Then and Now – Driving for Multiple Teams

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When Sebastian Vettel was winning his four World Drivers Championships for Red Bull, many commented that he wouldn’t be considered a true great until he proved he could win in a different team.  They seemed to ignore the fact that his first win came while driving a Toro Rosso (so far the only win for that team), and that Jim Clark only ever drove for Colin Chapman (and not many wold argue that he wasn’t a true great of the sport).  Now that Vettel has won races for Ferrari (and many of these have been from other than pole position) this discussion has faded into the background.  However with Daniel Ricciardo moving to Renault next season there is a space at Red Bull.  Christian Horner was asked if he would consider taking Fernando Alonso (as he seems to have tried everywhere else to win a further championship), Christian said he wouldn’t be the healthiest choice for the team (AUTOSPORT).

Driver’s careers are much longer now than when F1 started, as safety has improved and with many reaching F1 much younger than they would have done in the past.  Alonso has driven in F1 since 2001 (although he did have a year as a test driver in 2002).  In that time he has changed teams many times, always seeming to pick the wrong destination, yet he has only driven for four teams (Minardi, Renault, McLaren and Ferrari).  However he has had two separate stints at both Renault and McLaren.  This puts him alongside Vettel (Sauber, Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Ferrari) and Kimi Räikkönen (Sauber, McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus) among the current drivers in terms of who has driven for the most teams.  Daniel Ricciardo will join them next season when he moves to Renault to add to HRT, Toro Rosso and Red Bull.  This is the same number of teams driven for as other drivers with long careers such as Alain Prost (McLaren, Renault, Ferrari and Williams), Jenson Button (Williams, Renault, Honda/Brawn and McLaren) and Michael Schumacher (Jordan, Benetton, Ferrari and Mercedes).

Some successful drivers with long careers stay for long periods with top teams, but others move around a bit more frequently.  Juan Manuel Fangio (Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes, Ferrari and Scuderia Sud Americana) drove for five different teams, despite having a much shorter career than the current crop of drivers.  He only drove in 51 Grand Prix over eight seasons (missing 1952 due to illness), yet managed to win five championships.  Unlike Alonso he always moved to the best car.

Other drivers to have driven for this many teams tend to be not as successful, race winners, but not world champions.  Those who have driven for five teams include Gerhard Berger (ATS, Arrows, Benetton, Ferrari and McLaren); Riccardo Patrese (Shadow, Arrows, Brabham, Benetton and Williams) and Rubens Barrichello (Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda/Brawn and Williams).

It is a similar story with the drivers who have driven for six teams: Jean Alesi (Tyrrell, Ferrari, Benetton, Sauber, Prost and Jordan); Giancarlo Fisichella (Minardi, Jordan, Benetton, Sauber, Force India and Ferrari), Jarno Trulli (Minardi, Prost, Jordan, Renault, Toyota and Lotus) and Jonny Herbert (Benetton, Tyrrell, Lotus, Ligier, Sauber, Stewart/Jaguar).  These drivers were all race winners, but rarely had a car that was capable of running at the very front.

One of the drivers who chose to drive for seven teams is arguably among the true greats however.  Stirling Moss (HWM, Connaught, Equipe Moss, Maserati, Mercedes, Vanwall and Rob Walker) spent a lot of his career driving for British teams at a time when they were yet to establish themselves as truly front running.  That and Fangio’s dominance of the period no doubt hampered his ability to win the World Championship.

However the driver that has driven for the greatest number of teams never got to win a race.  Andrea de Cesaris drove for a total of ten teams (Alfa Romeo, McLaren, Ligier, Minardi, Brabham, Rial, Scuderia Italia, Jordan, Tyrrell and Sauber).  While certainly fast (his best result was a couple of second places) he had a reputation for crashing earned early in his career.  Although he scored points for nine of the ten teams he drove for, his longevity in the sport owed more to his personal sponsorship from Marlboro than his points scoring ability.

Nico Hülkenberg is the closest equivalent of the current drivers (a driver with a long career who seems to be stuck in midfield teams), but he has only driven for three teams to date (Williams, Force India and Renault).  He sits alongside Sergio Pérez (Sauber, McLaren and Force India) and Kevin Magnussen (McLaren, Renault and Haas), but all three have a long way to go before they approach de Cesaris record.

It is possible that the greater number of teams competing in F1 in the past caused the number of teams an individual drive for to be greater, or it could be that the longer careers of the top drivers means that there is less movement in the driver market these days.  What are your thoughts, is it beneficial for a driver to experience many different teams, or is it better for them and the team to have some stability?

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Great article Dave. You create and answer some really neat questions. I think its one of those F1 subjects that is really hard to compare across era’s. Fangio’s career winning five world championships in four different teams in just eight seasons, with far fewer races, much more dangerous racing and far less reliable cars, is so remarkable that its almost an insult to the man to say that Hamilton or Vettel would have equalled his achievement if they win the WDC this year. Amongst other factors Fangio’s 1952 season missed ‘due to illness’, involved recovering from a broken neck, on… Read more »

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Commenting on the mid-level drivers I am still not sure why Sergio Pérez is not more highly regarded. He has mostly driven mid-field teams and has nine podiums from two of three teams. His poor showing at McLaren seems to still being raised, that year Mclaren were not a top team and if I remember correctly neither Jenson nor Sergio got any podiums. In the last two seasons he was with Hulkenberg he got three podiums in 2015 and comfortably out performed his team mate. Other than Baku this year, I agree this year he has struggled – but still… Read more »