February 21, 2023
Richard Foegele

Formula One: The Making of Champions

What does it all come down to?

With the start of the F1 season looming and Season 5 of “Drive to Survive” as a prequel debuting on Netflix on Friday, February 24th, will we see a new Champion crowned in 2023? Can Max Verstappen do The Triple or will Sir Lewis Hamilton achieve that elusive 8th Championship? Can Ferrari deliver a car capable of giving Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz a Title shot? And with a competitive car under him, will 2022 race winner George Russell take the fight to his multi-Championship teammate?

What makes a true F1 Champion? The Driver, the Car or the Team?

For many, Juan Manuel Fangio is considered to be the greatest Grand Prix Champion of all time. He won 5 World Championships in 4 different makes of car (Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes and Ferrari) in an era when the emphasis on driving far outweighed the car’s performance.

Juan Manuel Fangio was an Argentinian with Italian heritage whose 5X F1 Championships stood tall for 45 years before Michael Schumacher earned his 6th Title in 2003

The 1960’s saw the introduction of smaller, lighter cars with engines moved to the rear. The innovative British engineer Colin Chapman’s Team Lotus won no fewer than 8 Constructor Championships in 15 seasons between 1963 and 1978. One of the strongest pairings, not only at Team Lotus but in the history of F1, was Jim Clark/Colin Chapman. Grand Prix Championships in both ‘63 and ‘65 and a famous Indianapolis 500 win demonstrated that the Lotus-Clark combination was virtually unbeatable. Clearly the best Driver of his generation, Clark’s career was sadly cut short by a fatal crash in 1968.

Versatile F1 driver Jim Clark and engineer-founder of Lotus Cars, Colin Chapman

Aerodynamics had taken center stage by the 70’s, and it was again Chapman who moved to the forefront with the design of the Lotus 79. Piloted by Mario Andretti and Sweden’s Ronnie Peterson, the Lotus 79 dominated the 1978 season with Andretti winning the Title. Despite having the best car, Andretti also benefited from team orders forcing teammate Peterson to “stay behind” the American.

Team-mates Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson in the Lotus 79

Technology jumps in the 80’s brought on much safer cars, with the advent of the carbon chassis and refining of the turbo charged engine, with McLaren becoming leaders on both fronts. The 80’s also spawned great driver rivalries, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost being the most prolific and toxic at times. Three Driver Championships apiece were earned for the McLaren pairing, with Prost taking a fourth Title in 1993 with the dominant Williams FW15C.

Teammates Brazilian Ayrton Senna and Frenchman Alain Prost came together twice in Championship-deciders

Synonymous with winning in the 90’s was Adrian Newey, whose designs captured no less than six F1 Constructor Championships. Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Häkkinen all became Driver Champions in cars penned by the immensely talented Newey.

Adrian Newey designed F1 winning race cars on a super-sized drafting table. He works in half scale, preferring to see the whole car in front of him instead of sections on a computer

The new millennium brought to the forefront the age of Michael Schumacher. Securing two F1 Titles for the Benetton Team, the young German went on to end a 21-year Driver’s Championship drought for the Scuderia in 2000. The additional 5 titles with Ferrari gave Schumacher the distinction of the most F1 Driver Championships at 7. It was Spanish Driver Fernando Alonso’s Renault that stopped the Ferrari domination, winning successive World Titles in 2005 and 2006. Alonso’s advantage was the ability to turn on the undesirable grooved tires of that era.

Michael Schumacher took his 7th World Title at the Belgian Grand Prix

Beverage manufacturer Red Bull took centerstage in 2010, winning not only the Manufacturer’s Title, but also the Driver’s Title with Germany’s Sebastian Vettel. The next 3 years would see a repeat of both Titles for Vettel. His ability to utilize the extra down force created by the blown diffuser in the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull gave him a distinct advantage over his competition.

Sebastian Vettel and his remarkable engineer, Adrian Newey, embrace

After a 55 year absence, Mercedes returned to Formula One in 2010 with Lewis Hamilton joining the Silver Arrows from Team McLaren in 2013. After a tough baptism, Mercedes got it right with a power unit superior to anything else on the grid in 2014, eventually resulting in 6 Driver Championships (plus 1 title from his McLaren tenure) for the knighted Hamilton.

An emotional moment for Britain’s Sir Lewis Hamilton as he clinched his 7th World Title in Turkey

The past two seasons have seen Red Bull Racing, aligned with young sensation Max Verstappen, return to its former years of domination. Now 2X F1 Champion Verstappen exhibits similar characteristics of a Michael Schumacher: a ruthless, no-nonsense warrior approach, sometimes to the detriment of his teammate.

F1 Champion, Max Verstappen has been crowned twice in the last 2 years. Heading into the 2023 season, he is only 25 years old

Could a Stewart, a Lauda, a Hamilton or any other F1 Champion win without a great team behind them? Probably not. In past seasons we have seen “one off” Champions at the right time with the best car, but no chance of a repeat performance. The average F1 fan only sees the Driving aspect, but behind the scenes, the building of a Team and a Car around a Driver is what makes success repeatable.

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About the Author

Richard is a life-long motor-racer with experience in photography, filmmaking and engineering. His friends sometimes affectionately call him "Foegepedia" for his knowledge of the sport.

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