Top five bold Formula 1 driver moves that paid off
(Courtesy : F1)
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 paid off:
Emerson Fittipaldi: Lotus to McLaren for 1974
Emerson Fittipaldi made his F1 debut with Lotus in 1970 and, during only his fourth race, became Brazil’s first Grand Prix winner. He would set another record a couple of years later, beating Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart to become the then youngest-ever driver to win the F1 world title at the age of 25.
However, after a 1973 season that saw the established Fittipaldi and new Lotus team mate Ronnie Peterson race freely for victories, the door was opened for Stewart to take the crown. Frustrated at the situation, Fittipaldi accepted a lucrative deal with McLaren and new headline sponsor Marlboro for 1974.
Money aside, swapping the team that won the 1973 constructors’ title for the team that finished in third position was a brave call, but it paid off when Fittpaldi narrowly got the better of Ferrari rival Clay Regazzoni to claim his second title – the pair having entered the 1974 finale level on points.
Niki Lauda: Retirement to McLaren for 1982
Niki Lauda was a double world champion when he initially walked away from F1, cutting short a practice run for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix and informing Brabham team boss Bernie Ecclestone that he no longer had a desire to “drive in circles”, bringing his career to an end there and then.
That was until McLaren chiefs tempted Lauda back into the cockpit a few years later. With the Austrian’s airline business off the ground and the passion to add to his Ferrari glory days seemingly rekindled, Lauda returned to the F1 grid in 1982 – Marlboro again playing a key role in developments.
Lauda hit the jackpot when McLaren delivered the potent, Porsche-powered MP4/2 in 1984 and he edged out young team mate Alain Prost for the title by half a point. Prost went on to win the next two titles for McLaren, while Lauda retired for good – now as a three-time champion – at the end of 1985.
Nigel Mansell: Ferrari (back) to Williams for 1991
Having finished runner-up with Williams in dramatic circumstances in 1986 and 1987, and following the team’s painful 1988 season in the wake of their Honda partnership breaking down, Nigel Mansell looked elsewhere for a car that could give him a shot at winning that elusive World Championship he craved.
But while a move to Ferrari brought several victories, the might of McLaren (now with Honda power) put the title out of reach – and he had to deal with a challenging dynamic when Prost arrived as the de facto number one driver in 1990. Thus, with Williams improving again, Mansell made a U-turn.
After closing in on Ayrton Senna and McLaren with the Adrian Newey-penned FW14 in 1991, Williams took another significant step for the 1992 season thanks to its successor, the FW14B, which boasted technology such as semi-automatic transmission, active suspension and traction control.
Mansell was unstoppable and, after several near-misses, secured the F1 title he had been chasing for so long – scoring almost double the points of team mate and championship runner-up Riccardo Patrese.
Michael Schumacher: Benetton to Ferrari for 1996
Before Michael Schumacher’s dominance at Ferrari, the German claimed his first pair of F1 championships with Benetton, going back-to-back across the 1994 and 1995 seasons via battles against Williams rival Damon Hill – including that dramatic showdown and collision at Adelaide.
Moving to the Scuderia in 1996 marked a bold new chapter, and it would take five seasons for the famous Italian team – under Jean Todt’s watchful eye – to return to title-winning ways, albeit with Schumacher’s disqualification in 1997, narrow defeat in 1998 and a broken leg in 1999 falling into the ‘what could have been’ category.
It was 2000 that ultimately provided the breakthrough moment, with Schumacher overcoming McLaren rival Mika Hakkinen to land Ferrari’s first drivers’ crown since Jody Scheckter in 1979 and kick-start a run that would stretch through the 2004 season – giving him a record seven titles.
Lewis Hamilton: McLaren to Mercedes for 2013
The man making all the headlines this week, Lewis Hamilton burst onto the F1 scene with McLaren in 2007, almost winning the title during his rookie season before coming back a year later and pipping Ferrari’s Felipe Massa in a hugely dramatic finale.
However, rather than kicking on from their championship success, McLaren endured a nightmare start to 2009’s rules reset. While they were back in the hunt for 2010, it would be the closest Hamilton came to winning another title for the Woking-based team – 2011 and 2012 yielding only occasional wins.
It is said that it was after his retirement from the lead of the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix that Hamilton made the decision to join Mercedes for the 2013 campaign, having been charmed by then-team chiefs Ross Brawn and Niki Lauda about their plans to leap up the order in the soon-to-arrive turbo-hybrid era.
At the time plenty of people questioned why he would swap a seat with perennial title challengers McLaren for the team that had finished fifth in 2012, but Brawn and Lauda’s promises came true when Mercedes took the rule changes by storm and, in a remarkable winning run, Hamilton racked up five drivers’ titles from 2014 to 2020 – equalling Schumacher’s total of seven.
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