By 1997, the world championship victories of 94-95 started to feel like a distant memory for Benetton. Many of their technical dream team followed Michael Schumacher over to Ferrari, so the Enstone team struggled to match the progress of red cars and Williams.
Still, a strong driver line-up of Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi helped them to third in the championship, ahead of the resurgent McLaren.
The highlight of the year was undoubtedly Berger’s grand slam of victory, pole and fastest lap at the German GP at the old Hockenheim. It was especially poignant as it came after a three race lay-off caused by sinusitis and then the death of his father in a light aircraft accident.
Berger’s absence gave Alex Wurz his debut, culminating in a podium at Silverstone, his third and final race of the season before handing the car back to Berger.
The low-light was the first race of the season, where Alesi running in strong contention for a podium, embarrassingly and inexplicably repeatedly ignored radio calls and frantic pit board signs to come in for fuel until his tank ran dry and he was forced to retire.
The 97 edition was my favourite of the mild seven era Benettons. Despite the many sponsors, they managed to avoid making it look too cluttered with good balance between the light blue, dark blue and white, with some great red accents. And of course, the multi-coloured paint stripes across the top of the sidepods made sure that Benetton personality remained.
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