Many different teams have competed in Formula One. Some, have gone on to win world championships and their place in history. Others have faded into pub quiz question style mediocrity. Some teams are the product of massive car companies looking for some track success, think Mercedes or Ferrari. And some teams started life as sponsors; Benetton was one of those teams.
Benetton started their Formula One journey as a sponsor for the Tyrrell team in 1986. They then went on to sponsor Alfa Romeo and Toleman.The thinking behind the sponsorship was that the demographic of people watching Formula One was the demographic Benetton wanted to tap into for its clothing line.
By 1986, Benetton wanted more control over their Formula One future, so they took the plunge and bought the Toleman and Spirit teams, creating the Benetton Formula One team. Benetton was now all in on F1, a notoriously expensive sport to run in, and the team saw some early success. With a powerful BMW turbo engine, Austrian, Gerhard Berger, drove the team to their, and his, first win at the Mexican Grand Prix of 1986.
Between ’86 and ’90 the team created some competitive, yet not race winning cars, apart from a win in the 1989 Japanese GP after Ayrton Senna was infamously disqualified following a collision with teammate Alain Prost.
In 1990, the team signed triple World Champion Nelson Piquet and he gave the team some consistent driving, landing three wins for the team across 1990 and 1991. Benetton was on the up.
It was in 1991, and the signing of a certain German, that would turn the team from challenging for race wins, to winning World Championships. Benetton managed to pry Michael Schumacher away from the Jordan team, after a legal battle, and they never looked back. By 1992 he achieved his first win with the team, and in 1993 he was consistently on the podium and took another race win in Portugal.
In 1994, a year closely associated with the death of Ayrton Senna, Schumacher took eight wins, and despite missing two races, due to being banned, he won the World Championship by one point ahead of Damon Hill. The team, however, did not win the constructors’ World Championship, being beaten by Williams.
1995 was the season that it all came together. With the same Renault engine as the Williams team, Michael Schumacher driving and Flavio Briatore managing, the team won 11 races, nine for Schumacher and two for teammate, Johnny Herbert, and with it, the constructors’ championship. All Benetton’s hard work eventually came together for one glorious season.
1995 was the peak for the team, as at the end of that season, Schumacher left for Ferrari and he took a lot of the backroom team with him. Benetton carried on but was never competitive again. Briatore was ousted in 1997 and by 2001 the team was bought by Renault for a huge $120 million.
For a sponsor-come-constructor, Benetton’s time in Formula One was a success. Winning 27 races and One world championship puts them above many teams that have entered F1, including manufacturing giants like Jaguar and Toyota. Benetton’s success, however, would not have come without the great Michael Schumacher. The German took 21 of Benetton’s 27 wins and two drivers titles with the team.
Benetton, like Red Bull, is a sponsor success story in Formula One.