Any team would enjoy a special status if they have a long commitment to the sport that they are competing. When they have been competing in a sport for a long time, it also means that success is an integral part of the team’s heritage. Having a Constructor Championship Winning percentage of 29%, Drivers Championship winning percentage at 23% and an overall Winning percentage of 25%, it really takes a lot to drive for Ferrari. For some, it is a dream, and for others it’s their destiny.
Ever since its formation in 1929, Ferrari have competed in numerous motorsport series. Initially, it was founded to race cars that were produced by Alfa Romeo, though by 1947, they began constructing their own race cars. In 1947, the 1.5 L Tipo 125 became the first race car to cherish the Ferrari name. As you know it, ever since the inception of Formula 1 World Championship in 1950, Ferrari has competed in every season of the Championship.
Early seasons of Formula 1 wasn’t kind to the drivers, Fatal crashes were quite common, and the drivers had no safety and the likes of safety belt was missing from the cars. Ferrari wasn’t an exception to this era, it tasted the bitterness with few fatal accidents, but at the end of the first decade, Ferrari came out strong, and we know what followed. Ferrari as a constructor suffered 7 fatalities, with 4 of them coming in the first decade.
78 drivers have so far driven for Ferrari from the initial season in 1950. Of them, 9 drivers went onto win the Championship. This isn’t an amazing conversion ratio, but still it’s much better than most teams on the grid. We also have to remember that only 32 drivers have won the Driver’s Championship.
It’s also very interesting to know that majority of the champions have driven for Ferrari at some point in their career, if not having driven for them while winning it. This certainly means that the Ferrari drive is a destiny for many, and dream for others. Giuseppe Farina, the first World Champion of Formula 1 won the championship while driving for Alfa Romeo, but then moved to Ferrari in the year 1952, and he hence started this amazing trend.
Of the World Champions who didn’t drive for Ferrari at any point of their career in the yesteryears include Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Denny Hulme, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet Sr, and Ayrton Senna.
Ayrton Senna called Ferrari as the ‘Soul of Formula 1’, Senna was scheduled to join Ferrari from the 1996 season, and then eventually retire by the year 2000. It also emerged that Senna was in contact with Ferrari from the 1987 season, but various contractual obligations, along with the poor performance of Ferrari in that era, prevented Senna from joining Ferrari. It would have been really interesting to see the legacy of Senna shaping up in a different way. One of the Finest drivers in the ‘Soul of Formula 1’ could have been one heck of a story that we could have ever witnessed.
It’s not only about Senna, there are other Champions on the list who could have driven for Ferrari and the history books could have told us a different story, but these listed drivers are the Champions in their own right, some of them are far too underrated. Time and time again, we have to look at these drivers to know that Formula 1 is not just about Ferrari.
The man of few words, Jack Brabham probably tops the charts as the most underrated Champion of all time. He fought hard for his first Championship, not by pace or grit, but rather using opportunistic moves. The Legendary Moss was his main rival, and not many expected Brabham to emerge as the Champion. He went onto overshadow everyone on the grid in the following year to clinch his second Championship, but the real story was in 1966 when he became the first man in the history of Formula 1 to win a grand prix in his own team. The year 1966 further turned out to be a ‘moolah’ as he clinched his third World Championship. Perhaps age wasn’t on his side, Brabham was 40 when he won his third World Championship, and he retired from the competitive sport 4 years after this success story, but remained an aggressive force until his retirement. Brabham’s early days was inspiring to say the least, he worked in an engineering shop, then in a garage, and then joined the Air Force where he was trained to fill a wartime shortage of ‘Flight Mechanics’. He opened his own Engineering establishment in 1946, and was introduced to motorsport through his friend, and to whom Brabham built a car to race along the dirt ovals. Brabham moved to England in 1955, and after a successful talks with Cooper, Brabham became a driving force of Formula 1. Brabham’s technical knowledge was responsible for Copper to take the rear engine route, and even in his third Championship victory year, Brabham was involved in the technical side of his own team. All these happened in the era where Formula 1 was witnessing an fierce rivalry between the Italians and the mighty Germans. Maybe, Ferrari could have convinced this Australian to join them in the 1960’s? Would have been an interesting story in its own right.
With 33 Pole positions, 25 Wins of the 72 Entries, Jim Clark would emerge as a natural talent, certainly one of his kind or Probably on the similar lines of Fangio. Jim Clark sporadically made a mistake, and it wasn’t his cup of tea to be involved in an accident. For someone who was on a rolling contract, just because he would be free to leave the team whenever he felt, this kind of explains his mindset on racing. A farm boy, who is a natural talent, and a genius behind the wheels, his peers loved him for his qualities as a human. Despite his dominance at all circumstances, Clark often stated that he is baffled with his pace, especially when the car isn’t upto the mark. Clark nearly considered quitting racing altogether on two circumstances, one, as he battled through the worst weekend of Formula 1’s history at Spa in 1960, and again in the following year, when he was blighted by his involvement in a collision at Monza that took the life of Ferrari’s Wolfgang von Trips and 14 spectators. His elevation as a star came in the year 1965, when he dominated the Indianapolis 500. Despite being shy, and hated to be in the spotlight, Jim Clark was loved by the public, and his sudden death left many in shock. His loyalty to Colin Chapman was never to be questioned, Clark wasn’t technically sound, and he looked up to Chapan for technical solutions, and the two shared an amazing bond. Perhaps, the less competitive season in 1966 where he decided to leave the sport for the first time for being uncompetitive, and could have been Ferrari’s opportunity to grab this natural talent.
Ferrari wasn’t actually struggling in this era of mid 60’s to say the least, drivers were winning the races, and they bagged a Championship in 1964. Their struggles only amplified in the late 60’s when their drivers were struggling to win even the odd races. Things turned to be slightly better in the early 70’s when there were there or thereabouts, but the performance was largely inconsistent. This could be due to the lack of continuity post the 1966 season, Surtees retired after a row with the Team’s manager Eugenio Dragoni, and in the following season, Chris Amon, Mike Parkes, and Lorenzo Bandini were the driving force of this team. Perhaps, after the retirement of Surtees from his job at Ferrari, the team could have opted for the likes of Jim Clark who could have lifted the team’s morale with his sheer pace. The other potential driver could have been Graham Hill who by then won a World Championship, and suffered a disastrous season, and was contemplating a switch to his former team Lotus. He eventually joined Team Lotus for the 1967 season, and helped the team to rebuild to its former glory during its devastating times as the team lost its motivation due to fatal crashes of Jim Clark, and Mike Spence.
Graham Hill had a story of his own, he joined the racing fraternity via the mechanical side, and had to work his way to becoming a driver. Hill hardly knew to drive a road car, and didn’t have the finances to pursue his racing ambitions, which ironically emerged within himself after he put a Formula 3 to its paces around the Brands Hatch circuit in 1953. Hill joined a racing school as a Mechanic, and soon became an instructor and that’s where he met Colin Chapman and hence joined the Team Lotus as a mechanic, but was awarded an occasional race drive. That wasn’t his ambition, and to quench his thirst, he joined BRM. His determination and hard work paid off as the team started to punch above its weight, and Hill started to win races, and eventually a Championship. This propelled his way to the league of the mighty drivers, and his quick wit along with his antics was loved by one and all. His playboy lifestyle was perhaps the contradictory of Jim Clark’s low key lifestyle. His fitting reply to all his critics was at the 1968 season when the devastated Lotus team was looking for a reason to stay motivated, and that’s when Hill rose up to the challenge to clinch his second World Title. Perhaps, Ferrari should have tried their luck to lure Hill into their family, but going by the history books, just an simple offer could have done the job, and Hill could have been Ferrari’s solution.
Perhaps one of the worst years of Ferrari followed from the year 1967 with Lorenzo Bandini crashed, and succumed to his injuries at the Monaco Grand Prix when he was trapped under his burning car. The year deteriorated to an worse possible way when Mike Parkes suffered career ending injuries at the Belgian Grand Prix, and the team’s other driver Ludovico Scarfiotti temporarily retired from racing after witnessing the crash. Ferrari continued with Chris Amon for the 1968 season who led several races, but victory wasn’t a possible affair for him, although his teammate Jacky Ickx was more consistent and finished in Top 4 in 5 races. Ferrari sold its road car division to Fiat over the summer of 1968, and the team competed in the 1969 season which was when the transition was happening and Ferrari was restructuring its team to return to its former glory. The year 1970 was better with an all new Engine, and the return of Jacky Ickx who went onto finish the Championship in a respectable second place, although the victory was in sight until the very end. Ferrari struggled to perform for the next few years, as further transition took place, with a lad named Luca di Montezemolo taking over as team principal in the year 1974 and the gusty Niki Lauda joined the team in the same year.
Around this time, new champions were crowned as Denny Hulme, Jochen Rindt, and Emerson Fittipaldi won the championships until the year 1974. It has to be noted that Graham Hill was still racing at this point of time, and although wasn’t exactly the same driver as he was before his major accident in the year 1969, Hill went onto break few more records, with the notable being the ‘Triple Crown’ of Motorsport. Hill started his own team in the year 1973, as there wasn’t a concrete offer from any of the works team.
Maybe Ferrari could have roped in Graham Hill as a driver cum Technical advisor to further help the team to regain its lost glory?
The late 1970’s wasn’t a lovable chapter of Ferrari, Niki Lauda returned from his career threatening injuries and dominated the 1977 World Championship, and he had to overcome several odds including that of the political scenario within the team, as his teammate was more favored, and his relations within the team wasn’t at its best. They managed to produce bankable cars in the following years, as the team had to cope up with the rising technological innovations that its peers were bringing out to the track. The Team lost the 1978 World Championship to Lotus and its Ground Effect cars, and the following year was an most underrated year of all time for Ferrari. Jody Scheckter battled extremely hard and fair to clinch the driver’s championship. We have to feel for Jody Scheckter who hasn’t got his due recognition in that year.
The team lost ground in the following year, with the 1981 season being the distinct improvement over its predecessor for Ferrari, but the real domination occurred in the 1982 season when the team learnt its lessons with the new chassis and new power plant from its previous year. However, the internal turmoil proved to be too fatal for the team, and the team lost its two drivers, but fortunately though, they won the Constructors Championship. The following year, the team retained the constructors championship, but neither of its drivers were able to challenge for the Drivers Championship. The team wasn’t able to challenge either the McLaren or Williams from the 1984 season, although they managed to get into the Top 4 places until the 1999 season when the era of Schumacher begun.
This particular tenure belonged to the drivers like Mario Andretti, Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg and Nelson Piquet. Mario Andretti drove for Ferrari, and again made a brief return in 1982. Alan Jones was involved in a gusty battle with his teammate over the course of 1981 season, and then retired from Formula 1 before making a brief return in 1983 and 1985 seasons, and eventually returned to Formula 1 for a full time in the following season. However, his limited appearances with Arrows and Team Haas racing wasn’t up to the mark, although he was on running for a podium whenever the car permitted. Keke Rosberg won the World Championship in 1982 while driving for Williams, and for the last season of his career, switched to McLaren. Both these drivers were in the peak of their career, and they dictated their career terms.
Perhaps Alan Jones could have made a switch to Ferrari if there was an opportunity?
Actually there was two chances for Alan Jones to drive those prancing horses. In 1978, Ferrari wanted an American driver, and contacted Mario Andretti who rejected the offer to sign up for Lotus. Alan Jones was given a contract, but then Ferrari abandoned the contract in favor of Gilles Villeneuve which proved to be a blessing in disguise for Jones as he went onto win the World Championship. Again in 1982, Enzo Ferrari wanted Alan Jones to replace the injured Pironi, but this time, Alan Jones had rejected the offer which went to Mario Andretti.
Next up was Keke Rosberg who could have never seen a Ferrari move, as he considered a team that could give him a chance to fight for the Championship, and Ferrari wasn’t an obvious choice in this short tenure. To add more spice to this story, it was revealed that Keke wanted his son to stay at Mercedes rather than opt for Ferrari, and play a second fiddle to Alonso.
The last of the drivers in the era that ended with Senna, and could have driven for Ferrari was Nelson Piquet Sr. As Piquet himself admitted in his recent interviews, he never recovered from the Imola crash in 1987, and later went towards the opportunities that fetched him money. Add to this fact, Piquet’s controversial interview on ‘Playboy’ fetched him no prizes either.
Among the modern day Champions who never raced for Ferrari include the likes of Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Häkkinen, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and the modern phenomenon Sebastian Vettel. There wasn’t a real chance for Jacques Villeneuve or Mika Hakkinen to join Ferrari, and it was for obvious reasons. Jacques Villeneuve was widely expected by the public to follow his father’s footsteps, but the only time he drove a Ferrari was at the Fiorano test track in 2012 where he drove the Ferrari 312 T4 driven by his father in the 1979 season.
Jenson Button has a long desire to join the prancing horses, and the Italian team too expressed their desire on Jenson Button on a positive way, especially after the 2009 season. But it has to be noted that there were countless opportunities for Ferrari to sign Button, and nothing progressed so far in these years, and it would be highly unlikely to see this Brit at the Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have equal chances for a Ferrari drive in the near future. In all likelihood, with Mercedes shaping up pretty well, and with the immense Technical resources on their table, Hamilton could see out his career at Mercedes.
Could Vettel be the potential candidate to replace Alonso/Raikkonen for the year 2015?
With their depleting technical staff, Red Bull will have a hard task of keeping their position at the top, and it has to be seen if Adrian Newey can keep the team at its pinnacle or if they bow out to their mighty challengers. If Newey can keep the team on top, Vettel could stay with the team, and in those circumstances, we could see the emergence of Hulkenberg and Bianchi to partner either of Raikkonen or Alonso for the 2015 season.