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Something that was mentioned in F1B’s Rantcast was that there was nowhere for new fans to easily access the history of the sport.  Benetton was mentioned in particular, so I thought I might try and give a brief history of the F1 team.

In 1977 Toleman motorsport (based at Witney in Oxfordshire) was started by Ted Toleman with Alex Hawkridge as Manging Director.  The team began by running a Formula Ford 2000 car in the British series.  By 1978 they had moved to British Formula 2 running a March chassis.  Things progressed quickly and during that year hired Rory Byrne as a designer.   They continued to use customer chassis (Ralts with engines supplied by Brian Hart) for the 1979 season and Brian Henton finished second in the championship.  For 1980 the team had its own F2 chassis and entered cars for the European championship for Henton and Derek Warwick, they finished first and second and buoyed by this success announced their intention to move into F1 for the following season.

Byrne continued as the team’s designer, and used a turbocharged Hart engine following their experience of Brian Hart’s engines in F2.  Both drivers progressed to F1 with the team, but the first chassis was too heavy and under-powered.  During that first season each driver only qualified once (Henton at Monza where he went on to finish tenth and Warwick in the final race at Las Vegas where a gearbox failure ended the race).

The 1982 car performed slightly better (Warwick and Teo Fabi were the drivers), Warwick only failed to qualify three times from the fourteen events and newcomer Fabi managed to make the grid six times.  Warwick managed to make the chequered flag twice (France and Germany) but still the team scored no points (at that time points were only awarded down to sixth place).

The Carbon Composite TG183 had made an appearance for the final two races in 1982, and had a major update for the 1983 season.  Warwick was again retained and joined this time by Bruno Giacomelli.  Both cars started every race of the year with the exception of Monaco where Giacomelli failed to qualify.  More importantly the team had five points scoring finishes (two fourths, a fifth and a sixth for Warwick plus a sixth for Giacomelli) in their third year of F1.  The 10 points gave them ninth in the constructors’ championship.

Warwick’s performances earned him a works Renault drive for 1984, so the team had all new drivers for the following season.  Reigning British F3 champion Ayrton Senna replaced Warwick while F2 racer and former two times Motorcycle World Champion Johnny Cecotto replaced Giacomelli.  The team started the season using Pirelli tyres, but following Sennas failure to qualify for the San Marino GP at the fourth race of the year they switched to the more competitive Michelin.  The team’s best result to date came in the rain at Monaco with Senna finishing second to Alain Prost in the rain shortened race.  Cecotto’s F1 career ended when he broke his legs at the British GP, and for three races the team entered a single car.  Then Senna broke his contract by signing for Lotus for the following year and Toleman suspended him for the Italian GP.  By this time they had hired Pierluigi Martini to replace Cecotto and put Stefan Johansson in the car to replace the suspended Senna.  When Martini failed to qualify, Johansson got the race seat alongside Senna for the final two races.   The team scored a total of 16 points (only half points available for the shortened Monaco race) and finished seventh.

For 1985 it was all change again on the driver front, Senna having moved to Lotus and no-one else having scored points.  However there were bigger problems facing the team.  During the off season there were problems with the tyre supply.  During 1984 Toleman had abandoned Pirelli as Michelin and Goodyear had a performance advantage.  The team had already upset Goodyear following similar behaviour in F2, so Michelin was the only alternative.  When Michelin left the sport at the end of the 1984 season it left the team without any tyres (in the middle of a tyre war the team were left without any rubber).  As a result the team missed the first three races of 1985, and only once Benetton (the team’s new sponsor) purchased the failing Spirit team and transferred their Pirelli tyre contract was the team able to continue.  Teo Fabi returned to the team and Piercarlo Ghinzani joined from the Austrian GP.  Although Fabi managed a pole position in Germany the team only managed to finish one race all year (a 12th for Fabi in Italy).  By the end of the year the team was sold to their sponsor and became Benetton Formula, and that is covered in Part 2 of this series.

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A long time fan of Formula 1 and grass roots motorsport, I am interested in the engineering aspects not only of F1 but the 'men in sheds' who develop homemade specials to take on the products of the big racing car manufacturers.