The 10 worst starts to a Formula 1 season
Here’s the TG guide to how not to get an F1 season going
Lola’s spectacular debut, 1997
So many new F1 teams have tried and failed in recent years that it almost takes away from the magnificence of the Lola effort. ‘We’re here to win,’ boldly pronounced five minutes before the receivers arrive to seal up the headquarters.
Lola’s efforts failed one race in, with the team wisely calling it quits after the first race in Australia, where it qualified a whopping 13 seconds off the pace. Main sponsor Mastercard had pressured the outfit to get going one year ahead of schedule – the in-house V10 engine wasn’t ready and the T97/30 hadn’t seen the inside of a wind tunnel. What a disaster.Advertisement - Page continues below
Ferrari’s failed testing promise, 2019
Ferrari started last year’s F1 season as title favourite following the stellar performance of its SF90 car in testing at Barcelona.
The new racing car featured sexy shrink-wrapped bodywork around the engine, an optimised cooling setup to ensure peak performance at the hottest races, and even switched to matte paint instead of gloss for the livery to save a bit of weight.
The drivers were happy, pounding in pre-season testing laps on harder tyres and still beating the rubbish slower teams that had bolted on sticky rubber to impress the sponsors. And yet… Mercedes turned up at the first race and blew the doors off the Italians, triggering much internal angst for the Prancing Horse.
The hottest ever race in Argentina, 1955
F1 can be gloriously bonkers – the world championship was only five years old when the hottest ever race took place in Buenos Aires, the season opener. The 40C average was so hot that much of the field ended up exhausted, with 16 substitutions taking place during the three-hour run.
Ferrari’s spare driver Umberto Maglioli was on hand and Maurice Trintignant retired early, so they spent much of the race hopping between the second- and third-placed Ferraris originally belonging to Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Nino Farina. Stirling Moss and Karl Kling retired shortly into the race, so they were able to share Hans Herrmann’s Mercedes.
Bizarrely, the final points tallies were divided between the drivers of each car, with the third-place Ferrari pilots getting 1.3 points each.
Superman Juan Manuel Fangio won the race in his Mercedes, one of two drivers to go the distance by themselves, although Roberto Mieres finished five laps down. Fangio was left permanently scarred from burns sustained by his leg rubbing on the chassis, which was being heated by the exhaust.Advertisement - Page continues below
The McLaren that never raced, 2003
Think back to the late Nineties – McLaren was the team to beat, thanks to the engineering wizardry of Adrian Newey and obsessive attention to detail of Ron Dennis. Mika Hakkinen took back-to-back titles in ’98 and ’99, but the wheels started to fall off as the Michael Schumacher/Ferrari combination reached its ascendancy. Hakkinen left the team in 2001 on a gap year and was replaced by young hotshoe Kimi Raikkonen – Finns can only get better, as it were.
The 2002 season was a bust, though, with a solitary win for Coulthard in Monaco and Ferrari taking 15 wins out of 17 races. Something radical needed to happen – Newey was unleashed, coming up with a spindly nosed, tightly packaged beast. Game on. Except the MP4-18 proved difficult to handle, was so tightly packaged that things kept melting and failed the FIA’s side impact crash tests twice. Oh dear.
While the new car ultimately never raced, a parallel effort was instigated to upgrade the previous year’s car, the MP4-17D taking Kimi Raikkonen to within a sniff of the title, two points down on Schumi. What might have been.
Nigel Mansell doesn’t fit at McLaren, 1995
Nigel Mansell was riding high in 1992, dominating the field and taking a decisive championship win for Williams. But come 1993, the usually mild-mannered Brummie got upset about arch-rival Alain Prost joining the illustrious (well, it was at the time) British outfit and flounced off to do a season of CART in the US.
He won that championship too, because why not, but 1994 was less successful, with an eighth-place finish. With the season finishing relatively early in the year, Nigel was left free to take the seat at Williams sadly vacated by the death of Ayrton Senna for the final three races of the year. He won the season finale at Adelaide after championship contenders Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill controversially boshed into each other.
But oh, 1995. Williams opted to go with Scottish youngster David Coulthard, so Mansell ended up at McLaren at the urging of title sponsor Marlboro. Unfortunately it turned out that Our Nige – not one of the latest generation of horse jockey-style waifs – didn’t actually fit in the MP4/10. Awkward.
McLaren mechanics took a hacksaw to the car and glued it back together (but with a bit more give in the cockpit, of course) in an impressive 33 days, for which Mansell was incredibly grateful and dominated the season, taking a furth…actually, no. He wasn’t happy with the pace and handling of the car and retired from McLaren after two races with the team.
F1 drivers go on strike, 1982
FISA, which ran Formula One on behalf of the FIA, had proposed new superlicence rules including a requirement to sign three-year contracts with teams and a ban on saying mean things about FISA.
Retreating back to their hotel in a coach, almost a full field of F1 drivers barricaded itself inside a function room, dragging in mattresses for a dormitory-style atmosphere with Gilles Villeneuve tickling the ivories for entertainment.
Eventually the drivers came out and raced, as FISA made a few key concessions on the licence proposals, but the problems rumbled on throughout the season – the next round in Argentina ended up getting cancelled because of the uncertainty around the South African race. Thankfully though everything got sorted out and now no one has any problems with Formula One.
F1 introduces new nose regulations, 2014
F1 cars of the mid-2010s were almost universally ugly thanks to the FIA’s baffling obsession with tinkering with nose regulations in order to improve some lofty notion of ‘the show’ and improve safety.
With the stepped noses of 2012/13, perhaps the sport’s bosses were hoping that they would scare cars out of the way, but further amendments the following year to lower the nose tip and led to much sniggering behind peoples’ hands.
The aesthetics of F1 car schnozzes in 2014 were uncharitably likened to anything from Gonzo off the Muppets to a tasty German sausage, via other seamier comparisons that our mothers wouldn’t thank us for mentioning on the internet.
The pinnacle of motorsport is used to controversy, but for the first time in its history it had to cope with being a bit of a laughing stock.Advertisement - Page continues below
Ligier loses its engines, 1987
Gallic outfit Ligier had enjoyed a few years of relative stability in the 1980s with its Renault engine deal, culminating in a 5th place championship finish in 1986 before the carmaker promptly left the sport.
A new deal with Alfa Romeo looked promising at first, but the team’s outspoken French driver Rene Arnoux publicly slagged off the engines, saying they could barely last two laps without blowing up, and chaos ensued.
The company had just been bought by Fiat, who didn’t want to be in F1 – the Italians saw their opportunity and pulled the plug, leaving Ligier with a mad scramble to find a new engine supplier, missing the first race. Its rebadged BMW units were called Megatrons, however, which is much cooler.
BAR can’t decide how to paint its cars, 1999
British American Tobacco arrived in F1 with a flourish in the late 1990s, buying out the once-great Tyrrell team and throwing money everywhere, hiring fading 1996 world champion Jacques Villeneuve in the process.
There was much sniggering about the team’s “A tradition of excellence” slogan and claims about winning races in its debut season. BAR immediately fell foul of the authorities, however, attempting to paint its cars in two different liveries to promote brands in the BAT portfolio.
The FIA decided that this was against the sport’s rules, following which the team attempted to bypass the appeal procedures and went straight to the European Commission. All very messy, but it would have been fine if the team had matched results to its lofty ambitions… actually BAR didn’t score a single point in its debut season. Whoops.
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Things fall apart in Argentina, 1980
It wasn’t as hot as 1955, but the 1980 Argentine GP was another scorcher, and the heat combined with the massive ground effect cars and wide tyres meant that chunks of the infield section of track started breaking up during the weekend. The cars literally sucked the asphalt off the ground.
The drivers briefly threatened to boycott the race, which ended up going ahead following slapdash repairs, and only seven out of 24 starters saw the finish. Alan Jones won the race on his way to the title, while a young Frenchman by the name of Alain Prost scored a point on his Formula One debut.
Similar track problems caused problems at the second round in Brazil, making for a chaotic start to the year. Following some high-profile accidents later in the season, the sport’s authorities banned ground-effect tech in 1981.