Formula 1 World Champions pride themselves on making the next season as glorious as their last one. And the list of people that have had consecutive glories contains some very big names: Mika Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Juan Manuel Fangio, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. However, some drivers didn’t win consecutive titles. Among them were some shocking defences. Here we look at six of F1's worst title defences.
1. Jody Scheckter: The first and only champion born in the continent of Africa, South African Jody Scheckter won the ultimate prize in 1979. Driving the Ferrari 312T3 for the first two rounds of the season and the 312T4 for the remaining 13, he picked up six podiums, three of which were victories, and scored points in all but three races.
The most consistent driver of that season spent the following year with car number 1, the title of World Champions, but his defence wasn't worthy of even a back marker. His stand out performance of the season came at the 1980 United States Grand Prix with a 5th place finish, his solitary points result of the season. He failed to add to this tally in the remaining 10 rounds and as a result finished 19th in the standings. To top it all off, at the 13th round of the season, Canada, he failed to even escape Pre-Qualifying and hence didn't start the race, his only DNQ in his 9 year career.
While the 312T5 was much less competitive than its predecessor, failing to rack up any podiums and only eight points all season between both drivers - 105 less than last season - proved enough to convince the 1979 Champion to hang up his gloves and call time on an otherwise glittering career.
2. James Hunt: Whilst the season after his triumph in 1976 may not be a horrendous one, it's more the following years that fail to live up to any expectation. Three victories and a further two podiums were a decent haul, however, considering he only had one other points finish and only eight finishes all season (a less than 50% finishing rate), the stats do show the incredible lack of consistency in "Hunt the Shunt's" season.
The bottom line was that once he had the title he didn't care as passionately as he cared for the parties and the girls. Ultimately, he spent a further two seasons in F1 as a driver with only one podium and eight points before turning his attention to commentary until he sadly passed away in 1993. RIP James.
3. Sebastian Vettel: A four time World Champion who won them all back-to-back, how can he feature on a worst title defence list? 2014, however, was by far and away the little indentation in the formidable armour of Seb Vettel. He was partnered by Daniel Ricciardo, an Australian in his third season in F1. Interestingly Vettel was also promoted from Toro Rosso in his third season.
Throughout the season Mercedes F1 dominated and Renault-engined cars fell by the wayside, this all contributed to Vettel having his first winless season since his debut year in 2007. He did pick up a second place in Singapore and third places in Malaysia, Canada and Japan, however, Ricciardo clocked up three wins (Canada, Belgium and Hungary) and a further five podium finishes. Ricciardo also crossed the line in second place on his Red Bull debut at his home round of Australia, however, due to an illegal file filter on the car he was disqualified hours later.
2015 proved to be another one without a title for Red Bull and as for Vettel's switch to Ferrari? I'm glad to report he seems back to his ultimate best.
4. Niki Lauda: To retire, return and win another title was what Michael Schumacher dreamt of when he returned to the sport in 2010. For him it never payed off. However, for Lauda it did: he had a duel with Alain Prost in 1984 and he won, taking his third title with it.
The 1985 season consisted of 16 races for the Austrian to defend his number 1 status. His season started as it was destined to go on: a fourth place finish in round three following two retirements. His second points finish, a fifth place, was achieved after six consecutive retirements.
The lack of luck was laughable. Even worse the following three races yielded how many finishes? Just one. The Dutch Grand Prix was his third and final points scoring result of the season, and boy did he do it in style with a victory by 0.2 seconds at Zandvoort. So with 5 races left in his final season, he retired from the next one, surprise surprise. Belgium was next and this one was even worse. A stuck throttle pedal led to a crash which cause a wrist injury. He was not permitted to enter this round or the next round, the European Grand Prix.
He was cleared to return to race the final two rounds but, predictably, he retired from both. 3 finishes in 16, the record of a champion. To rub salt into the wounds team mate Prost was the man to take the title off him after he only had 3 DNFs (the exact number of Lauda’s finishes).
5. Nelson Piquet (thrice): Heading into 1982, Piquet was Brabham's newest world champion. However, the season was not a shadow of the one previous. Despite claiming a victory in Canada and a second at the following round in Holland, his season was an unmitigated disaster. Only two other points finishes in Belgium and Switzerland (which was held in Dijon, France considering Motorsport is illegal in Switzerland), the rest of the races were: disqualification at his home race in Brazil, a DNQ in Detroit and the rest were retirements. Only four finishes left him languishing in 11th place on 20 points.
The following season he returned to the good luck with another title in 1983. ‘'84, however, was once again 30 points below his total from the title winning season. This time, however, he scored 9 points more than in '82 with 29 points and seven finishes, five of which in the points, to take him to 5th place in the standings.
It was 1987 before he next took the title and 1988 was as per a poor defence. A move to Lotus proved unsuccessful with only three podiums, all of which were third place results, and a further four points finishes. The season’s haul was a meagre 22 points and a sixth place in the standings, a reduction of over 50 points from his tally whilst at Williams. While you cannot argue Piquet's knack for winning the title, defending was a whole different ball game.
6. Damon Hill: A fight with Michael Schumacher in 1994 that went down to the final round at Australia, for it to end in a crash and hand the title to Michael. He was second to Schumacher again in 1995, however, much further behind than the season previous, many wondered is Damon would get his title. In 1996, however, he finally took the title much to the delight of himself and his team.
Williams were not quite as chuffed as Damon though as he was dropped for 1997. Desperate to defend his title, Hill chose his seat for the season. McLaren, Benetton and Ferrari were all turned down in favour of a move to Arrows, a switch that resulted in only one podium all season and only seven points, a drop to 12th and 90 off his previous total. The move only lasted one season before he jumped ship to Jordan and after two years there he retired altogether with only one victory in the three years post-World Championship winning years.
Other Notable Mentions
Lewis Hamilton - 2009. An uncompetitive car left him with next to nothing in the first half of the season. Late season glories do just enough to get him off our list.
Alberto Ascari - 1954. Spending most of the season waiting for the Lancia car to be made. He ended the year with 1.14 points.
Jack Brabham - 1961. Regulation changes ruined his chance of a hat trick, four points was his haul for the year and was lucky to not be on the list. Founded his own team for the following season with much better results.
by Matthew Ganon