Five F1 Driver/Team Combinations You Probably Forgot
Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. Jim Clark and Lotus. Jackie Stewart and Tyrrell. There are innumerable driver-team combinations in F1 that go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong (sorry). And then there are others that make you go, ‘wait, what, really?’ These are just a handful of the latter.
- Ayrton Senna and Toleman (1984)
- Nigel Mansell and McLaren (1995)
- Michael Schumacher and Jordan (1991)
- Fernando Alonso and Minardi (2001)
Okay, now, we don’t often do this with Top 10 lists, but there are a few examples we should address. Yes, given their connections with McLaren, Williams, Ferrari and (deep breath) Renault-McLaren-Renault again-Ferrari-McLaren again…respectively, these examples may seem eyebrow raising in hindsight. However, given the ‘humble beginnings’ or ‘downturn in form’ that are so often written into the story arcs of F1’s elite drivers, these connections are now so well known that to include them in this list would be disingenuous. Or, y’know, lazy.
All clear? Cool, on with the show.
1. Nelson Piquet and McLaren (1978)
- Notable teams: Brabham (1979-1985); Williams (1986-1987)
‘He was one of F1’s most decorated champions. Why was Nelson Piquet never signed by McLaren?’
Well, he was. Sort of.
According to a Sky Sport’s interview with four-time World Champion Alain Prost in 2013, the ’88 McLaren seat that eventually went to Ayrton Senna was originally earmarked for Piquet. And yeah, that does make sense, given the Brazilian’s commanding ’87 run, his toxic relationship with then-Williams teammate Nigel Mansell, and Piquet’s solid relationship with Honda. Why wouldn’t McLaren want to snap up the reigning World Champion?
In a word, ‘Senna’, and while the epochal Brazilian went on to set F1’s record books – and, on occasion, his reputation – ablaze with McLaren, Piquet moved to Lotus for ’88 and ’89 before sealing his final three GP wins with Benetton in ’90 and ’91.
Interestingly though, ’88 was not the first time McLaren and Nelson Piqet had crossed paths. Following a one-off maiden run with Ensign at the German Grand Prix in 1978, the future three-time World Champion spent the next three races racing a McLaren M23 entered by independents, BS Fabrications. Two DNFs and an 8th at Italy didn’t exactly scream world championship winning-pedigree, but Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone had seen enough to offer the young Brazilian a season contract for 1979.
Two years later, Piquet was World Champion. And it wouldn’t have been possible without McLaren. Sort of.
2. Mario Andretti and Williams (1982)
- Notable teams: Lotus (1968-1969, 1976-1980); Ferrari (1971-1972, 1982)
Don’t let the Constructors’ Championship trophy fool you, 1982 was not a good year for Ferrari. The whole FISA vs. FOCA saga (we haven’t got room to run through the entire thing here so we’ll come back to that another time) led to all but 14 cars boycotting that year’s San Marino Grand Prix. Ironically, this was a move that helped produce one of the sport’s most famous on-track duels between Ferrari teammates Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi. Unfortunately, the fallout from THAT indirectly led to the former’s death on-track at Zolder two weeks later, and the latter’s career-ending shunt in the wet at Hockenheim that August. While the Frenchman was leading the championship. Acute back pain even side-lined substitute Patrick Tambay at Dijon.
Seriously, 1982 was not a good year for Ferrari.
The Italian-born American that helped drag the Scuderia out of the doldrums? 1978 champion and all-round motorsport badass Mario Andretti, who donned scarlet for the final two rounds of the ’82 season and took a memorable pole position on his first start with Ferrari in over a decade. At sodding Monza, no less! An eventual 3rd was the cherry atop a very emotional cake, and it remains a moment well-thumbed in F1’s history books.
What many Ferrari fans would like you to forget though is that theses two races astride a prancing horse weren’t the only F1 starts for Andretti that year. The then-IndyCar championship contender had actually made his GP return six months earlier as a one-off favour for Williams following the shock retirement of Carlos Reutemann. Long Beach ’82 won’t be making Mario’s highlight reel any time soon though, the American great qualifying a disappointing 14th before hitting the wall on lap 18.
3. Marcus Ericsson and Caterham F1 Team (2014)
- Notable teams: Sauber/Alfa Romeo (2015 to present)
Well, this seems timely, given that American powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing has just signed the Swedish racer to drive a third car in the 2020 IndyCar season. A return to Formula 1 racing seems unlikely any time soon then, despite Marc Ericsson continuing his third driver role with Alfa Romeo Racing (formerly Sauber), a team he has been a part of since 2015.
Contrary to popular belief though, AlfSauber is not where the Swedish racer’s F1 tenure began, and chances are you’ve forgotten Ericsson’s debut campaign with the equally forgettable Caterham F1 Team in 2014. Though there were flashes of speed, the deficiency of Caterham’s CT05 swan song meant points were never a consideration, 11th at Monaco as good as it got. With liquidation pending, the British-cum-Malaysian squad missed two of the last three races altogether, and Ericsson was benched for all of them.
So, why is the IndyCar rookie on the list? Well, ironically – or brutally – while Ericsson’s part-season in the Caterham is rarely talked about, his teammate for that year’s Belgian Grand Prix often is. Spa 2014 marks the sole F1 entry for three-time Le Mans winner, André Lotterer.
Still not buying it? Okay, how about this: Marcus Ericsson was the last driver to ever complete an official F1 practice session for 2009 World Champions, Brawn GP, before the team morphed into Mercedes GP for 2010. And with the title-winning BGP001 no less. Just how memorable is that Caterham season sounding now?
4. Sebastian Vettel and BMW Sauber (2007)
- Notable teams: Red Bull Racing (2009 to 2014); Ferrari (2015 to present)
This may smack of hypocrisy given our ‘Honourable mentions’, but as this was a one-race deal AND set two Formula 1 records in the process, we felt it warranted inclusion.
An official BMW test driver for 2007, a young Sebastian Vettel received his F1 call-up for that year’s United States Grand Prix, following a high speed accident for regular driver Robert Kubica at the previous round in Canada. A solid run it was too, the future four-time champ setting the fourth fastest time in free practice, qualifying 7th and finishing 8th at Indianapolis to collect his first (of so many) World Championship points. Red Bull Racing, sufficiently impressed with its young driver development protégé, drafted Vettel into the Toro Rosso seat of a vacating Scott Speed four rounds later in Hungary, and just one year later, the young German collected a remarkable maiden win for the former Minardi team in the downpour at Monza. A record-breaking run with Red Bull Racing awaited.
As for his BMW race debut, young Master Vettel was 19 years, 349 days old when he scored his first F1 point, the youngest in history to do so at that time. His other record from that weekend meanwhile, which will probably survive intact, is the fine he received for speeding in the pit lane…SIX seconds into his Grand Prix career.
5. Alan Jones and Arrows (1983)
- Notable teams: Williams (1978-1981); Team Haas (1985-1986)
Bored of the travel and a critic of the runaway train that was ground effect, Williams’ first World Champion Alan Jones left the F1 paddock seemingly for good at the end of 1981 in favour of an Australian GT Championship – every round of which he won – and his 2,200-acre cattle farm in Melbourne for 1982. Well, until boredom struck anyway.
Having missed the Ferrari call-up that eventually went to Mario Andretti that year (see above), Jones famously made his F1 return in 1986 with the original Team Haas USA, competitive spark seemingly relit. One that was comprehensively beaten to death by a woefully unreliable turbo Ford V6.
What people tend to forget though is that Haas wasn’t the first team to coax the ’80 World Champion out of retirement. Like Mario Andretti before him, Jones’ original GP return was an official one-off run at Long Beach, and in the Aussie’s case, it was for Arrows in 1983. It went as well as you’d imagine. “Too many barbies and Fosters Lager” by his own admission, plus a broken femur caused while horseback riding, meant the former Williams man was completely knackered by lap 58 and unable to complete the remaining 55km. A promised big money sponsor failed to materialise and Jones had just one more run in the Arrows A6 before disappearing back to Melbourne.
As for Arrows, the sport’s perennial underdogs eventually completed a mighty 24 seasons in Formula 1 before finally closing its doors midway through 2002. Among its most popular cars was the A21 from the 2000 season, examples of which are now up for auction at RM Sotheby’s.
Images courtesy of McLaren, Williams, Marco’s Formula 1 Page, Jon Super and BMW Motorsport. If we’ve missed any others, be sure to let us know in the comments.