Brought to you by TJ13 Provocateur-In-Chief Fat Hippo
Most 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)
Formula 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)
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)
The 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)
JV 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)
On 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.
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