Hippo’s View From The Waterhole: Top 5 Worst Driver Moves

Brought to you by TJ13 Provocateur-In-Chief Fat Hippo

hippo-1Most drivers, at some point come to the conclusion that they have to change something in their career. And as with all decisions in life, things may work out or they go horribly wrong. In this little article and its follow-up, I want to present a few cases of drivers who hit the jackpot with a career decision and a few, who have wasted their time by an ill-advised move. So we begin with my list of the top 5 worst moves ever.

You’re doing it wrong!

#5 Alessandro Zanardi (Williams-Supertec, 1999)

zanardi_002Formula One and Alex Zanardi was never to be. Having made his debut in the same year and same car as one Michael Schumacher – the drop-dead gorgeous Jordan 191 – he ran three completely pointless entries with Minardi before spending two years at a dying team Lotus. Inexplicably the unexpected point he scored at the 1993 Brazilian GP, a crash-ridden race of attrition, should remain the only point for a man, who was arguably one of the great talents of his time.

After three stellar years in America’s Champcar World Series, including two consecutive championships, he let Frank Williams’ team talk him into coming back to Formula One. But it turned into a nightmare. The grooved tyres of Formula One nixed his biggest strength of riding the car on the ragged edge and while team mate Ralf Schumacher consistently finished in the points, Alex’s season was literally pointless.

Leaving America, where he was the undisputed fan favourite of the time for a miserable year in F1 goes down as one of the worst decisions in recent history.

#4 Michael Andretti (McLaren-Ford, 1993)

(c) Getty Images

(c) Getty Images

The son of 1978 Formula One World Champion Mario Andretti, and a member of one of America’s great racing dynasties, along with the Mears, Foyts and Unsers, is another one who crossed the pond in the wrong direction.

Like Zanardi, he was a Champcar Champion, having won the series in 1991. After a year as McLaren test driver, parallel to his participation in Champcar in 1992, he was promoted to the race seat in 1993. Being paired to Ayrton Senna is challenging at the best of times, but unable to adapt to life in Europe, Andretti opted to commute endlessly between Europe and Americaland, making it hard for him to achieve the focus necessary to hold his own against one of the greatest drivers of all time.

The expectation that came with being the son of a World Champion didn’t help either and the first races were disastrous with many unnecessary DNF’s and crashes. Just as Andretti started to find his footing, highlighted by a well-earned third place at Monza, Ron Dennis’ patience had run out and Andretti was sacked.

The American went back home for the 1994 season of Champcars and went on to win the very first race in 1994 right away, beating three F1 world champions – Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi and his father – in the process.

#3 Danica Patrick (Steward-Haas Racing, 2012)

Danica PatrickThe pretty lady from Wisconsin is living proof that you don’t have to go to Europe to make a right monkey’s breakfast of your career. In fact, she spent most of her junior career in Blighty, culminating in a runner-up position in the prestigious Formula-Ford Festival in 2000.

Chances could have been that she would end up in F1. It certainly was on the agenda of her mentors at Ford, but a political struggle, that saw Ford accuse her team of channeling money that was meant to further her development into other endeavours, left her out of a drive and she went home to climb the Indycar ladder with significant success

Her career in Indycars that culminated in three pole positions, 7 podiums, including the first ever win by a female driver could have gone on to even greater heights as she was part of a top-team, Andretti Autosport, run by the meanwhile retired Michael Andretti. But her sponsors pressured her to go big stage and she went to NASCAR, where the good ol’ boys from the south race seventy ton motorized oxcarts on a technological level that the rest of the world abandoned when indoor-plumbing was invented.

It is always good to do your research before making a decision and had Danica or her sponsors done that, they would have known that with Alex Tagliani, Jacques Villeneuve, Sam Hornish jr., Paul Tracy, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen, Dario Franchitti and others, there is a sheer endless list of successful and even championship winning openwheel aces, who utterly failed to adapt to the NASCAR contraptions.

So, instead of continuing to prove that women can indeed be successful in openwheel racing, she has spent the last three seasons in utter mediocrity with one pole position for the legendary Daytona 500 and 3 top ten results from 82 races. A very bad career move indeed.

#2 Jacques Villeneuve (British-American Racing, 1999)

Villeneuve-Schumacher_1996_BelgiumJV swam against the current in the way that he came to Europe as a Champcar champion (and Indy 500 winner) and did not fall on his face, although to be fair, he jumped into the 1996 Williams. The only requirement to win in this car was not being Jean-Deniz Deletraz or Pastor Maldonado. Having narrowly been beaten by his team mate in 1996, he won the 1997 world title and that’s where it all went pear-shaped.

After Renault withdrew and Williams were left without Newey the team disappeared into mediocrity and Villeneuve decided to switch to the newly founded team BAR, run by his manager Craig Pollock. Inexplicably, despite running SuperTec engines, which were essentially two-year old Renault designs, the team talked about winning races before the season. The reality check was brutal. BAR didn’t score a single point.

Little changed over the years and although BAR managed to score the odd podium here or there, and despite the eventual arrival of Honda as an engine partner, BAR never managed to reach their ambitious goals and Villeneuve’s carreer faded into oblivion.

#1 Fernando Alonso (McLaren, 2007)

Fernando-Alonso-McLaren-Formel-1-Test-Jerez-1-Februar-2015-rotationTeaserEntry-d7d3e959-840633On paper a switch to Mclaren does not sound like such a bad idea, and some might wonder why Fernando Alonso appears here at all, but in reality almost all of Fernando’s decisions after 2006 have either been forced by his own behaviour or they have just been unlucky or downright ill-advised.

The only right move he ever made was his switch from Minardi to Renault. Instead of plodding around at the back of the grid he served a year as the teams test driver – in a time when test drivers did actually test drive cars – before going on to win his so far only two titles against none other than Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher as the main adversary.

But from then on it all went downhill. He went to McLaren, where the lack of number one status and his decision to blackmail his team boss meant that he was beaten by a rookie, although by the slightest of margins.

Back he went to Renault, which was hopeless and disintegrated after his long-time associate Flavio Briatore decided to engage in a light spot of race fixing.

Off he went to Italy and heaped praise and verbal love letters on the Scuderia, declaring that it would be the last team change of his career. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Despite a lot of stellar races, during which he put the car where it on technical merit didn’t belong at all, he came short of winning another title as his time at Ferrari coincided with the appearance of the deadly Vettel/Newey combo.

More and more people come out these days and blame Fernando for Ferrari’s descent into mediocrity and going by how unceremoniously he was told that his services are no longer welcome, the restructuring management at the Gestione Sportiva shared that sentiment.

That’s why, contrary to his words from 2010, he switched back to McLaren. It was hardly a marriage of love. He simply had nowhere else to go in F1, arriving at Woking just in time to see the worst engine ever to disgrace the back of a car the name of which starts with MP4.

Disclaimer: TheJudge13 provides a platform for Formula 1 fans to publish their voice on matters relating to Formula 1. The views expressed  are those of the contributor and not those held by TJ13.

21 responses to “Hippo’s View From The Waterhole: Top 5 Worst Driver Moves

  1. Re Villeneuve….I’ve always recollected, maybe wrongly, that he was a victim of Frank’s parsimonious ways….like Nige, Alan and Damon?
    Use and discard once Constructor’s trophy to hand…..

  2. I love Formula One, not just the sport, but the business…

    No where else, in any other major international company, could an employee blackmail the psychopathic and less-than-truthful boss, have secret Ferrari emails/data, survive relatively unscathed, assist in costing the team $100m and suspension from the all important constructors championship (which they were fighting for), then leave, speak ill of the team for a few years after, and return to “relatively” open arms.

    The best twilight zone episode ever!

    Formula One is truly a fickle business. Even now, as the novelty of this absurdity has worn off, I still wonder how they – the McLaren personnel, Ron Dennis and Fernando Alonso – communicate.

    Also, I still wonder why Fernando Alonso placed such faith in Honda? There was logically nothing to suggest the outcome for Honda would be anything other than Renault-esque in its first, and probably second, year of competition.

    Definitely No.1 on the list Hippo.

    Just as a by the by; David Coulthard willingly leaving Williams for McLaren at the end of the 95 season, after two seasons there, always made me smile. Consider the Williams car of 96 and 97, then contrast with McLaren of the same years. Now that’s a career move you’d bash your head against the wall for, right?

    • Coulthard was too young back then. He was so green behind the ears he needed mowing. Anyone remember him slamming it into the wall at Adelaide while trying to pit?

      He could season a bit in relative obscurity at McLaren, and we seem to forget that it was he who gave McMerc their first win, not Mika.

      • Oh yes, I do remember the pit wall smash, but please don’t misunderstand me; I do rate Coulthard a little higher than most around here. Assuming Damon still left and was replaced by Jacques in 1997, I think would have been 97 world champion. A long bow, maybe, but just an opinion. I don’t really rate Villeneuve at all.

        Winning the first race for McLaren, and leaving Williams when he did, willingly, in order to “season”, might be little consolation. It would be for me, and I think it’s little consolation for him.

        staying so long damage your chances of winning the championship?

        In 2009, in an interview with CAR, Coulthard answers questions about his move from Williams to McLaren. “Well I had the opportunity to go to Ferrari at the same time Irvine went to Ferrari but I took the decision based on what gave me the best chance of winning at the time. The decision to leave Williams to go to McLaren was largely manipulated by my management at the time because I was young and didn’t really know better. Moving away from Williams in 1996 wasn’t the best move but in the longer term…” So given his stated goal was a championship winning car, and not to “season”, one would expect many a head butt vs. wall moment from the Scot.

        “You can’t live life in hindsight (keep telling yourself that, it’s healthy) – you make your decisions armed with information you have at the time and go forward.”

        Good article by the way.

    • wasn’t couldhard leaving williams also down to bernie wanting an indy champion in a winning car? couldhard was supposed to drive for mclaren in 1995 already, after bernie brought back mansell from indy car, but there was some dispute over contracts and the question of where mansell would drive. ultimately, couldhard stayed at williams and mansell went to mclaren. after that resulted in a disaster, bernie lured vielleneuve over to williams and thus couldhard went to mclaren.

      • That’s interesting Anijs… I was generally aware of Bernie’s machinations in relation to Mansell, but I didn’t know the full extent of it, especially as it pertained to Coulthard. Thanks for that information.

        My understanding however was always that Coulthard was actually wanted by Williams to stay, but his management overtly chose money over expected car form. Coulthard had alluded to this a few times in his career, saying he would subsequently always focus on, and instruct his management, to focus on performance going forward in any contract negotiations. Thus he always felt it better staying with McLaren thereafter, as in that article I mentioned he says himself that there was never a time during his tenure at McLaren where he had offers that might have had a greater promise of a title challenge than McLaren.

        He switched management to Martin Brundle at some stage, who also at times confirmed this stance by Coulthard.

        But what you say in relation to 95/96 rings true, as Bernie would have certainly had his grubby little hands in everything back then, pulling the driver strings of the teams, maybe with the exception of Ferrari. How my information and yours – with Bernie and Mansell – marries up, I don’t know.

        Another final point might be that Coulthard had another three consecutive title fighting cars in 98, 99 and 2000. So his move from certain Williams title glory wasn’t his only chance, was it? Had he won three titles, he’d have looked a genius.

        I think I just debunked my own argument. LOL!

    • I think the point is that the move is not a good one at the moment. You are right, it may work out – I hope it does – but he’d be much closer to a third WDC had he still be in the red car…

      • Maybe. The problem with this view is you are assuming that Fernando (and his political ally, Luca) leaving the team, and Ferrari turning things around are not related in any way.
        As the author notes, more and more people are coming around to the view that Fernando was toxic for the overall health of the team. And that getting rid, not just of Fernando, but the whole power structure that was in place, is precisely what has made the difference. Now, the team seems run by racers and engineers who are fighting not only for themselves or for only their side of the garage, but for Ferrari.
        I don’t think he will last long at McLaren either. He only seems to thrive when he has a dictatorial, political ally at the helm of the team (Flavio at Renault, Luca at Ferrari). McLaren isn’t run like a mafia family, and he will not be comfortable there, especially if Jenson can challenge him on track.
        Nor do I think there is any prospect of another top team hiring him again. Sure, the team bosses all pay lip service to Fernando’s “greatness”, but when push comes to shove, I doubt any of the top teams would see hiring him as being worth the drama.

  3. “The only right move he ever made was his switch from Minardi to Renault.”
    Shouldn’t we credit Flavio for that?

    As for Zanardi, his great skill was the great sensitivity of his brake foot, but the new tyre formula totally negated that. That’s why he played around with ferrous brake rotors in a quest to find something that gave him the type of feel he needed. Clearly, a talented driver in the wrong technical era.

  4. I heard that Fred had an understanding with Todt in 2002/2001 to join Ferrari. But Todt got pissed off when Briatore snapped him up for Renault. But i really think Mclaren was his dream team and not Ferrari due to his love for Senna. Anyways as rightly put by Hippo, its that one year that changed his entire career. Post that all his teams were not by choice but by convenience/ill advised moves. Redbull wanted to sign him and wanted 2/3 year commitment to deliver a car. He was impatient and chose Renault and then Ferrari. Pity for him. Even still Ferrari got their strategy wrong for Abu Dhabhi in 2010 and messed up his races in Canada and Britain in 2012. Thats 3 definitive title chances gone begging.

  5. Alonso’s headline ‘Give Him A Piece of Crap And He Will Perform Miracles’ should have an addition in small print ‘ he may be got at by his team mate when the car is good’ (Trulli, Fisichella when Flávio didn’t threaten him, Massa when Ferrari/Fernando needed him to be fast, and some rookie 8 years ago). At McHonda he gets to continue to showcase these talents I’ve seen mention of how Buttons car ‘magically’ melted on the occasion of the teams most significant step forward to date (lmao). I always imagine what would have happened had Webber stayed at Renault and Alonso ended up at Williams, for me he has ‘always’ been a stereotypical Williams driver, he would just need a team who is a good test driver 😄
    Back to the magic card tricks for a fortnight.
    Nice article 👍

  6. Alonso to McLaren was not a bad move, it was a masterstroke for both. The bad move was in how the entire situation was mismanaged following the surprise rise of a competitive teammate, something with which Alonso could clearly not deal at the time (and possibly even today).

    Karma is a bitch. Both McLaren and Alonso have clearly suffered after that season of bitter self inflicted defeat and failed tremendously to live up to their expectations and potential from there on. Even Hamilton barely escaped the fate of ‘what if’ thanks to his move to Mercedes.

    Anyhow, where is the provocative part? Stating the obvious with the benefit of hindsight seems hardly so.

  7. Two comments, since no-one else has mentioned these.

    1) Michael Andretti was pretty talented, and should have done better, but he flopped for the reasons you mentioned (his stupid insistence that he sleep almost every effing night in his own bed back in Nazareth, Pennsylvania). One of the dumbest decisions in motorsports, ever!

    I may be wrong, but I blame his (then) spouse for that bad decision, (I don’t recall her name). She was a force to be reckoned with, but not a force of good, so to speak. Being stateside, I’d see her all the time on the CART broadcasts, and she was… can’t think of a polite term, candidly. He divorced her afterwards, and I noticed an improvement in his attitude and career.

    On the other hand, I know a race engineer who dealt with Michael personally a few times, and shared a few stories, and his character was… difficult. So maybe not all that one spouse, after all. 🙂

    2) The performance of the young JV really caught my eye in his Formula Atlantic days, and then in CART. I wasn’t too surprised that he was able to win a championship for Williams, having seen him perform well under pressure over on my side of the pond.

    But his decision to stay with BAR and Pollock was atrocious. More importantly, JV’s attitude and opinions since then… not sure how to put it… are weird, eclectic, and wrong is a polite way to say it, I suppose. Glad he won a WDC, but he so quickly became embarrassing, and remains so to this day.

  8. Looking further back, Chris Amon’s decision to leave Ferrari in 1970 just as they were starting to improve again has to stand as a really bad driver move as well.

  9. Another one to add is surely Emerson Fittipaldi leaving McLaren in 75 to join his brothers team – that loyalty ruined his remaining career in F1.

  10. in my mind, the worst move ever was alesi to ferrari in ’91. he refused an offer from williams to join the scuderia. if we look at williams becoming a serious contender in ’91 and winning drivers titles in ’92, ’93, ’96 and ’97, his career could have looked completely different. he could have been a multiple wdc (had frank williams not discarded him like he did with all his other wdc’s) instead of an unfulfilled talent and one time grand prix winner.

  11. I Feel Really Bad That:

    – ALEX Never Succeeded In F1,

    – DP Has Yet To Land A Seat In F1,

    – JACQUES Made Such A Long Contract After Leaving SFW.


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