Continuing the recent trend of team biographies, Damien Smith gets stuck into one of the most controversial teams of the past forty years – Benetton.
From the outset, Benetton always did things differently. As Toleman, the team rubbed against the sport’s norms, eventually culminating in missing the opening races of 1985 when the team couldn’t find a tyre supplier. The second half of the 1980s saw successes, but the breakthrough to the top tier only happened in the mid-1990s as the team burned brightest of all in the 1994 and 1995 seasons – with Michael Schumacher winning his first world championship titles in both seasons.
As one of the foremost motorsport journalists of recent years, Smith’s narrative is brilliantly delivered, interlacing deep-dive facts without it ever feeling like a drag. The section on Benetton’s early forays into F1 sponsorship is particularly fascinating, as are some of the insights from Allan McNish about his time as a test driver.
Smith also navigates the controversies astutely. The facts and viewpoints from all sides regarding the car’s legality in 1994 are put forward comprehensively. It is hard not to conclude that, at best, Benetton were sailing close to the wind. However, the introductory biography of Flavio Briatore is as vanilla as a seaside Mr Whippy.
If I was to find fault with the book, it is in the voices that tell the story. Rory Byrne and Pat Symonds are the most consistent and prominent of the interviewees, providing plenty of insights. However, their engineering lens isn’t balanced out by driver input, while the Benetton family and organisation’s thoughts and intentions are largely inferred by others.
Overall, ‘Benetton’ is a thoroughly enjoyable, comprehensive chronicle of one of F1’s most colourful and dramatic teams – it should be at the top of many Christmas lists.
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Benetton: Rebels of Formula 1
Author: Damien Smith
Publisher: Evro Publishing
Published: September 2023
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