Article features images courtesy of The Cahier Archive (www.f1-photo.com)
It’s that time of year when the F1 paddock seems to be brimming with optimism, with senior team members claiming that they’ve “made a big step forward” or declaring that the team are “ready to fight for wins”.
Sometimes, however, reality falls short of expectation once the cars hit the track. Here are a few quotes we found from past seasons, that made us think ‘Did they really say that?’.
1997 – TOM WALKINSHAW, ARROWS
Damon Hill’s arrival at the team was greeted by optimism from Team Principal Tom Walkinshaw, who said: “I think we have to aspire to have a car which is capable of finishing in the top three reasonably consistently in the second half of the year.”
Despite scoring just a single point the previous year, Tom was deadly serious: “I haven’t got stardust in my eyes or rose coloured glasses. I’m being very analytical.”
Unfortunately for Tom, Damon’s presence could not mask the fact that the Arrows car was a disappointment. There were no wins and just a single podium finish – a performance which prompted Hill to leave the team at the end of that year.
1999 – JACQUES VILLENEUVE, BAR
It’s been well documented that British American Racing’s first year in Formula 1 was a disaster. But what you might have forgotten is that the team genuinely considered themselves contenders for race wins heading into the ’99 season.
Jacques Villeneuve seemed overly confident, claiming “We can definitely be up there challenging for race wins; the plan is to be competitive at the first race in Melbourne, to qualify high up on the grid.”
Unfortunately for Jacques, there were no race wins, or podiums – or even points for that matter. BAR finished dead last in the constructors’ championship, and Jacques finished only four races all season.
2000 – ALAN JENKINS, PROST
After a frustrating 1999 season, Technical Director Alan Jenkins seemed confident that the Prost team had made a step forward with their new car, claiming that their 2000 challenger to be lighter, smaller, and with improved aerodynamics.
“This year will see far more than just an evolution,” said Jenkins. “The team is maturing and we feel that the whole package is coming together now.”
It wasn’t. In fact, the season was a disaster. Zero points and last place in the constructors’ championship. It was the beginning of the end for the Prost team as well, as they lasted just one more season in the sport.
2003 – EDDIE JORDAN, JORDAN
The 2003 season saw renewed optimism at Jordan Grand Prix with the team securing an engine deal with Ford, and a fresh driver pairing with Ralph Firman joining the team to partner Giancarlo Fisichella.
“I have a lot of confidence that [Ralph Firman] and Fisichella will be an awesome partnership on the track,” an excited Eddie Jordan predicted, “The news that Ralph has joined us, allied to other important developments, means that Jordan Ford is a force to be reckoned with in 2003.”
They weren’t. Yes, you may remember that they won the Brazilian Grand Prix that year, but even their former technical chief, Gary Anderson, admits it was one of the worst cars ever to win a race. Only two other points finishes followed all year, with new boy Ralph scoring just a single point.
2004 – FRANK WILLIAMS, WILLIAMS
When Williams unveiled their radical ‘walrus nose’ back in 2004, the Formula 1 world gasped in horror at what was, at the time, one of the ugliest cars in recent memory (this was way before the phallic noses of 2014-15).
“I don’t think it’s very pretty, but I shall certainly fall in love with it if it’s a winner” was the opinion of Team Principal Frank Williams. Unfortunately, the FW26 was neither a looker or a winner and was canned in favour of a B-spec chassis in the second half of the season.
2007 – RUBENS BARRICHELLO, HONDA
On the first day of testing, Rubens Barrichello was feeling optimistic about his new car’s potential: “I am impressed by how the car and the team have evolved during my first year here,” he explained, “It is clear that the RA107 is a step in the right direction.”
Unfortunately for his many Brazilian fans, Barrichello’s optimism was misplaced. The team struggled with a fundamentally slow car and a catastrophically bad livery (yep, this was the infamous ‘Earth Car’). Poor Rubens failed to score a single point all year.
2007 – JOHN HOWETT, TOYOTA
“We have addressed reliability this year,” said John Howett, Toyota’s team president. “We’re improving the car, flat out, all the time. So I think we have the potential to win this year.”
This was Toyota’s sixth year in Formula One, and not the first time they had suggested a win could be on the cards. The win never came, however, and 2007 was a frustrating backwards step for the Japanese marque. 13 points was a dismal return for a team employing former race winners Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli.
2009 – RON DENNIS, MCLAREN
“I believe this year’s World Championship is open, given the new rule changes and that’s a great prospect for every Formula 1 fan,” said Ron Dennis, “Personally, I’m hoping for another successful season and the chance to once again fight for the title.”
After such a successful season the year before, 2009 was a real wake-up call for McLaren. A disastrous start to the season saw Lewis Hamilton’s championship hopes all but ended after just a few rounds. By the mid-point of the season, McLaren had just 14 points on the board compared to leaders Brawn on 112.
A few late season podiums salvaged some respectability, but the season fell far short of expectations. A tough start for Martin Whitmarsh in his new role as Team Principal.
2010 – MICHAEL SCHUMACHER, MERCEDES
Michael Schumacher’s return to F1 in 2010 was not the triumphant one that many expected. Having agreed to race for Mercedes – essentially the same Brawn team that had won the previous year’s championship – Michael was full of optimism at the car’s launch.
“We have a World Champion team in every sense of the word and I cannot wait to get into the car for the first time in Valencia. I am convinced that Mercedes will be in a very good position to fight for the championships this season.”
Unfortunately, Michael’s own performance, and that of his new team, fell way short of expectations. Mercedes could only manage fourth in the championship with only three podium finishes to its name, while Michael was comprehensively beaten by new team-mate Nico Rosberg.
2011 – SAM MICHAEL, WILLIAMS
After finishing eighth, seventh, and sixth in the previous three seasons, the Williams team fancied its chances of repeating that performance heading into 2011.
Williams Technical Director Sam Michael was particularly optimistic, commenting at the car’s launch: ”Until you start testing, you’re never sure how you’re going to stack up against the opposition, but we’re optimistic – we think this is a good car.”
It wasn’t a good car. In fact, Williams fell to a new low, finishing ninth in the constructors’ championship with just five points on the board. A dismal performance for the once-great team.
2013 – JENSON BUTTON, MCLAREN
“We all know the regulations haven’t changed much since 2012, but they’ve changed enough to make a difference,” explained Jenson Button at the team’s 2013 car launch, “We go into this season aiming to win the world championship.”
After ending 2012 with arguably the quickest car on the grid, there were suggestions that 2013 could be McLaren’s year. Instead, the team suffered a shocking fall from grace as its new car was difficult to setup and lacked pace compared to its rivals.
New recruit Sergio Perez was dropped after a disappointing season, as for the first time since 1980, the team went a whole season without a single podium finish. Ouch.
2014 – LUCA DI MONTEZEMOLO, FERRARI
“We’re the only team in the world who, when we finish second, it’s considered a defeat. We’re fed up finishing runners-up”, declared Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo at the launch of their 2014 car.
Thankfully for Luca, Ferrari avoided the embarrassment of finishing second once again. Fourth place, however, was probably not what he had in mind.
The Ferrari F14T was a huge disappointment, scoring just 31% of Mercedes points total that year and never really coming close to winning a race. It was also to be Luca di Montezemolo’s last year as chairman of the team – most certainly not the way he would have wanted to bow out.