With the 2011 season coming to a close it’s going to take an absolute miracle for Virgin, HRT or even Lotus to score a point. Two years in and they’re still struggling, so what better opportunity to get the Badgerometer focused on some of the more successful starts to life in F1? Enjoy!
By Craig Normansell, Riccardo Monza & Jimmy von Weeks
Guy Ligier swapped driving for management to form a new team in the 1970s and they were quick from the outset, waving the French tricolour as they went. With a powerful V12 Matra engine bolted to the rear and Jacques Laffite at the controls, the single Ligier car took on the established teams bravely in 1976, and in only their fifth race scored a gallant third place. More podiums and a pole position followed that year, making it quite a debut season.
During 1977, and at their twenty fourth attempt, Ligier’s breakthrough came in Sweden. This was one for the history books as it was the first time that a French car, with a French engine, with French sponsorship, driven by a French driver had won an F1 Grand Prix. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t in France or that team boss Guy Ligier didn’t attend the race, therefore missing his chance to taste the French champagne.
More wins followed in 1979 and a runner up spot in the Constructors’ Championship in 1980 was the team’s finest hour, despite opting for non-French Ford V8 power. Laffite came close to the driver’s title in 1981, but was just squeezed out in the final race. Thereafter, the team’s brightness faded, though a few good results and a win at Monaco by Olivier Panis in 1996 restored some pride once again.
Jackie Stewart set up his own team – with the backing of Ford – in the mid nineties, and surprised everyone by not only signing a youthful Rubens Barrichello, but also managing a mid-grid position in the 1997 season opener. The best came at Monaco when rain levelled the playing field and Rubens thrived, starting 10th and finishing a remarkable 2nd in only the team’s 5th race.
As 1997 and 1998 passed, it was clear that the team was fast but unreliable. Rubens continued to shine with points but the car was fragile to say the least. In 1999, Stewart began to move further up the grid, with Barrichello nabbing pole in France and a podium there and in San Marino. However, it was at the Nurburgring in the same year when it all came together for the team, with Johhny Herbert taking their only win in a rain-affected race. Rubens took third, and Jackie Stewart got to stand on the podium once more.
Stewart GP were subsequently bought out by Ford and re-badged as Jaguar Racing for 2000, only to be sold to an energy drink company in 2005. You know, the one that’s now dominating F1.
It’s funny to think how much F1 has changed in the past 30 years, but the contrast between Virgin and Tyrrell is quite stark. Coming up the end of their second season Virgin haven’t scored a point, while Tyrrell, in the same time frame, was coming up to taking it’s first world championship. Bonkers.
Running the French Matra chassis to start with, the team had immediate success in 1968 with Jackie Stewart in the cockpit. In 1969 the title was sewn-up by mid season, but the Matra became uncompetitive, as was the March that replaced it. Ken Tyrrell took it upon himself to build his own car for 1971 – and that promptly took a pole position in it’s first race, a win in it’s second and Stewart’s second world title by the end of it’s first season.
They just don’t make them like that anymore – just ask Virgin.
Walter Wolf Racing
The Wolf team was created by ambitious businessman Walter Wolf who, after a brief merger with Frank Williams in 1976, decided to go it alone in F1 in 1977. Wolf hired Harvey Postlethwaite to design a car that was immediately quick – and rather eye catching too. Worries about joining a brand new team evaporated for driving ace Jody Scheckter as, in the first race in Argentina, he steered his way from tenth on the grid to top of the podium! Six retirements ahead of him in the race helped his cause, but a string of podiums and two more victories during the year quashed the critics’ cries of “you were just lucky in Argentina!”
Incredibly, Scheckter finished second to Niki Lauda in the championship, bypassing the challenges of Mario Andretti and James Hunt admirably. Fourth in the constructors table brought made Walter Wolf very happy and brought him respect from the F1 circus.
However, the following year, Wolf found the opposition too strong to overthrow and, despite leading the odd race, came away with just four podium finishes.
James Hunt joined the team for 1979 but, sadly, things didn’t go too well as a run of retirements and a highest finish of eighth convinced him to wave goodbye to the sport. A determined Keke Rosberg filled the vacancy and soldiered on to the end of what would be Wolf’s final season in the sport with little to show for it, as the car’s competitiveness shrivelled up.
A new team or the continuation of several decades’ racing that included Tyrrell, BAR and Honda? We’re working on the premise that they were the former, not least because the team was so close to extinction in early 2009 that what turned up and won in Australia was, if not wholly new, at least re-born.
We all know the story: Honda pull out, the team nearly vanishes, then receives a last minute reprieve and wins the title thanks to an early season glut of wins from Jenson Button. Yeah the livery looked a bit naff, like it was coloured in by someone who only had a highlighter and a pencil available, but who cared? Richard Branson was hanging out in the garage like he owned it, the traditional big teams were rubbish and Brawn were kings. 2009 was magic.
And then, no sooner than they’d arrived, they’d gone again. Bought out by Mercedes, Brawn had burned brightly for a single season and left F1 with a prefect record: two world championships from a possible two.
Whilst some teams find success in a relatively short amount of time some never scale the heights – even if they try for 25 years. So it was for Arrows, who ran a record 368 races* without a win.
And yet they looked capable from the start: Riccardo Patrese scored points in only their third race and took a second place finish later in their debut season.
Alas, that would be as good as they ever got, with Arrows taking four more runner-up finishes but never a win. Two came from Patrese, one courtesy of Thierry Boutsen in 1985 and, perhaps most famously, there was Damon Hill’s very near victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix of 1997. They left F1 with a whimper mid-way through the 2002 campaign without ever climbing the top step.
* If you count their time as Footwork, which we at Badger do. If you don’t Minardi hold the record, unless you count their current incarnation as Toro Rosso, which we at Badger don’t.