JANUARY 20, 1997
Benetton reveals new backers
Akai was a personal sponsor of Alan Jones in his World Championship-winning 1980 season but has otherwise not had any involvement in F1 to date. The consumer electronics group has annual sales of over $1 billion but is keen to use F1 to strengthen the global awareness of the Akai brand. Although Benetton did not announce the duration of the contract, the team usually does three-year deals with its sponsors.
The Agip deal is for just one season, which leaves Benetton free to accept whichever oil company its 1998 engine supplier wishes. According to the team the deal is for the supply of fuel and lubricants, but if this is the case it will be the first time that Renault has allowed any company other than Elf to be used with its engines. It is more likely that Benetton and Williams will go on using Elf products while carrying sponsorship from Agip and Castrol respectively.
Agip has a long history in F1 and supported Ferrari between 1974 and 1995. It withdrew after being outbid for the Ferrari contract in 1996 by Shell. At the time the company said it was getting out of F1 because the sport was "going crazy in terms of investment" and was not allowing experimentation because of rigid new rules.
The withdrawal also coincided with the privatization of Agip's parent company Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi SpA (ENI)