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After The Reigns

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
24/09/2019

With a cup of sweet herbal tea, or a crisp cool G&T, let us drift back to 1989 dear reader.

At the Japanese Grand Prix Alain Prost, piloting a McLaren Honda, clinched the World Drivers' Championship with one round remaining.

A period of retirement made it look like Alain had lofted his last winners' trophy, but no! He returned to repeat his championship success one last time four years later, claiming the 1993 Drivers' Championship at the Portuguese Grand Prix (remember those?) with two rounds remaining.

And with that Alain finally retired, and moved on to "Life after a reign at the top of Formula One".

So what of all those mighty drivers that have achieved Formula One Drivers' Championship success since 1989? I select 1989, being 30 years ago, as a time before many of the newer drivers currently competing on the F1 grid were born, and yet a time recent enough that many Pitpass readers would have been following the sport that season.

Alain went on to run his own team, consult to other teams, appear on television, keep stupidly fit (he once raced Webber up Alpe d'Huez on cycles… and won) and generally have a real life after the circus of F1. He also went ice racing in the Andros Trophy taking 38 race victories on the way to three championship titles.

Now, at the age of 64, with a glowing record of four F1 Drivers' Championships including 33 pole positions, 106 podiums, and 51 wins, he continues to live a fine post-F1 life.

1990 and 1991 saw Ayrton Senna take back-to-back Driver's Championships in the very same McLaren Honda team as used by Prost in 1989. Indeed the same team and driver as had won in 1988, meaning that by 1991 McLaren had won four championships in a row, and Honda had won five, having previously won in 1987 with Nelson Piquet strapped into the hot seat of a Williams. A recollection which would have both teams misty eyed right now.

1992 and 1993 saw Senna frustrated at McLaren, as Williams took both titles prompting a move to the Grove team for the 1994 season. At the San Marino Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, within the city of Imola, on the 1st May, Ayrton lost his life in a tragic crash, from which, given the speed and objects involved, he should have walked away. And yet he did not. His reign at the top was cut short while he was still at his racing prime, and we can only wonder how many more wins and titles he would have achieved, and what this remarkably focused sportsman would be achieving today post-reign...

While Ayrton was fuming at McLaren in 1992, Nigel Mansell was busy piloting one of the most remarkable F1 cars ever built to a fine championship win. The 1992 Williams-Renault propelled Nigel to the Drivers' Championship at the Hungarian GP, with five races remaining.

Nigel left F1 at the end of the year, not contesting the 1993 F1 season, and promptly won the CART IndyCar World Series at his first attempt.

Since then he has golfed, and generally hung around while reminding one and all how hard it was to drive "...back in. The. Day."

Ayrton continued to fume during 1993, while Alain sneaked that last championship of his.

1994, along with the horror of Ayrton's death, witnessed a Benetton-Ford take the Drivers' Championship with a young Michael Schumacher at the wheel.

Michael clinched his first World Championship at the Australian GP, being held in November at the Adelaide Street circuit that year. Nigel Mansell won the race in a Williams, but Michael took the title from Damon Hill after a highly questionable rejoining of the track that took them both out of the race. With neither scoring, Michael, who entered the race just ahead on points, took the title.

Sadly Michael is not enjoying a relaxed retirement. In December 2013, while skiing with his family, he sustained a substantial blow to the head, leaving him in a debilitating condition. While his exact condition remains unknown, due to the respectful request for full privacy by his family, we can only wish this remarkable champion the best of possible health as he continues to draw breath as his seemingly "unbeatable" records start to be slowly picked off by Lewis Hamilton (more on this cheeky chap shortly).

Michael repeated his championship triumph in 1995, again in the Benetton, but with a Renault engine strapped in the back this time around.

1996 and Damon Hill joyfully raises the championship trophy after suffering at the hands of Michael race after race the previous seasons. A very popular champion, being the first to make it a father and son double, Damon, like Nigel, promptly parted company with Williams and did not have a car capable of challenging for the championship again. Seasons with Arrows and Jordan did not deliver winning delights, and he subsequently drifted off into a world of being confused with George Harrison full-time rather than part-time.

1996 seeing the first son of an F1 title winning father win the championship, 1997, not unlike waiting all night for a bus and then seeing two in thirty seconds, suddenly sees the son of "The People's Champion" make it back-to-back titles for Williams and Renault. Taking the top step we have Jacques Villeneuve winning the title many felt his father Gilles was destined to win many years before, if not for a tragic on track accident.

Jacques always had that quirky humour that makes one wonder what exactly is in Canadian water (refer to South Park or more or less any other Canadian animation for a perfect example of what I mean. Pick an episode, any of them it does not matter, they all swing between cheerfully eccentric and full blown crackers...). Anyway since retirement he has made it an art form to irritate all of the English-speaking world, much of the French-speaking world, and not a small part of those who speak all other earthly languages. We do not have confirmed data for the rest of the Galaxy, but I'm sure "Irritated of Beetlejuice" is out there and throwing curses at the screen whenever Jacques appears. Jacques has also dabbled in music and TV, while continuing to be Canadian.

1998 and 1999 saw another popular champion in Mika Hakkinen, at the helm of a McLaren-Mercedes. Keke Rosberg (more on this family shortly) was the original F1 Flying Finn back in 1982 when he won the Drivers' Championship. Mika only enhanced this small nation's reputation through mighty tussles with Michael, remarkable drives in the wet, and a not insignificant inter-team battle with the highly talented David Coulthard.

Mika retired from the sport with his nerves for "on, and over" the limit driving somewhat blown. A number of severe crashes having shaken his faith in the cars he was being asked to drive at their utter limit. Being fair to McLaren, it is a testament not just to Mika's mental and physical abilities that he survived the crashes, but very much to the remarkable crash worthiness of the car that he survived crashes that only ten years earlier would have surely killed him.

Following his retirement from F1, Mika briefly raced in DTM, winning races but not the championship, before fully retiring from racing in November 2007. Mika has generally lived a family life outside of F1, with occasional motor sport outings, and becoming a Mercedes and Jonny Walker ambassador. He also suffered the bizarre situation of having a faulty light in his trophy cabinet start a fire, returning all his hard won trophies to pools of liquid metal. If that does not teach one to let go of the past, I'm not sure what does.

Ah! 2000, and the turn of a century (or not, depending on how you count). Four years after the second of his first two World Drivers' Championship wins, Michael secured the title for a third time. Before promptly securing it a fourth, fifth, six, and seventh.

A grand total of seven championships, first two back-to-back, and then five on the trot with Ferrari.

While this will ensure Michael is regarded by history as a remarkable driver (if not totally sporting by some fans...), it is a record now coming under serious threat from Lewis... We have lamented Michael's retirement status above, so no need for more sad reflection this paragraph.

2005, and ten years after Michael's Benetton-Renault championship victory, how fitting that the cheeky young pup, Fernando Alonso, should finally wrest the title from the German in a Renault chassis, with a Renault engine. Especially if one considers Renault's great racing heritage (as per a pervious article about the Renault brothers), there is an argument to be mounted that motor sport in general owes more to Renault than Ferrari for continued great racing.

Anyway. Fernando backed-up 2005, with a 2006 championship, before romping off to years of frustration at other teams. As I write this he would appear to be "mostly retired" from F1 (or not), while chasing the "Triple-Crown" (or not), while racing other series, where some say competition is diminished (or not), while possibly tackling a full/partial/one race Indy challenge next season... or not...

At 38 years old Fernando is old for a top-tier world class sportsman, but young by 21st century living standards. Will he return to F1? If he does will he win? Is he happy with his days? Given his World Championship success, and his wins in a growing number of categories of motor sport, one hopes this highly talented driver finds time to reflect and smile on a highly entertaining career, even if many people, most especially Fernando no doubt, feel a few more driver's championships in the bag would have been a fairer reflection of the magnitude of his driving talent, rather than his lamentably poor timing when trying to pick a winning team.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Vinodh Moodley, 08/11/2019 14:08

"@jcr You do realize that your comment is not true? For example, Prost was a double world champion when he was beaten in 1988 by Senna driving the same car. Either you are aware of this and you’re being a troll or you are unaware and posting comments without doing any research. Either way, I suggest that you learn a bit about F1 before making pointless comments. "

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2. Posted by jcr, 31/10/2019 13:53

"Lewis Hamilton. While undoubtly one of the great drivers to grace F1, His one blacK mark, is, He is the only Multi F1 Champion, to be beaton by his team mate in the same car."

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 16/10/2019 12:43

"@Steve W - my bad... off to buy a (Senna fettled) NSX as penance. Will cross check numbers twice for part two..."

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4. Posted by Steve W, 05/10/2019 13:05

"Honda won six constructors titles, not five. While Prost won the Driver's title in 1986 with the McLaren-TAG Porsche, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell combined to win the Constructors title for Williams-Honda that year."

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5. Posted by sagosac, 29/09/2019 22:41

"fine synopsis ! ! !
Hence I don't understand comment #4 by ZJAY -- or is he just averse of justified criticism ?"

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6. Posted by Spindoctor, 27/09/2019 9:11

"Agree with all the previous accolades. Perfectly judged, and brought back some memories of F1."

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7. Posted by Burton, 25/09/2019 17:54

"Agreed with ZJAY on the article's tone, very nice read Mr. Noble. And at least from my side I can only say the sentiment about big hearts looking back at old "enemies" with respect extends to fandom, as to me all these drivers, some I liked and some almost despised, are all now equally venerable great men. (well, I think I almost completely butchered that sentence).

On a lighter note, is the exclusion of JV from the current racers list just a cheeky dig at the Nascar Euro Series? :p
"

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 25/09/2019 12:14

"@Uffen - my thanks and dang... I had a sneaky feeling but dismissed it...teaches me to double-check doubts next time around! Let’s go with Arthur and Angela Anaconda... :-)

@ZJAY - well first my thanks. Pardon me if I cling to the belief most of my articles are laced with positive vibes. Always interesting to see what people think you’ve written, compared to what you think you’ve written. Yes, I remember the style and try to spread those smiles a little wider, a little more often. I’ll be digging for the sparkle with the second part of the article. "

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9. Posted by ZJAY, 24/09/2019 18:15

"I can't believe my eyes!!! Is that really you Max who wrote such an uplifting article? Thank you so much... You earned a 10 article allowance of the other kind. Just please remember the style of this one every now and then."

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10. Posted by Uffen, 24/09/2019 14:22

"Nice synopsis! By the way, South Park is not a Canadian show. They just like to poke fun at Canadians. "

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