Luciano Benetton initially started in Formula One as a sponsor to the Tyrrell, Alfa Romeo and Toleman teams as a way to promote his line of colourful clothing that appealed to the youth market. He eventually bought the Toleman team in 1986 and began running the cars as Benettons. The cars initially ran with turbocharged BMW engines and had enormous amounts of power with then driver, Teo Fabi claiming pole for both the Austrian and Italian Grand Prix before
the team had its first win, delivered by Gerhard Berger in the Mexican Grand Prix.
In 1988 the team finished third in the Constructors Cup and were looking good with Johnny Herbert and Alessandro Nannini for their driver line-up in 1989. But that same year saw the company taken over by Flavio Briatore and Herbert was soon ousted because he hadn't fully recovered from an earlier accident at Brands Hatch. He also sacked the then team manager, Peter Collins. The only win of the season came in the Japanese Grand Prix when Nannini inherited the win after Ayrton Senna was disqualified.
The following year the signed Nelson Piquet, who by that stage was in the twilight of his career, but he had some great drives and once again the team was there to collect in Japan, this time after Senna and Prost collided. 1991 was the turning point for the team when after witnessing Michael Schumacher stun the field by qualifying seventh in the Jordan, they went all out to sign the German to drive alongside Piquet. Schumacher shone from the start, outpacing his older more experienced World Champion teammate, regularly bringing the Benetton home in the points. Realizing that they had a future champion on their books, Briatore instigated a new technical facility in the Cotswolds.
Williams dominated in 1992 and therefore Schumacher was unable to try for the title, but he did have his first victory that year at the Spa Francorchamps circuit. 1993 saw the team improve by leaps and bounds with the introduction of the semi automatic gearbox and active suspension. Traction control wasn't added to the car until Monaco, where Schumacher led, but by then, it was too late to stop the dominant force of the Williams team, well that year anyway as the following season Schumacher won the first two races and when Ayrton Senna was tragically killed at Imola, the German was left on his own as Formula One's front runner.
The season that followed was dismal for the team. Clouded by allegations of illegality that surrounded their achievements and Schumacher receiving a two race ban for ignoring a black flag at Silverstone, followed by being disqualified on a technicality at Spa, the German still won the drivers title for himself and the team albeit by only one point after a controversial win in Adelaide.
Now running with Renault engines like Williams, Schumacher returned with a vengeance in 1995, winning nine races and retaining his drivers' crown for a second season. Johnny Herbert, who had been re-signed with the team, won two, and together they gave Benetton its' first and only Constructors title. Schumacher moved to Ferrari the following season and Herbert to Sauber and Benetton were unable to match the dominance of the Williams team. Both Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, their drivers for the season, failed to win a race between them and Briatore was furious with Alesi for crashing out in the final race of the season, handing Ferrari second place in the championship.
Alesi's woes with Briatore didn't end there as he failed to make a pit stop during the opening race in Australia in 97, causing him to run out of fuel. Once again the team changed for the 98 season, when both drivers were replaced. Berger retired and Alesi moved to the Sauber team. The team brought in young fresh drivers, Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz. Briatore was also replaced, by rally and touring car boss, David Richards. The new season showed promise, with Wurz shining in the earlier part of the season and Fisichella doing well in Canada, but 99 was a complete disaster. They too, like Williams had switched to the underpowered Supertec and had constant failures, finishing the season a low 6th in the Constructors fight.
Things didn't improve a lot in 2000, however Briatore returned and Renault announced their comeback to the team. They finished fourth overall on count back to BAR, with the highlight of the season being Giancarlo Fisichella's third place in the Canadian Grand Prix. Alexander Wurz was replaced by Jenson Button for the 2001 season, the young Englishman on loan from the Williams outfit and Wurz joined McLaren as their third driver, where he still remains.
The 2001 season produced dismal results for the team, the final year under the Benetton flag before Renault made their complete comeback for 2002. Jenson Button continued with the outfit alongside Jarno Trulli, who switched places from Jordan with Giancarlo Fisichella. A few strong performances scattered throughout the 17-race calendar saw them move up to fourth place overall, however team boss Flavio Briatore decided to replace Button with young Spanish driver Fernando Alonso for 2003. They also opted to join Jordan and Minardi in the new Friday testing option, hoping that this will give them the edge over the rivals and possibly move up yet another place in the standings.
And it did! Although the team finished the year in fourth place, they were able to narrow the points' deficit to the top three teams. Ten of Renault's points came from Alonso's maiden victory, the Hungarian GP, proving Briatore right in his decision to use the Spaniard.
In 2004 Alonso will be going for victory number two, while Trulli wants what he believes should have been his first - a Renault victory. Renault finished third in the constructors' championship in 2004 and in doing so achieved its pre-season expectations. The team scored one victory with Jarno Trulli taking the chequered flag at the Monaco Grand Prix and five further podium positions.
The team did not however have the pace to challenge for race wins on a regular basis but reliability worked in the teams favour as did their starting mechanism that gained Fernando Alonso in particular ground on race days. For 2005 the team have the talent of Alonso on board once again with Giancarlo Fisichella returning to the fold as the team seek regular race wins.