After all of the controversies and fallout in 2007, the very thought that Fernando Alonso would ever set foot in the McLaren team’s premises seemed about as likely as the Formula 1 teams unilaterally being able to achieve sensible cost containment measures.
And yet seven years after one of the most acrimonious divorces between a driver and team in the sport’s history, the two will reunite in 2015 as McLaren also gets set to welcome Honda back into the fold.
Alonso is himself no stranger to re-joining former employers. Ironically, it was his single drama-filled year with McLaren which prompted his move back to Renault, the team with whom he claimed fifteen of his race wins and back-to-back championship titles in 2005-6. But the Spaniard returned to a team whose competitive edge was waning, and he saw victory just twice in 2008: the first came by dint of the controversial ‘Crashgate’ scandal at the Singapore Grand Prix, while the second came next time around in soaking conditions at Japan. The following year was a disaster by Alonso’s expectations: the car was uncompetitive and he finished on the podium just once all year, marking a change of scenery and a five-year stint with Ferrari where he has failed to capture a third World Championship crown.
So will the second time around at McLaren exorcise the demons from 2007, or will old niggles return to the surface once again? Alonso isn’t the first driver to take a second bite at the apple; his predecessors and peers have enjoyed varying levels of success and failure in attempting a second marriage. Here are ten examples from the annals he should be considering…
10. Kimi Räikkönen
Ferrari (2007-2009; 2014-present)
After years of frustration and near-misses in claiming a maiden Drivers’ Championship title with McLaren, Kimi Räikkönen jumped ship to Ferrari in 2007 as Michael Schumacher’s replacement and immediately enjoyed success, becoming the first driver since Nigel Mansell in 1989 to win first time out for the Scuderia.
The in-fighting between the McLaren pairing of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton kept him in the championship hunt and he sneaked through to claim the title by one point in a thrilling finale at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Thereafter, big results became an increasingly rare prospect. He failed to defend his championship title in 2008 and finished third overall. The 2009 season was even worse with just a solitary victory thanks to a troublesome car and general disinterest from Räikkönen, who seemed unwilling to extend himself beyond the capabilities of the car.
Ferrari hired Alonso for the 2010 season and beyond, while Ferrari opted to release Räikkönen from further driving duties and so he spent two years driving (and occasionally crashing) in the World Rally Championship before making a return to F1 with Lotus in 2012. He claimed victory at Abu Dhabi and another in Australia the following year, with his form proving enough to tempt Ferrari into rehiring him alongside Alonso – the man who Ferrari sacked him for! – for the 2014 season.
The first year under the sport’s new turbo regulations proved a disaster for Ferrari and Räikkönen, and he finished twelfth overall in the standings with a best finish of fourth place. When compared against Alonso – who outscored him by a mammoth 105 points – it’s clear that not all of Räikkönen’s problems were down to the troubles of the F14T. The 2015 season and a new teammate in four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel will be make-or-break.
9. Pierluigi Martini
Minardi (1985; 1988-1991; 1993-1995)
The inclusion of this curly-haired and extremely underrated little Italian is perhaps a surprise, but Martini is one of a tiny handful of drivers to have had three distinct stints with the same team.
Martini is synonymous with the little Minardi team, scoring 16 of the 38 championship points the team achieved in its 21-year history. Having won the 1983 European Formula 3 Championship, Martini had a one-off outing with Toleman at the 1984 Italian Grand Prix in place of the suspended Ayrton Senna (he failed to qualify) before entering the top flight in earnest as Minardi also made its move to the big stage the following year.
Powered by a Motori Moderni V6 turbo, the team’s first car was hopelessly unreliable and off the pace and poor Martini’s lack of experience didn’t help matters either. Dropped by the team for 1986, he returned to Formula 3000 and was back on the F1 grid with Minardi in 1988. He promptly finished sixth in his comeback race – claiming the team’s first ever points’ finish – and thereafter the driver and team were an item, save for a single season he spent with the Scuderia Italia Dallara team in 1992.
Martini achieved many of the Minardi team’s milestones, claiming its sole front-row start (the United States GP of 1990), leading for one lap (Portugal 1989) and securing a pair of fourth places in 1991 to help the team secure seventh in the Constructors’ Championship standings, its best result. He had another hit-out with the team from mid-1993 – where he replaced the out-of-funds Fabrizio Barbazza – and stayed with the team until mid-1995, where he too fell victim to a cash crisis and was replaced by Pedro Lamy.
8. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
Sauber (1994-1996; 2003)
Frentzen entered Formula 1 in 1994 headlined as the only man who was ‘quicker than Schumacher’. It was a moniker which only rarely bore out, and a ten-year Grand Prix career netted him race wins with Williams (one in 1997) and Jordan (two in 1999).
His time in F1 was book-ended by stints with the Swiss Sauber team. Signed by team boss Peter Sauber to race for the team in its second season in Formula 1, Frentzen showed plenty of speed in his rookie year in 1994, claimed a fine maiden podium finish (for he and the team) at the 1995 Italian Grand Prix and did enough in 1996 to impress the dominant Williams team to join its roster in 1997.
It was not to be, and the marriage ended after two seasons. On the verge of re-signing with Sauber for the 1999 season, he was snaffled up by Jordan at the eleventh hour and showed what he was capable of with two wins and a late – but ultimately unsuccessful – tilt at the championship crown. The following eighteen months ended with him being sacked mid-season, and subsequent stints with Prost (2001) and Arrows (2002) precluded the shutdowns of both teams after a few races apiece.
He had a stand-in outing back at Sauber at the 2002 United States GP (replacing the suspended Felipe Massa) before returning full-time with the outfit in 2003. He outscored the much younger and less experienced Nick Heidfeld over the season, peaking with a lucky podium in the rain-affected race at Indianapolis. With no further offers on the table for 2004, his F1 career was over.
7. Gerhard Berger
Benetton (1986; 1996-1997) and Ferrari (1987-1989; 1992-1995)
The popular Gerhard Berger is the first of three drivers on this shortlist to have had two separate stints with two teams and to have achieved unique milestones for both: he is the first and last race-winner for Benetton, and the first wins of each Ferrari stint broke long winless droughts for the (then) notoriously mercurial Italian team.
After stints with the BMW-powered ATS and Arrows teams between 1983-1985, Berger’s big break came with a move to the new Benetton team in 1986, borne out of the team formerly known as Toleman. The lanky Austrian was quick and promising, and before the year was out he’d claimed his and the team’s maiden Grand Prix victory with a canny performance in Mexico.
His efforts earned him a call-up to Ferrari in 1987, and before that year was out, he was on the victory dais again: a fine win at Suzuka broke what was then a 38-race-long winless streak for the Scuderia, and he claimed three further race wins before joining McLaren as Ayrton Senna’s teammate between 1990-1991.
At the urging of Senna – who was quietly planning a future move to Ferrari (which was tragically never realised) – he returned to the red cars and somehow kept his sanity and speed despite ongoing frustrations and politicking at a team which barely resembled the competitive force it once was. The team had 58 races without a win when, finally, Berger broke the duck in 1994 with a dominant showing at Hockenheim.
He moved back to Benetton in 1996 in a straight swap with Michael Schumacher and kept his head in difficult times for the team as it struggled to cope with a loss of competitiveness without its German megastar behind the wheel. Granted, Berger was no Schumacher, but on his day he was mighty. Despite nursing a recurrent illness and still mourning the recent death of his father, Berger thrashed the field with his (and the team’s) final win at the 1997 German Grand Prix. He retired at the end of the season.
6. Giancarlo Fisichella
Jordan / Force India (1997; 2002-2003; 2008-2010); Benetton/Renault (1998-2001; 2005-2007)
The second of our ‘two team’ representatives, Fisichella’s Formula 1 career is a testament to endurance and ultimately unfulfilled potential.
After impressing in his rookie F1 season with Minardi in 1996, Fisichella was loaned to the Jordan team in 1997. After a slow start and a couple of accidents, he set about finding his feet and delivered a succession of outstanding drives against much more established competition. Helicoptered by manager Flavio Briatore into the Benetton team for 1998, his career ultimately never returned to the giddy heights of his early days, even though he would go on to claim three Grand Prix wins.
A four-year stint with Benetton delivered the odd podium finish and so he was back to Jordan in 2002, where an uncompetitive car ruined the inherent potential of its works Honda engine. Armed with customer Ford engines in 2003, Fisichella finally claimed a breakthrough – and extremely lucky – win at the rain-hit Brazilian Grand Prix, and he was off to Sauber in 2004.
His performances were good enough to see him knock back a contract offer from Williams and join Renault (the works-supported re-branded Benetton). Two years delivered two further wins, but he wasn’t mentally resilient enough against teammate Fernando Alonso and easily shaded by the Spaniard. Kept on for another year after Alonso moved to McLaren, he failed to dominate new teammate Heikki Kovalainen despite having the mantle of the team’s number-one driver.
So his career came almost full circle and back once again to what was left of the Jordan team, which was now in a new iteration as Force India after short-lived stints in its Midland/MF1/Spyker guises. An outstanding pole position and second-placed finish at Spa-Francorchamps in 2009 was the sole highlight; it was his last race for the team before he switched to Ferrari as the replacement for hapless stand-in Luca Badoer. Fisichella did little better.
5. Nigel Mansell
Williams (1985-1988; 1991-1992; 1994)
The Mansell-Williams partnership remains one of the most iconic – and at times, acrimonious – in Formula 1 history. All but three of the Englishman’s 31 Grand Prix victories came behind the wheel of a Williams car.
Having joined the team in 1985 after a long and unhappy stint at Lotus, Mansell claimed his first win for the team in 1985 and used it as a launchpad to challenge for the Drivers’ Championship crowns in 1986 and 1987; he finished runner-up in both, and then struggled with the team’s loss of Honda power in 1988 whereupon he moved to Ferrari at the end of the year.
After two years of being overshadowed by teammate Alain Prost, Mansell about-faced on his decision to retire from racing and engineered a return to Williams. He challenged for the championship but once again finished as runner-up, before the all-conquering Renault-powered FW14B handed him the 1992 World Championship title on a plate: he won the crown with five races to spare.
The team’s decision to sign Alain Prost for 1993 brought about another tantrum and so he quit F1 and headed to the US-based IndyCar scene, winning the title in his rookie year. Another return to Williams came in 1994 when he was entered in four races to ensure the grid had a headline driver in the wake of Ayrton Senna’s death. Despite being in his forties and not in peak physical condition, he still won on his last outing for the team at the Australian Grand Prix.
4. Mike Hawthorn
Ferrari (1953-1955; 1957-1958)
Along with Stirling Moss and Peter Collins, the bowtie-wearing Mike Hawthorn rode the crest of fame among British fans in the 1950s. While inconsistent at times, he was a formidable racer on his day: his maiden win against the more superior Juan Manuel Fangio at the 1953 French Grand Prix at Reims was off the back of a sparkling drive. He won one more time for the Scuderia the following year, before experimenting with stints in Vanwalls and Maseratis where he had a solitary podium finish to his credit.
He returned to Ferrari full-time in 1957 as teammate to long-time friend Collins, but the joy of the partnership ended when his compatriot was killed at the Nürburgring the following year. Despite claiming just one win all season, Hawthorn’s brace of second-placed finishes saw him become the first British driver to win the World Championship crown and he promptly announced his retirement from the sport. He was killed just months later in a car accident in early 1959.
3. Mario Andretti
Lotus (1968-1969; 1976-1980) and Ferrari (1971-1972; 1982)
The ultra-versatile Italian-American made his Formula 1 debut with Lotus in 1968 – and claimed pole for his second race at Watkins Glen. But his appearances over the next few years were sporadic while he concentrated on his domestic racing efforts and it was until 1975 where he started to become a regular fixture on the Formula 1 grid.
His second stint with Lotus started in 1976 and it took until 1978 when the all-conquering ground-effect Lotus 78 hit its stride. Ably supported by teammate Ronnie Peterson as his number-two, Andretti was on course to win the World Championship, sealing the deal in Italy only to have the achievement overshadowed by Peterson’s death a few days later after the Swede broke his legs in an horrific first corner pile-up.
The Lotus team’s competitiveness seriously waned over the following two seasons – he scored a solitary point in 1980 – before Mario made a poorly-judged move to Alfa Romeo in 1981. The partnership didn’t last and so he headed Stateside, earning a late-season call-up in 1982 to drive as replacement for injured Ferrari driver Didier Pironi. Aged 42, he put the car on pole position at his first attempt and went on to finish the race in third place.
2. Alain Prost
McLaren (1980; 1984-1989)
After winning the French and European F3 titles in 1979, Alain Prost was signed to McLaren for his maiden Formula 1 season. He impressed with points in his first two Grands Prix but when qualifying for the third – the South African GP – he suffered a suspension failure and crashed, breaking his wrist. This caused him to miss the Long Beach race but he was back in action in Belgium in May. He scored points at the British and Dutch GPs but at the end of the year suffered two further suspension failures (one of them while running third in Canada) and he decided to quit the team to take up an offer of a drive with Renault Sport, leaving the two teams to sort out the legal niceties.
Three years with the French outfit failed to deliver him the championship title, and so he moved back to McLaren – now under Ron Dennis’ management – and lost out to the title by half a point to teammate Niki Lauda. He broke the duck with the first of what would be four World Championship titles in 1985 with five Grand Prix wins, and was made to work harder in 1986 when he came from behind to snatch the title from the Williams drivers at the final race.
The 1987 season – McLaren’s final year with the Porsche-TAG turbo – proved to be a struggle, but the arrival of Honda power and Ayrton Senna stretched Prost as he and his teammate slugged it out for the 1988 crown as McLaren utterly dominated the season. Senna won the 1988 title, but Prost bounced back the following year, controversially colliding with the Brazilian in Japan to ensure it would be his. He moved to Ferrari in 1990 and was sacked before the end of the 1991 season, and after a one-year sabbatical he was back on the grid in 1993, collecting a fourth World Championship title for Williams.
1. Juan Manuel Fangio
Maserati (1953-1954; 1957-1958)
Still regarded as one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers in history, the man nicknamed El Maestro won five World Championship titles over an eight-year Grand Prix career for the likes of Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari and Mercedes.
Maserati delivered – in full or in part – three of those titles. After winning the 1951 title for Alfa Romeo, he was sidelined for the whole of 1952 after an accident before moving to Maserati in 1953, finishing runner-up to Alberto Ascari.
He won two races with the Italian carmaker in 1954 before switching to Mercedes mid-season and dominating that year and the next in the all-conquering W196 Silver Arrows.
A fourth World Championship title followed in 1956 – this time driving for Ferrari – before he returned to his Maserati roots in 1957, claiming four wins and a further two podiums over the seven-race season to win his fifth and final crown.
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