaced by Alex Wurz. When Berger returned in Germany he managed to score the team’s only win of the year. The team stayed in third in the constructors’ championship. Berger announced his retirement at the end of the season.
For 1998 Renault withdrew as a factory supplier of engines, however the design had been obtained by Mechachrome who supplied the engines to Williams. Benetton used the same engines but rebadged them as Playlife (a brand owned by the Benetton family). Drivers for this season were Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz. Briatore was replaced by David Richards as team manager as a result of Rocco Benetton coming in as Chief Executive. The best results were a couple of second places for Fisichella, and the team slipped to fifth in the constructors’ championship. The same drivers continued in 1999, although Richards was fired and Rocco Benetton took over running the team, with results getting worse and sixth in the championship.
In March 2000 the team was sold to Renault for $120 million, who brought back Briatore as team manager. The drivers remained the same and scored four more points (20) to get fourth place at the end of the year.
For 2001 Jenson Button replaced Wurz alongside Fisichella. With a new 111° Renault engine performance was poor, with the cars often in the back two rows of the grid. Ten points and seventh place in the constructors championship was the reward for the final year as Benetton. For the following season the team would be rebranded as Renault F1, and that is the subject of Part 3.