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Some of you may remember that at the start of the 2011 season I wrote a review of each team [excluding Lotus – now Caterham – Virgin – now Marussia – and HRT] looking back to 2003. This year, I wish to explore these same teams and their rivals as far back as 1995. Here I will also look at the seasons with the current points system in place, as well as the respective contemporary systems. I will also apply a system that takes into account 24 slots on the grid, standing thus:
100, 80, 70, 60, 52, 46, 40, 36, 32, 30, 28, 26, 24, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2.
We now look at the team that has carried arguably more iconic names than any other since it was born as Toleman: Lotus.
Benetton entered 1995 with a shiny new contract from Renault in their pocket. In recent history, Renault are the only engine supplier to run two works teams – Benetton and Williams between 1995 and 1997. Combine this with the fact that the Renault engines of this era were unbeatable, and the Byrne/Newey rivalry as well, it is little surprise that the title battle was always between Williams and Benetton. This year saw Benetton take the title with 147 points compared to Williams’ 118. Had the championship taken place today, the points system would yield much the same result, as would my own. Once again, as in earlier articles, we find that the sharp end of the field is rarely affected by different tables.
1996 was a painful year for Benetton, and the beginning of the end of the marque. Schumacher left for Ferrari, who in return sent Berger and Alesi to Enstone. More gallingly, Ferrari beat them by a single point while Williams ran away with the title, leaving Benetton 3rd. interestingly, under today’s system, Benetton beat Ferrari by some 25 points – equivalent to a win, which is all the more impressive considering Ferrari won 3 races and Benetton won none. The gap grows to about a win and a half under my system, allowing Benetton an even more comfortable 2nd-placed finish.
1997 was the final year of their top 3 attempts, as they clung on for 3rd place from McLaren by just 4 points. Williams and Ferrari were beyond them by now, although with both Benetton and Williams losing works status and holding onto 1997-spec Renault engines for the foreseeable future, this was also set to change. The standings were similar under today’s system, although my own puts Benetton closer to Ferrari than to McLaren.
Benetton were only 5 points shy of Williams in the fight for 3rd in 1998, although they would be just over a win down in new money. Interestingly, they are (relatively) closer to Williams under my system, with less than a win dividing the two increasingly underpowered teams.
1999 was a disaster for Benetton-Playlife, with the rebadged engines proving woeful against the works powerplants of McLaren and Ferrari, while Jordan jumped to 3rd ahead of a similarly struggling Williams, who tied with the surprise of the season Stewart for 4th, Stewart edging them by virtue of having won a race. The same position would go to Benetton if they were racing under the current system, as well as under mine.
The new millennium saw Benetton tied with BAR on 20 points, beaten by Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Jordan. They were promoted to 5th ahead of BAR by virtue of a 2nd-place finish for Giancarlo Fisichella. By today’s system they would drop to 6th place, some 17 points behind the former Tyrrell outfit. The same standings would be offered by my system.
2001 was the team’s second disaster in 3 seasons, as they dropped to 7th place. By this stage Williams had entered their BMW contract, and Benetton were still running on outdated Renault power. It is no surprise, therefore, that they only scored 10 points and only beat Arrows, Jaguar, Minardi and Prost. Jaguar also beat them by a point under today’s points, while the balance tips the other way again under my system. Benetton were lucky to bear Jaguar, it seems.
In the first of the two Ferrari-dominated seasons, Benetton became Renault. Shiny new engines finally appeared, promoting them immediately to 4th place behind Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. Benetton may have died, but the team was rising from the ashes once more. Under all 3 systems, the team took a solid 4th place. 2003 promised much.
Alonso took his first win late in 2003, as Renault scored just over half the points of champions Ferrari, cementing their place as the 4th team on the grid. They were a little closer in relative terms to the top 3 under both today’s system and my own.
2004 was the second Ferrari-dominated year, and also the year McLaren and Williams faltered. Until Spain 2012, Williams didn’t win after Brazil 2004. Although Ferrari’s traditional rivals fell by the wayside, Renault was unable to take 2nd, as BAR staged a huge upturn in fortune to demote the Enstone team to 3rd. The points stood much the same under today’s format, although there was only 10 points between BAR and Renault under my system. Renault’s best, of course, was yet to come.
2005 saw Michelin rewrite the tyre rules for the FIA, giving them an advantage going into the season over Ferrari and their Bridgestone tyres. Renault and McLaren came to the fore, with McLaren’s reliability being the main sticking point in Woking’s title challenge. Officially, Renault took the title by a single point, although McLaren benefit from a 9-point swing under today’s system and steal the crown from Enstone. Under my system, amazingly, there is a tie with each team scoring 2128 points. McLaren edge it with 10 wins to Renault's 8. This is one season I would like to review in more detail as a result, as there were many factors that kept the racing so close.
McLaren fell and Ferrari rose in 2006, giving Renault a second title by 5 points. Today, the gap would have increased to 8, and then to 22 under my system. Bearing in mind the Renault car was held back by the FIA midway through the season with the controversial banning of the mass dampers, Renault deserve a lot of credit for getting the car to the title.
2007 was a strange year, as the Renault squad made way for McLaren to challenge Ferrari. They dropped to 4th place behind the title rivals, and BMW Sauber – who managed their best year to date – with only 51 points, some 50 less than Sauber. Today they would have had 60% of Sauber’s score, so although the gap would have been larger they would have lost by relatively less. They closed in relative terms again under my system, but Williams also closed behind them. Although they fell by the wayside somewhat, they were about to sink lower than many would have thought possible.
2008 saw one of the biggest controversies in recent history: in Singapore, Nelsinho Piquet crashed into the wall to bring out the Safety Car, thus gifting teammate Alonso the victory. Renault were not punished for this at the time as the truth only came out the following year, but their effort was somewhat wasted by the lack of competitiveness between them and the top 3 teams, who remained the same as the year before. Toyota were also too far back for that result to make a difference. This was cemented further under today’s system, while Toyota was less than a win back under my format. Perhaps Toyota deserved that 4th place after what Briatore et al orchestrated.
Crashgate’s midseason revelation threw the Renault team into turmoil in 2009. Briatore and Symonds were banned from F1, although the latter has since returned and the former is rumoured to return also, leaving Bob Bell to lead the team through the final few races. They scored 26 points, notably all from Singapore or earlier. Title sponsors ING left along with a number of other sponsors, and Renault dropped to 8th place with only 26 points. There were echoes of the fall of Benetton a decade earlier. Under all three systems, they were beaten by Brawn, Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Toyota, BMW Sauber and Williams. Toyota pulled out at the end of the year, however, giving Renault one less team to worry about going into 2010, while the withdrawal of BMW money from Sauber left another of their rivals in something of a mess.
Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes were the only four teams who could still beat Renault in 2010, although the rest of the field were a long way back. The team this time wasn’t falling as far as the Benetton name had. Both my system and reality saw them take a solid 5th place, with little danger behind them. They remained in 5th in 2011, with the same top four teams ahead of them. This time, however, they raced under the Lotus name, starting the infamous war with Team Lotus – now known as Caterham. Interestingly, Force India would have beaten the Lotus Renault squad had my points system been in force, although the fight at the sharp end would have been even less competitive.
2012 saw an interesting turn of fortune, with Lotus rising to 4th ahead of Mercedes, who fell to 6th rather than 5th under my system as Force India once again put in a solid bid to finish the year in the top 5. For 2013, Lotus will be looking to capitalise on their late-season victory, as well as their host of new sponsors and the lack of Mercedes performance relative to their own.