Top Five Worst F1 Champions

17 08 2010

Jon was reminiscing about F1 in the 1990s and thinking about the man who appears as number one on my list, so he was thinking about who the world champions who had the most disappointing post-championship careers. I’m only going to look at single title winners, so we’ll start with Jon’s first thought.

1. Jacques Villeneuve

Son of Ferrari legend (and one of the greatest drivers never to win the title), Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques only took up karting at 15 after spending his youth on the ski-slopes. At the age of only 24 he won the last IndyCar World Series and Indy 500 before Tony George created the schism in American single-seaters. Frank Williams and Patrick Head then snapped him up and took him to F1 for 1996, with Jacques living up to his hype so much that he almost won his first race at the Australian GP, but a broken oil pipe meant he had to lift off to make the finish. Winning four races and finishing second in your first season isn’t too shabby, but Jacques went on to win the following year’s championship against the resurgent Schumacher and Ferrari. 1997 was the peak, but he reached the trough fairly quickly. He blamed his poor performances in 1998 on the engine, the car, and the tyres, so he moved on to the new BAR team for 1999. The team was to be built around him and they claimed they could win their first race… they failed to score a point all year long. He stayed at the team for four years, underwhelming the world as he went until he was dropped before the 2003 Japanese GP due to being consistently outscored by teammate Jenson Button (being dropped for Takuma Sato has to hurt). Without a seat for 2004 he sat out most of the season before taking Jarno Trulli’s vacant Renault seat for the final three races, but his failure to score – or even drive consistently – meant he missed out on the opportunity to drive a double title winning car the next year. He moved on to Sauber for 2005, staying on when BMW took over in 2006 before quitting when threatened with a shootout for his seat against Robert Kubica. Outside of F1 he sucked at NASCAR and released an album of crappy love songs. So long Jacques, stop trying to get back into F1, we don’t want you.

2. Mario Andretti

Andretti is a driver I’ve always had little respect for, he only ever won through a combination of having the best car and the misfortune of others, namely the Lotus 78 and 79, and the death of Ronnie Peterson. After winning the title in 1978, the following season he was nowhere, or to be more specific 12th in the world championship with only 14 points. 1980 was even worse for him, he managed one point at the final race of the season and was consistently outdriven by teammate Elio de Angelis all season long. Colin Chapman politely dropped him from Lotus and Mario spent his last full season in F1 at Alfa Romeo. He scored at the first race of the year – the US Grand Prix West at Long Beach – and then failed to score for the rest of the season, being bested by his teammate Bruno Giacomelli, a driver who was never particularly great. The fact he was able to win in CART after he left F1 just shows the yawning chasm of quality between F1 and US single-seaters.

3. Nigel Mansell

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, a phrase apt for Mansell in the ’80s. He looked set to win the 1986 world championship by taking a comfortable third place position at the Australian GP, but a spectacular blowout meant that Alain Prost was handed his second title. In 1987, he crashed heavily in practice at the Japanese GP (the penultimate race of the season) missing both that race and the season finale in Adelaide, giving Nelson Piquet his third title before the race at Suzuka even began. After a few years without challenging for the title, he claimed he was going to retire at the end of the 1990 season after being Prost’s clear number two at Ferrari. Frank Williams threw him a lifeline with the FW14, which evolved into the all-conquering FW14B for 1992. Exorbitant wage demands and the fact that Prost had already signed for the team for 1993 meant that Williams refused to sign him for 1993, so to CART he went. He was enticed back for a few races in 1994 for Williams and he did manage to win the Australian GP, although that was only due to the infamous collision between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. However, that win meant he wanted to come back to F1 full time, so he signed for McLaren for the 1995 season. Problem was, our Nige was too fat to fit in the MP4/10, his hips couldn’t get past the monocoque sides, so he missed the first two races as the car was redesigned, when he did finally get into the car he realised it was a dog and he wasn’t going to beat teammate Mika Häkkinen, so he quit after two races, handing the car over to everyone’s favourite pundit; Mark Blundell.

4. Jody Scheckter

For 21 long years he was the last Ferrari world champion, but he was never really revered by the Tifosi, probably because his teammate whilst at the Scuderia was Gilles Villeneuve, and the other reason was what happened next. After winning his title in 1979, Ferrari gave him the 312T5 for 1980, the car was frankly a dog with the ground-effect aerodynamics incompatible with the three litre flat-12. But, Scheckter looked as if he no longer cared about the sport only managing to score once all season long and even failing to qualify for the Canadian GP. He quit the sport at the end of the season and never raced competitively again.

5. Kimi Räikkönen

After storming to the 2000 Formula Renault UK championship he controversially was allowed to race for Sauber in 2001. Despite the fact he scored half the number of points that teammate Nick Heidfeld did, he took the seat vacated by Häkkinen at McLaren usurping Heidfeld’s position as McLaren’s chosen son. He immediately showed how much natural speed and talent he had, finishing just two points behind Schumacher in the title chase in 2003. A series of fragile McLarens failed to allow Kimi to win a title, so he switched stables to Ferrari in 2007, winning his first race with the team, and with a late run of form beat the McLarens of both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton by just one point. However, as soon as he won the title he just seemed to lose drive, being outperformed by Felipe Massa for a season and a half before being told his services would no longer be required. His failure to drive as well as he did before his title was a massive disappointment to me personally, hence why he’s on the list.

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4 responses

17 08 2010
Unbajo

After 1998, Jacques Villeneuve was in at the crossroad because the William car was bad. The place where he belonged was at Ferrari. But Ferrari had only one number #1 driver : Shumacher. So Villeneuve was stuck. His only hope was a new team. And that’s what he did.

The car sucked. Intead of jumping fast to McLaren or Renault, he stayed at BAR, for many reasons including that he’s suborn. Until is value declined too much. He managed to get to Sauber, the door to Ferrari. Once again, it was closed to him and they choose Massa.

It’s a sad story. But, make no mistake, Villeneuve is an excellent driver, one of the greatest.

17 08 2010
tsaritsyn

Personally I’ll always think he was flattered by a great car, and when given a mediocre car he always chose to tour around the midfield rather than try and improve the situation. More than happy to sit on his laurels, to me that isn’t a great driver.

18 08 2010
Bernard

You’re right about Mansell
Thierry Boutsen should’ve been the 1992 world champion.

19 08 2010
tsaritsyn

I’ll always remember his last win at the Hungaroring. Incidentally, he had one of my all-time favourite helmet designs.

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