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Top five Formula 1 (F1) driver moves that didn’t pay off

Published at :February 3, 2024 at 7:38 PM
Modified at :February 3, 2024 at 7:38 PM
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(Courtesy : F1)

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Lewis Hamilton shocked the Formula 1 (F1) world on Thursday when it was announced that the seven-time world champion will be joining Ferrari in 2025, marking another bold move after his eyebrow-raising switch to Mercedes more than a decade ago.

Using this news as an excuse to go back in the F1 archives, what are some the best examples of daring driver moves that paid off, and those that backfired? We present five that didn’t pay off:

Emerson Fittipaldi: McLaren to Fittipaldi Automotive for 1976

While Fittipaldi’s move from Lotus to McLaren paid off handsomely, the same cannot be said about a subsequent switch to the team he had co-founded with his brother Wilson – Fittipaldi Automotive – for the 1976 season.

After winning two world titles and a hatful of races with Lotus and McLaren, his time at Fittipaldi Automotive was a battle to score points, and yielded just two podium finishes across five years of competition – one of few highlights being a second-place finish at the 1978 Brazilian Grand Prix.

A modest 10th in the 1978 championship standings – and a haul of 17 points that year – was the best Fittipaldi could achieve while racing with the family name, before he bowed out of the sport at the end of the 1980 campaign.

Nigel Mansell: Williams to McLaren for 1995

Amid a public falling out with Williams over a future contract, and the threat of a reunion with former Ferrari team mate Prost, Mansell ditched F1 and went Stateside for 1993, taking up a seat in the Indy Car World Series.

Needing no time to settle in, the Briton grabbed pole position and victory on his debut, before overcoming a nasty crash at the following round to pick up four more wins and beat the aforementioned Fittipaldi to the title – also coming close to triumphing at the renowned Indianapolis 500.

Mansell returned to F1 with Williams in 1994 following Senna’s death, making a handful of appearances that included a pole-sitting, race-winning run at the Adelaide finale. However, despite that win, Williams opted to give youngster David Coulthard a shot alongside Hill for 1995.

That sent Mansell in the direction of a fading McLaren, but unfortunately for driver and team, he could not fit into the narrow MP4/10B and had to be replaced at the first two rounds. When he finally raced, Mansell was unhappy with the car’s handling and retired from F1 for good after a pair of tricky events.

Damon Hill: Williams to Arrows for 1997

In what was a recurring theme during Williams’ glory years, Hill became yet another driver to win the championship for the team and leave immediately afterwards, following on from Prost, Mansell and Nelson Piquet.

After reviewing offers from several outfits, the in-demand Hill signed to race with Arrows, a team who had only scored a point in 1996 and had not reached the top step of the podium across an almost 20-year spell in the sport.

With a Yamaha engine and tyres from F1 newcomers Bridgestone, the Arrows package was a handful for Hill, who almost failed to qualify for the season opener and would only score points on two occasions across the 17-race campaign.

One of those races was the Hungarian Grand Prix, where Bridgestone held an advantage over Goodyear, enabling Hill to qualify third and jump into the lead on race day. That was until a hydraulic issue scuppered his efforts late on and opened the door for former team mate Jacques Villeneuve to take the win.

Fernando Alonso: Renault to McLaren for 2007

Fernando Alonso made headlines in the winter of 2005/2006 when – shortly after winning his first world title with Renault – it was announced that he would be joining rivals McLaren from the 2007 campaign.

By the time he arrived at his new team, the Spaniard was a two-time champion, having also picked up the 2006 crown at the end of a season-long scrap with Ferrari rival Schumacher. But what was supposed to be a dream move to continue his title-winning run turned into a nightmare.

With highly-rated GP2 champion Hamilton slotting in alongside Alonso and impressively hitting the ground running, tensions soon grew at McLaren as both drivers mounted title challenges – and took valuable points off each other – alongside the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Massa.

A series of run-ins, including a bizarre qualifying incident in Hungary, and off-track drama with the Spygate scandal, only added to the plot as Raikkonen beat Hamilton and Alonso to the title by one point. Alonso would return to Renault for 2008, while Hamilton stayed at McLaren and won the title.

Sebastian Vettel: Red Bull to Ferrari for 2015

Sebastian Vettel stormed to four successive championships with Red Bull from 2010 to 2013, but the arrival of F1’s turbo-hybrid era for 2014 brought that sensational sequence to a shuddering halt – rivals Mercedes running away with both titles.

While new team mate Daniel Ricciardo fared better amid the changes that season, bagging three victories and five more podiums, Vettel had to settle for only four rostrum results and, as the year went on, found himself contemplating his future.

In the end, the appeal of Ferrari won out, with Vettel leaving the Red Bull family that brought him to F1 to join the Scuderia for 2015. And it looked as though the move would pay off immediately when Vettel won only his second race for the team, while grabbing five podiums from the first six Grands Prix.

But Mercedes were the stronger force as the campaign developed, a story that repeated itself in 2017 and 2018, where a string of mistakes from Ferrari and Vettel saw the partnership snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After six years – and like Alonso before him – Vettel left Maranello without another title.

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