This week 40 years ago, an Italian fashion label signed a deal which began one of the most successful, influential and colourful sponsorship programmes in Formula 1 history.
Benetton’s entry into F1 with Tyrrell was successful from the outset, but the brand aspired to do more than just put its stickers on an F1 car. Within three years it had a team of its own and was winning races as a constructor, and in time it enjoyed championship-winning success with one of F1’s all-time great drivers.
The idea a brand that was ‘just a T-shirt manufacturer’ could succeed in F1 was greeted with scepticism with some on their arrival. But Benetton soon disproved the doubters and inspired other brands to do the same – notably the soft drink producer which goes into the 2023 season as defending champions.
Plucky underdogs Tyrrell had Denim logos on their cars when Michele Alboreto won the 1982 season finale at Las Vegas. But Luciano Benetton refused to share space on their car with them, so Tyrrell ended its deal with their rival and painted their cars green for 1983.
In only the seventh race with Benetton as a sponsor Alboreto delivered another win, in Detroit. However it proved the final win for the former champions, and for the following season their Italian sponsor had their eye on a manufacturer closer to home.
1984: Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo’s F1 team, run by Euroracing, successfully courted Benetton as a replacement for outgoing sponsor Marlboro. But from sixth in 1983 they slipped two places the following year, though they took a single podium finish in the home event for team and title sponsor at Monza.
1985: Alfa Romeo and Toleman
If 1984 had been bad, 1985 was disastrous. Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever stayed on to drive, but the new 185T chassis proved such a disappointment the latter reverted to the previous year’s 184TB at one stage.
It wasn’t enough to avoid a point-less campaign for the team. While Benetton opted to move elsewhere, Alfa Romeo quit the sport and did not return until they started sponsoring Sauber in 2018.
Instead Benetton threw its backing behind Toleman. There was clear potential in the team which had enjoyed podium finishes and nearly a win in 1984 with Ayrton Senna. Although it also ended 1985 point-less,…