The Ex – Giancarlo Fisichella 2000 Benetton B200 Formula 1

The Ex – Giancarlo Fisichella

2000 Benetton B200 Formula 1

The Benetton name has long been associated with Formula 1, with the Italian fashion house joining the fray in 1983.  Having initially sampled the arena by sponsoring Tyrrell and Alfa Romeo, Benetton looked to increase its involvement in the sport during 1985. This coincided with the Toleman team stumbling on ever hard(er) times, and Benetton acquired the entirety of the Bicester based outfit.

For 1986, the team was officially rebranded as Benetton Formula Ltd. By the point of acquisition, Toleman had already developed their intended 1986 car, the TG186. One of the first changes implemented under the new ownership was the change of engine supplier from Hart to BMW, whose M12/13 turbo engine had powered Nelson Piquet to the 1983 World Championship.

The re-energised team found success with the fresh injection of funding, with Gerhard Berger taking 3rd in the 1986 San Marino Grand Prix, before going on to take victory in the Mexican Grand Prix towards the end of the season. The following years saw Benetton score multiple podiums, and even 3rd in the 1988 Constructors’ World Championship, however victories were eluding them.

By the time that Alessandro Nannini took the top step of the podium at Suzuka in late 1989, change was already afoot. The powers that be within the Benetton Group fired the management of the Formula 1 team, and on the Benetton family’s say so brought in one Flavio Briatore to take control. Also joining the team for ’89 was three time World Champion Nelson Piquet.

The new line up found their feet with the B190 and 1990 saw a flurry of podiums along with two victories for Piquet, which led to 3rd in the Constructors’ World Championship. A new title sponsor was enlisted in ’91, in the form of Camel cigarettes.

The new and distinctive, predominantly yellow livery marked the beginning of an era for Benetton as not only was it the introduction of high nosed Formula 1 cars, but more significantly the moment that Michael Schumacher was hired to drive alongside Piquet. Such was the impression that Schumacher had made on his entrance in Formula 1, that Jordan took the matter of retaining Schumacher’s services to court in England, though with no avail.

1992 saw the multiple Le Mans winning sports car outfit of Tom Walkinshaw Racing acquire a stake in the Benetton concern, and with Walkinshaw came Ross Brawn. The team was relocated to a new factory in Enstone, and Schumacher scored his first Grand Prix victory at Spa-Francorchamps that season, yielding another 3rd place in the Constructors’ championship. Another victory for Schumacher followed in 1993, the final year of Camel’s sponsorship.

Following the exit of Camel and their yellow branding, the Benetton team ushered in the Japanese cigarette brand Mild  Seven. With the ’94 cars resplendent in the Mild Seven blue and white, Schumacher was incredible. His B194 shot to six victories from seven starts, taking pole positions on the way. A couple of controversial Schumacher moments saw him disqualified from two races and banned for a further two, yet the dominance was such that he won the 1994 Formula 1 World Championship, beating Damon Hill’s Williams by a single point. However, in the Constructor’s standings, Benetton were bettered by Williams, with the long anticipated title eluding them for another season.

1995 saw the Benetton team change engine supplier to Renault, whose V10 had been successful in taking the Constructors’ World Championship title in 1993 and 1994 with Williams. With the full works Renault support, the B195 soon found its way to the top step of the podium at the first race in Brazil in the hands of reigning World Champion Michael Schumacher. Schumacher went on to take a total of nine Grand Prix victories through the season, scoring back to back World Championships. Johnny Herbert also took two victories, the first of his Formula 1 career, and fittingly at Silverstone.

Importantly, the on track success of both Schumacher and Herbert yielded the Constructors’ World Championship for the Benetton team, a title which they had been close to on several occasions but not quite managed. 

The two outstanding years for Schumacher attracted the attention of Ferrari, and for 1996, he parted ways with Benetton to join the Scuderia. In his, and Herbert’s, place came the outgoing Ferrari drivers, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. The ’96 season also saw the team change its nationality to Italian, reflecting that of the Benetton family as opposed to its British roots as it had previously been.

Outstanding results over the following couple of seasons became fewer and further between, and Briatore was removed as team principal, being superseded by Prodrive boss David Richards. However, after just one year in the post, there were disagreements on the direction of Benetton, which resulted in Richards leaving. Through 1999, the financial demands of being successful in Formula 1 were weighing on the Benetton family, and a sale of the team was agreed with Renault for 2000.

Renault’s acquisition of the team involved the Benetton branding remaining on the cars and as the team name for the following two seasons. The ever flamboyant Flavio Briatore was hired by Renault to run the operation, which had continued supplying the Renault V10 engines although developed by Briatore’s Supertec company and rebranded as Playlife, another clothing brand owned by Benetton.

After the difficulties of the 1999 car, there was a change of philosophy at Benetton. Designed under Pat Symonds, Mike Gascoyne, Tim Densham and Ben Agathangelou, the new B200 brought aerodynamic consistency while being a huge amount lighter and with a stiffer chassis than the B199. Another big gain came on the engine side, with Renault upping power through works development for their new team.

Using their own carbon fibre monocoque with the Playlife branded 2,998cc Renault V10 engine mounted directly to it, the B200 was within the regulation total weight of 600kg including the driver. The V10 engine put out up to a huge 780 hp at 15,600 rpm, and this was distributed to the wheels through Benetton’s own design of six speed sequential semi-automatic gearbox, in a longitudinal position. 

Suspension was by double carbon wishbones with inboard dampers front and rear, using torsion bar springing at the front and coil spring over damper arrangement at the rear. The B200 was connected to the ground by forged magnesium BBS wheels and the radially grooved Bridgestone tyres, now iconic to the 2000 period of Formula 1. The super lightweight carbon fibre bodywork was finished in the Benetton pale blue and adorned with sponsorship from Mild Seven cigarettes and Marconi electronics. 

Briatore and Renault retained the drivers of ’99 in the form of Italian Giancarlo Fisichella and Austrian Alexander Wurz. The B200 proved to be a marked improvement over the B199, and several good results came during the season. Fisichella scored three podiums, with a best result of 2nd at Brazil for the second Grand Prix of the year. The 2000 season also saw a number of crashes, resulting in the departure of several of the B200 chassis built by the team.

This Car, B200-06

The car we have the pleasure of offering for sale today, chassis number B200-6, is the last of the B200 chassis built for the 2000 Formula 1 season. According to ‘A Record of Grand Prix and Voiturette Racing’ by Paul Sheldon and David Smith, B200-06 joined the Grand Prix circuit for the European GP at the Nurburgring in May, where it was the spare car for Giancarlo Fisichella. 

B200-06 was then taken to Monaco in June with the Benetton team, to be the spare car for Fisichella once again. In Hungary in August, B200-06 was assigned to Alexander Wurz as his spare car, and at Monza in September it was the spare for Fisichella. 

 When the fly-away rounds came towards the end of the  season, B200-06 was taken to be Fisichella’s spare at Indianapolis for the United States Grand Prix held at the circuit. At Suzuka in October, B200-06 was called into competitive action, becoming Fisichella’s main car for the event. In the days of single lap qualifying efforts, Fisichella took 12th place on the grid, having ranked 7th earlier in the day during Saturday free practice. 

In the race, Fisichella struggled away from the start line, dropping down to 20th position by the end of the first lap. Through the race he fought back, and took the chequered flag in 14th place at the conclusion of the 53 lap Grand Prix. At Sepang in Malaysia, for the last round of the World Championship, B200-06 was allocated as Fisichella’s spare car once more. Fisichella rounded out the season finishing in 6th place in the Drivers’ World Championship.

Following the close of the Formula 1 race season, being the final chassis built, it’s quite likely the B200-06 completed an array of winter tests.

During these tests ahead of the new 2001 season, Benetton ran several young drivers in the B200s. These included Mark Webber, Oliver Gavin, Giorgio Pantano and Hidetoshi Mitsusada, who had been test drivers for Benetton through the 2000 season, and prospects Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. 

Button went on to join the Benetton squad, taking the race seat from Alexander Wurz for 2001, while Alonso joined in 2003, when the outfit had become Renault F1. That relationship with the team saw a pair of Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championship in 2005 and 2006, when Alonso won 14 Grand Prix over the two years.

Having been retained at Enstone by Benetton, and latterly Renault, B200-06 is understood to have also been used for promotional purposes by the team during 2001. Subsequently it entered private hands, and was later bought by the current owner. 

When acquired, the car was largely complete but without engine or gearbox internals. The works Renault supported Playlife V10 engines were leased in period, and as such returned at the conclusion of each engine’s running cycle. 

The current owner instructed Mansell Motorsport to bring B200-06 back to life. With extensive experience running similar Formula 1 cars of this era, including Benetton B197 and B199s, Mansell Motorsport have been able to fit an appropriate V10 engine, remanufacture gearbox internals, and complete the operating systems on the B200. A new Judd GV V10 engine was commissioned from Judd Power.

Running to a lower rev limit of 11,000 rpm than the typical 19,000 rpm red line seen with the Renault V10 engines, the inter-service life of the Judd GV is an astonishing 3000 km. Given that the engine produces around 750 bhp, in a car which weighed just under the regulation 600 kg including driver limit in period, it makes for quite the proposition! 

With a view of increased usability, and extracting the most from the Judd GV installation, new engine management and a pneumatic gearbox paddle shift system have been employed. During the rebuild, stressed components were crack tested, new front carbon brake discs and pads were fitted, and a new, reduced capacity fuel cell was commissioned.

It is believed that B200-06 is the only running example left in existence, with very few other B200s known to still exist, and no others in public view at this time. B200-06 is to be sold with only shake down miles on it since the Mansell Motorsport rebuild, and is in fully functioning condition.

With the increasing popularity of these turn of the century Formula 1 cars, and evolving opportunities in which to use them on track, the B200 represents a highly usable and competitive package. Whether you were to compete in the BOSS GP series or Masters Historic Racing demonstrations, the B200 will give an exhilaration like no other.