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Only a few years ago Benetton was a really great Formula One racing team, but recently they have not been performing so good.
When any team becomes the best there is only one way to go, and that is down, but unfortunately with Benetton that fall does seem to have been rather dramatic and sustained.
In the 2000 Grand Prix season the team finished fourth in the constructors championship and although this may not sound too bad it was not where they expected to be, with the terrific effort that was put into the team during the season. In my opinion the 2001 season is not likely to be a lot better for them.
Although the team is Italian owned it is based in Oxfordshire, England where a dedicated staff of 350 work tirelessly to produce the best car they can. The budget for the team is about 50 million dollars per year and although this may sound like an awful lot of money, in F1 terms it does not make them one of the big spenders.
This year will be the last year that the team exists in the Benetton colours as from 2002 it will be the Renault team. This will put a lot more money and resources into the team and I believe this will lead to greater success. Obviously Renault will want to start their period in charge with a few wins and so I believe that they will use this year to test their engine as much as possible in the current Benetton cars. This may result in reliability problems as the engines are pushed to the edge of their performance in order to find the limits of the components within the engine.
I think this is something that Benetton will have to live with and hopefully they will also use the year to work hard on the rest of the car, chassis, suspension, balance etc.
Benetton have two young, very keen drivers with Jenson Button (British) and Giancarlo Fisichella (Italian) and I think these drivers will learn an awful lot this year. Hopefully Jenson Button will settle down a bit this year as I feel last season he let the celebrity status go to his head a bit too much. I think he will have a lot of work to do this year, so hopefully this will keep him busy, and his mind back into reality. (Well as realistic as living a millionaire lifestyle can be.)
I think throughout this season Benetton are likely to be a second ot two off the pace of Ferrari and McClaren, but with the determination of the team I would not be surprised to see a small collection of podium positions throughout 2001. I do not think they will win a race this year. (Watch out for a very quick amendment to this opinion if I am proved wrong!)
I believe Benetton will basically be marking time this year with a lot of development work happening in the background, but watch out in 2002. Benetton, who will then be Renault, will, I believe, take the F1 scene by storm. I can’t wait to see this great team rise again.