In the aftermath of a hugely-successful period in the mid-1990s, the Benetton Formula 1 team endured something of a lean period. This was after its title-winning triumvirate of Michael Schumacher, Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn all exited stage left, swayed by the lure of Ferrari.
Following their collective departures, Benetton won just one more race. Returning from the sidelines after a medically-enforced break, veteran driver Gerhard Berger grabbed a surprise victory at the old Hockenheim in 1997. Back then, the sprawling German venue tended to be something of a charity benefit concert for the most power-laden of cars, and the Renault-powered B197 was sufficiently gutsy enough to carry Berger to a lights-to-flag victory from pole.
Success was sparse after that. Renault left the care of its successful V10 units to Mecachrome, while Benetton's Nick Wirth-designed 1998 car managed just two podiums in the hands of Giancarlo Fisichella. With only one point accrued from the final seven rounds of that championship, the team needed to stop the rot. Having been at the forefront of pushing F1's rules to their limits just a few years before, it was pinning its hopes on a new innovation to fire its way up the field.