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Formula 1

Constructors’-only F1 triumphs are almost always agony or tragedy

by Matt Beer
7 min read

“I don’t think there’s a single employee within our business that would have traded a first place in the constructors’ for this drivers’ championship,” said Christian Horner as he mused on Red Bull-Honda being defeated by Mercedes in the 2021 Formula 1 constructors’ championship even as Max Verstappen denied Lewis Hamilton the drivers’ crown.

“Everybody – when you see the reaction that Max had when he visited the factory – is so proud of what he’s achieved.

“Of course the constructors’ has huge importance to it because of that revenue distribution, we’re talking millions and millions of dollars in difference between a first and a second place, for example.

“But the prestige of the drivers’ world championship, that’s the big one.

“That’s the one that you really want and that’s why it meant so much.”

Those thoughts should probably be taken in the context of how bitter the Red Bull vs Mercedes/Horner vs Toto Wolff situation was by the end of the season. In the immediate aftermath of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finish, before the extent of Mercedes’ fury became clear, a more magnanimous Horner had said “it feels like the right result that the championships were split”.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

But Horner also has a point.

Championship doubles are by far the most common outcome in F1. In the 64 seasons where the constructors have had a title to chase too, it’s been won by the champion driver’s team on 53 occasions.

And it’s striking that in most of the 11 seasons when the drivers’ and constructors’ titles went to different teams, there was an especially agonising finish or even a tragedy that hit the team that won the constructors’ but lost the drivers’.

The only other time it’s happened in the 21st century is also the only other time this century that the title has been decided on the very last lap: 2008.

Until Lewis Hamilton slipped past Timo Glock in sight of the flag at Interlagos, Ferrari was on for a title double.

The fact it still sealed the constructors’ – its last F1 title of any kind to this day – was little consolation as Ferrari, Brazil and Felipe Massa wept together that evening.

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Brazil, Sunday Press Conference

That may have been a particularly dramatic title denouement, but the reason Ferrari won the constructors’ and Hamilton’s McLaren team didn’t was relatively prosaic.

Ferrari’s outgoing champion Kimi Raikkonen and Massa were a pretty evenly matched pair even though Raikkonen wasn’t on his 2007 form. At McLaren, Heikki Kovalainen had disappointed after being plucked from Renault when the relationship with Fernando Alonso became untenable, and he was only seventh in a championship team-mate Hamilton won.

1999 was the same scenario of a McLaren driver winning but Ferrari taking the teams’ title, but in more frustratingly traumatic circumstances.

Michael Schumacher’s brilliance either side of his broken leg, Eddie Irvine’s career-best performance when elevated to Ferrari number one status and Mika Salo’s great results on low-downforce tracks when standing in for Schumacher added up to a constructors’ title Ferrari still probably wouldn’t have won if McLaren’s champion Mika Hakkinen and particularly his team-mate David Coulthard had been less wasteful with what was generally the fastest car.

That ’99 constructors’ crown still ended Ferrari’s F1 title drought but made it even clearer that Schumacher would’ve stopped its even longer period without a drivers’ title a year sooner but for his injury.

Japan Grand Prix Suzuka (jpn) 29 31 10 1999

The late Frank Williams was among the team bosses most famous for prizing the constructors’ title. That was just as well given the times his team won that one yet saw the drivers’ crown slip away in frustrating circumstances.

Nigel Mansell’s puncture and Nelson Piquet’s precautionary tyre change in Adelaide in 1986 let McLaren’s Alain Prost pinch the drivers’ title from them. How often they’d taken points off each other contributed too, underlined by Williams taking a dominant constructors’ championship as a fading and luckless Keke Rosberg didn’t contribute much to McLaren’s tally.

Warring Williams drivers denying each other points and then it all falling apart in the finale was the theme of 1981 too.

Carlos Reutemann’s still unfathomable tumble to eighth in the Las Vegas finale let Brabham driver Piquet grab the drivers’ championship but didn’t cost Williams the constructors’ as his team-mate Alan Jones dominated the race.

Brabham’s second driver policy being more ‘irrelevant no-hoper’ than even ‘supportive number two’ at that point (Piquet’s team-mate Hector Rebaque didn’t get near the podium all year) had left that door very much open for Williams. But it really should’ve kept the drivers’ title too had Reutemann’s year not ended so strangely.

Williams’s other constructors’ win/drivers’ defeat was tinged with tragedy and decided by injustice.


Michael Schumacher was effectively a one-car team at Benetton in 1994 between intended team-mate JJ Lehto’s injury, stand-in Jos Verstappen’s inexperience and late-season roll of the dice Johnny Herbert non-scoring.

That meant that even though Ayrton Senna was unable to score for Williams before his tragic death, Damon Hill with support from Coulthard and Mansell still managed to lead the team to an emotional constructors’ victory. Yet the way Hill was denied the drivers’ crown – as Schumacher turned in with a damaged car while being overtaken having hit an Adelaide wall – took the shine off it.

May 14 : S1 E9: Schumacher v Hill - 1994's controversial ending

The 1994 season was one of four where a tragedy was a significant factor in a team missing a championship double.

Either Gilles Villeneuve or Didier Pironi would surely have been champion for Ferrari in 1982 had Villeneuve lived or Pironi not had his career-ending crash.

Patrick Tambay and Mario Andretti still ensured Ferrari was the champion constructor, but Rosberg was drivers’ champion for a Williams team with no constructors’ hope (it was only fourth there) after Reutemann’s abrupt early-season retirement and replacement Derek Daly’s struggles.

In 1973, Lotus had constructors’ momentum and had taken a one-point lead over Tyrrell before the Watkins Glen finale, but Francois Cevert’s death in practice and the team’s consequent withdrawal from the race ensured Tyrrell didn’t add the constructors’ to Jackie Stewart’s last drivers’ title. Ronnie Peterson’s USA win cemented it for Lotus.

Both the protagonists in the first-ever constructors’ championship fight were battling through tragedies in 1958. Champion driver Mike Hawthorn lost two of his Ferrari team-mates – Luigi Musso and Peter Collins – in crashes during mid-season races. The Stirling Moss led Vanwall team deserved the inaugural constructors’ title as it had been generally the faster car, but the day it clinched it was marred by the death of Moss’s team-mate Stuart Lewis-Evans.

Only one split championship outcome could really be considered a ‘normal’ competitive scenario: 1983.

San Marino Grand Prix Imola (ita) 29 01 05 1983

Ferrari had the most balanced line-up of the teams in that three-way championship fight. Rene Arnoux and Tambay combined to take what would be its last F1 title of any kind until 1999 as champion driver Piquet’s Brabham team-mate Riccardo Patrese had awful luck (finishing only two races all season) and Eddie Cheever was often a long way off drivers’ runner-up Prost’s pace at Renault.

That said, it may well have been a title double for Ferrari had Arnoux not spun at Brands Hatch and had an early engine failure in the Kyalami finale.

Ultimately, if a team wins one title it almost certainly would’ve had the pace to win both. At best, a constructors’-only triumph probably means it’s made the best car but one of its drivers has let it down. But in most cases in F1 history, the reason for the other title slipping away has been far more painful than just a bit of underperformance.

Mercedes did eventually celebrate its remarkable eighth successive constructors’ championship, and rightly so – it’s an astonishing achievement.

But it won’t ever be the first thing people remember about the 2021 season.

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