Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When Formula 1 Constructor Champions Melt Down One Year After Glory

Last season's near-domination by the Mercedes AMG organization on the Formula 1 racing tour would be a circumstance everyone related to the team would wish could never end. Unfortunately for them, the green flag in Australia will mark a point where 2014 is forever cemented in history. 2015 will be a new beginning for which Mercedes AMG is going to build on another foundation. The question we will all ask is whether a mighty structure will again represent the Formula 1 team's 2015 season.

An impressive overall performance involving victories in 16 of the 19 races on the 2014 tour en route to a constructors‘ title for Mercedes AMG and team driver Lewis Hamilton capturing the drivers‘ championship, the specific Formula 1 run was individually memorable. However, domination by a single team in a single season is not a new thing in the open-wheel world championship racing series. From 2010 until the start of last season, Red Bull Racing shaped a dynasty through several successful seasons of Formula 1 competition. As evident last season, the Red Bull Racing’s dominant reign ended when the green flag fell at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Sometimes it comes as a situation of more modest success such as the case with Red Bull Racing (although four-time champion Sebastian Vettel went winless). Other times, a championship season for driver and constructor results in some radically ill-equipped title defences the following season.

When brilliance one season turns into a plummeting fall from grace the next, reigning champions often simply blow it in regards to creating a competitive package. In the decades of Formula 1 competition, some championships fall a little bit harder than others do. The following examples illustrate the risk teams in the position of Mercedes AMG face after a very fruitful year emerging in an all-new season:

Cooper Car Company 1960 and 1961


Team Points: 48

Driver Points
Jack Brabham: 43
Bruce McLaren: 34


Team Points: 14

Driver Points
Jack Brabham: 4
Bruce McLaren: 11

While the Auto Union race cars of the 1930s demonstrated how effective mounting an engine behind the driver is to on-track performance, it took an innovative group of Brits named Charles Cooper and his son John Cooper to make the vehicle layout a lasting fixture in Formula 1. Able to out-drive more powerful front-engined roadsters, the Cooper T43 Formula 1 car powered by a Climax engine debuted in 1957 and immediately scored a sixth place finish. A feat accomplished by Australian Jack Brabham in Monaco, it would be a short two years later when the effort resulted in a drivers’ championship for Brabham and a constructors’ title for Cooper. As the rest of Formula 1 was forced to adjust to the mid-engined Cooper, the pairing repeated their feat in 1960. In the 1960 season, Brabham’s championship run was marked by five consecutive Formula 1 grand prix victories. A young driver named Bruce McLaren also won the Argentine Grand Prix.

For 1961, Formula 1 changed the engine regulations resulting in smaller powerplant displacement size of 1.5 liters. Cooper’s effectiveness on the track was erased by both their unsuccessful adjustment to the new rules and the adaptation of mid-engined layouts by other teams including Ferrari. A third place scored by Bruce McLaren at the Italian Grand Prix was the high point of the season where the Cooper-Climax lost its advantage. In the final 1961 champion standings, McLaren outscored his teammate Jack Brahbam.

Brabham left the Cooper Car Company team after the 1961 season and immediately founded his own race team. Brabham’s engineering expertise that was valued by Cooper went into his team’s success. Bruce McLaren stayed at Cooper for several season and won on the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix. Eventually, McLaren followed Brabham and created his own successful Formula 1 team. Cooper never regained the success of they achieved when the pioneered the mid-engined Formula 1 revolution and ran their final race in 1969.

A disclaimer relating to the points, only the best six races in the nine races on the 1960 Formula 1 calendar counted while only the five top finishes counted in 1961.


Brabham (Motor Racing Development Limited) 1967 and 1968


Team Points: 63

Driver Points
Denny Hulme: 51
Jack Brabham: 46


Team Points: 10

Driver Points
Jochen Rindt: 8
Jack Brabham: 2

The late Jack Brabham was perhaps the best driver/owner to ever compete in Formula 1. A three-time world driving champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966, Brahbam also had front-running success with his team called Motor Racing Development Limited (frequently referred to simply as Brabham). Beyond his own success that included winning in his own chassis in 1966, Jack Brabham’s team involved other racing greats competing for and sometimes beside the boss. In 1967, Brabham finished behind his teammate and driver Denny Hulme. After taking the 1967 world drivers’ championship from his boss, the New Zealand driver Hulme went to McLaren. Alongside Jack Brabham, future Formula 1 champion Jochen Rindt drove the second team car through the 1968 season.

Though Brabham won their second constructors’ title, the late stages of the 1967 season saw Team Lotus and their new Ford Cosworth DFV engine gaining on the Repco-powered Brabhams. In an attempt to stay ahead of the eight-cylinder Ford powerplant, Repco was encouraged to create an improved version of their V-8 engine. The major year-to-year difference between the Repco engines was the incorporation of a double overhead cam valvetrain design. The engine delivered improved horsepower but was unreliable.

Jochen Rindt left the Brabham team to drive with Team Lotus for the 1969 season. As for driver and team owner Jack Brabham, he persevered for two more seasons behind the wheel before settling into team ownership and managing other ventures.


Ferrari 1979 and 1980



Team Points: 113

Driver Points
Jody Scheckter: 51
Gilles Villeneuve: 47


Team Points: 8

Driver Points
Jody Scheckter:2
Gilles Villeneuve: 6

Among Formula 1 championship teams, the Ferrari team perhaps suffered the biggest year-to-year collapse. The 1979 season was a fairy tale for the entire Italian Formula 1 organization. Leaving the Walter Wolf Racing team after the 1978 season, South African driver Jody Scheckter entered his eighth Formula 1 season (sixth full-time) still searching for a World Championship. Scheckter had come close in previous seasons with a runner-up finish in the standings after 1977 and pair of 3rd place results driving for Tyrrell. At the end of the 1979 Formula 1 championship, Jody Scheckter prevailed resisting a strong challenge from Ferrari teammate Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve. Villeneuve, who entered Formula 1 with a reputation for being aggressive and hard on race cars, left 1979 proving he can tame himself for a season-long championship run. Scheckter and Villeneuve run a variation of a Ferrari 312T chassis first used in 1975. A 1979 Constructors’ title for Ferrari was the fourth with that particular chassis.

For 1980, the driver line-up remained intact driving an updated 312T5 race car powered by a 12-cylinder engine. Despite improvements, the new Ferrari race car was poorly matched against other teams. Not only was Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve unable to win a race in 1980 for Ferrari, neither driver could finish higher than fifth place in a grand prix event. Lacking race pace and a ten total retirements between the two drivers resulted in a 10th place finish in the constructors’ championship for 1980 with just eight points.

Following the disastrous 1980 season, Jody Scheckter retired from Formula 1 while Gilles Villeneuve remained with Ferrari driving a completely new, more competitive 126CK race car powered by a turbocharged six-cylinder engine.


Williams 1997 and 1998


Team Points: 123

Driver Points
Jacques Villeneuve: 81
Heinz-Harald Frentzen: 42


Team Points: 38

Drivers’ Points
Jacques Villeneuve: 21
Heinz-Harald Frentzen: 17

During the mid-1990s, the Williams Formula 1 team was regarded as the hot spot for drivers wanting to be in championship form. Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost won championship with the organization in 1992 and 1994 respectively. In 1996, Damon Hill became the world champion beating teammate and Formula 1 newcomer Jacques Villeneuve for the title. As Hill left Williams for Arrows, German driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen joined Jacques Villeneuve. Villeneuve battled tensely with Michael Schumacher to win the 1997 World Drivers’ Championship in Formula 1. The combined team effort aided by seven wins from Villeneuve and Frentzen’s victory at the San Marino Grand Prix gave Williams its fifth constructors’ title in six years.

The driver line-up for Williams remained unchanged for 1998 as Jacques Villeneuve wore the #1 on a new look race car. The Rothman cigarette brand’s familiar blue and white livery was replaced by Winfield’s red and white. While the different look was a major adjustment to fans, the team’s biggest learning curve was all-new Formula 1 rules. Narrower side dimensions and grooved race tires replacing slicks were mandated for all teams but Williams was forced to give up much of their constructor championship-winning notepad referring to the 1997 car. Williams also lost ace Formula 1 car designer Adrian Newey to McLaren in 1998.

Perhaps the biggest year-to-year change was the discontinuation of factory support from Renault. Williams was provided with engine power from Mecachrome, the company that for years built Renault’s Formula 1 power units. The Mecachrome engine was almost the same Renault V-10 engine Williams ran in 1997 while Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari reengineered their powerplants for 1998, the Williams race cars would ultimately be seen as less potent. This showed in qualifying as the Williams-Mecachrome failed to score a pole in 1998 after 11 in 1997.

For the entire 1998 season, Williams struggled simply to climb on a podium in races where either Jacques Villeneuve or Heinz-Harald Frentzen won. Frentzen grabbed a third place in the Australian Grand Prix while Villeneuve was third at both the German and Hungarian Grand Prix. After the lacklustre season, both drivers parted with the Williams team. Heinz-Harald Frentzen joined with the Benson and Hedges Jordan team while Jacques Villeneuve joined the newly formed British-American Racing team for 1999. Since his world championship, Jacques Villeneuve’s racing career has never come close to equalling the same success.

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