Wild predictions are an integral part of Formula One. Whether it be teams talking up their chances, journalists scrambling to break a story or fans holding out hope that this will be their team’s year.
Fortunately for those of us who love a crystal ball, Fantasy GP is back this month. It’s a chance for you to exercise your inner team principle by making your own guesses at how the season is going to pan out.
Before you get stuck in, however, let’s take a look at ten of the boldest predictions in F1 history and see how they panned out.
1. “McLaren-Honda will relive the 1980s”
The McLaren Honda dream got off to a bit of a rocky start but by the end of 2016 things seemed to be coming together. McLaren had finished sixth and Honda appeared to have finally cracked the tricky hybrid engines. On the eve of testing for the 2017 season, the Woking squad were looking forward to a return to the front.
“You’ve got to aim high, but right now I would be disappointed if we were fourth,” McLaren Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Neale told Autosport.
Thirteen retirements, eight points finishes and ninth in the championship, ahead of only a pair of Saubers running year old Ferrari engines. On two occasions they didn’t even make it to the grid. Though in fairness to Jonathan, they weren’t fourth.
2. Jon Todt Says “Never Alonso”
The year was 2002 and Fernando Alonso was punching the clock as a test driver for Renault when he received an invitation to come to Italy for a chat. Ferrari team principal Jean Todt had been impressed by the Spaniard and wanted to offer him the role of test driver for the 2003 season.
Alonso agreed but before he signed the contract, Flavio Briatore swooped in and offered him a full race seat at Renault. Perhaps not wanting to play second fiddle to Michael Schumacher, Alonso chose the French team. Todt was furious and vowed that Fernando Alonso would never sit in a Ferrari while he was there.
Felipe Massa took the Ferrari job while Fernando went on to win two world titles with Renault. Jon Todt remained true to his word until he left the Scuderia in 2009 to seek the presidency of the FIA. The minute he was out the door, Ferrari opened negotiations with Alonso.
3. Marussia will fly the Russian flag
In 2010 Richard Branson was looking to offload his struggling Virgin Racing team after two seasons without a points finish. In stepped Russian carmaker Marussia Motors who bought a controlling stake and thus the Marussia F1 team was born.
The project was headed by Russian Top Gear presenter Nikolay Fomenko who predicted big things.
“We will demonstrate to the world that a new manufacturer has arrived from Russia with truly international ambitions. Step by step we’ll make it a fully Russian F1 team flying the Russian flag”
Although technically registered in Russia, Marussia F1 remained entirely based in the UK and never raced a Russian driver. The F1 team designed and built five cars during their time as Marussia, which was actually two more than their namesake managed.
4. “Volkswagen is buying Red Bull”
No list of bold predictions would be complete without a bit of Eddie Jordan. In 2015 the principle turned pundit raised many an eyebrow when he announced that Red Bull was to be sold to the German car giant Volkswagen who would then race it under their Audi brand.
At the time it made a lot of sense. Red Bull was floundering, Dietrich Mateschitz was threatening to quit the sport and VW Group chairman Ferdinand Piech, who had long opposed the group’s entry to F1, had resigned. Everything seemed to be in place for a works Audi team to take to the grid.
Unfortunately what EJ didn’t know was that VW was about to be embroiled in the massive emissions scandal which has so far cost the group around $30 billion. Suddenly splashing out on an F1 team wasn’t on anybody’s agenda and the plan has never resurfaced.
4. “Lewis Hamilton will sign with Mercedes”
In the interest of being fair to Eddie Jordan, he’s right more often than he’s wrong and this was a prime example.
When Jordan broke the story that Hamilton had signed with the Silver Arrows it seemed impossible. Why would the Brit walk away from the hugely successful McLaren to join a team that had only won a single race since its return?
Persuaded over a cup of tea by Ross Brawn, Lewis indeed signed. The rest is history.
6. “I’m going to drive one of your cars”
Racing drivers tend to be pretty confident. You don’t throw a car into a bend at 100mph without some degree of belief that you know what you’re doing. But even by those standards, Lewis Hamilton’s first appearance on the F1 stage was a ballsy one.
It was 1995 and McLaren boss Ron Dennis was signing autographs at an award show when he was approached by a ten-year-old boy. The boy introduced himself as Lewis Hamilton, asked for an autograph and then flat out told Dennis that he was going to drive one of his cars in the future. Dennis signed the autograph and underneath wrote: “Call me in nine years”.
But it didn’t take nine years. Less than three years after the meeting it was Ron that called Lewis.
7. Prost flatters to deceive
You could make an entire list of examples of pre-season overconfidence – in fact, Rob Watts did – and almost any version of that list would include a mention of Prost Grand Prix. Alain Prost may have been famously reserved as a driver but he was often less so about his own team.
After enduring a dismal campaign in 2000 but things were looking up for Prost as testing got going the following year. The 2001 car looked genuinely quick and there was real hope that veteran driver Jean Alesi would be able to do something special with it.
“It would be a good season for us if we could get some big points and get onto the podium…” Prost told journalists. “I believe we can compete with the likes of Benetton and BAR for fourth in the championship.”
In a bid to attract sponsors, the team had been running the car massively underweight. As soon as the season started the true pace was revealed and it wasn’t a pretty picture. Sensing the end, Alesi walked out mid-season and the team filed for bankruptcy in early 2002.
8. The entire Toyota F1 project
Toyota was so confident about their F1 chances that they spent the GDP of a small country during their eight years in the sport. They even managed to spend $11 million on not racing in 2001 when they decided to forfeit their deposit and spend another year testing.
Throughout it all, the Toyota board talked up the project while continuing to hose it down with cash.
It didn’t work. You need money to win in F1 but money alone is not enough and Toyota quit the sport in 2009 having never won a race.
9. Villeneuve’s grim prediction
In the long history of teammate rivalries, there is none sadder than the fallout between Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi.
Pironi joined Ferrari in 1981 and despite it very much being Villeneuve’s team, the Canadian went out of his way to make his new stablemate feel welcome.
That all ended at the San Marino Grand Prix the following year. All but assured of a comfortable one-two, the team ordered both drivers to slow down. Villeneuve took that to mean that they were to hold position but Pironi passed him. Assuming that his teammate was just trying to entertain the crowd, Villeneuve retook the lead before slowing down again whereupon Pironi aggressively cut across his front to take the race win.
Pironi insisted after the race that the order had been to slow down, not hold station but Villeneuve was livid. Feeling betrayed by his teammate he vowed never to speak to him again.
Result: Sadly correct
Just 13 days later, while pushing to beat Pironi’s qualifying time for the Belgian Grand Prix, Gilles Villeneuve crashed into another car and was killed. The two men had never reconciled.
10. Nigel Mansell misses his flight
In 1989 Ferrari designer John Barnard introduced a radical new innovation to Grand Prix racing, the semi-automatic gearbox. Up until this point, F1 cars had used a traditional gearstick but Barnard’s design replaced this with paddles on the side of the steering wheel. There was only one problem: it didn’t really work.
The Ferrari 640 had been beset by problems throughout testing and as the cars took to the grid for the opening race in Brazil, the omens didn’t look good.
Ferrari initially wanted to under-fuel the cars so they would at least look good until they broke down and it was only some pleading from Barnard that prevented it. Despite this, Nigel Mansell was so convinced he wouldn’t see the chequered flag that he booked an early flight home.
Mansell not only finished the race but won it. Within a few years, paddle shift gearboxes were the norm in F1 and most road cars now come with them as well. All thanks to the Ferrari that Nige thought would never finish a race.