One of the fascinating aspects of F1 as a sport is that being the best driver alone isn’t enough to become champion – no matter how talented a driver is a world title will remain impossible if they do not have a competitive car at their disposal.
When looking at what makes a car competitive, the entire package needs to be considered – you cannot simply plug and play the Mercedes engine into the back of say a McLaren chassis and guarantee success – of course, if Adrian Newey was the man responsible for designing the chassis you might have a better chance than most!
Over the last 30 years Adrian Newey has been the mastermind behind many stunning F1 cars – so much so that some fans decry the quality of some of the drivers that have been able to claim a World Driver’s title in a machine designed by Newey!
Newey has been in a factor in drivers winning titles at three different teams. First up at Williams, Nigel Mansell (1992), Alain Prost (1993), Damon Hill (1996) and Jacques Villeneuve (1997) all benefited from Newey’s design genius ( although Newey had left for McLaren in ’97 he would still have been a factor in the concept and development of the ’97 Williams).
Moving to McLaren, Newey’s design propelled Mika Hakkinen to his two titles (1998-99), while his stint at Red Bull has so far seen Sebastian Vettel take 4 titles (2010-13), with Fernando Alonso famously stating during the 2012 title showdown that he was competing against Newey, a clear dig at Sebastian Vettel’s talent!
It’s impossible to succeed in F1 without the right car of course, but of all the champion drivers on the list, only Alain Prost managed to take a title in a car without Newey’s influence!
So would these lucky drivers have been able to take the title without having Adrian Newey in their corner, and how would F1 history have looked if those wonderful Newey designed cars not been a part of the equation? Cleary, to win a title the drivers still had to drive and the engine still had to be at least somewhat competitive (no one is saying a Honda powered Red Bull would have taken the title if driven by Jolyon Palmer last year!), and while it would be a gross oversimplification to simply credit Newey’s design brilliance for all those drivers titles, it is the offseason, so what the hell, let’s re-imagine an alternate F1 timeline where all Newey penned cars were simply stricken from the record books! No doubt this is mightily unfair on the poor drivers that won those titles, but so be it! Let the discussion commence!!
First up we look at the 1990s, when Newey worked for Williams and then McLaren (drivers titles in 1992-1993, 1996-1999).
While Adrian Newey departed Williams for McLaren via a spell of gardening for the 1997 season, we will still credit his input to the 1997 Williams that helped propel Jacques Villeneuve to his sole F1 title. So what would we have witnessed had these cars not been on the grid?
Amazon – Tamiya 300012029 1: 12 Scale Williams FW14B Renault GP 1992
1992 – The best F1 season that never was!
While Nigel Mansell fans rejoiced at his title success in ’92, such was the dominance of the FW14B (allied to Riccardo Patrese’s inability to come close to matching Mansell), that the 1992 season was an utter snoozefest for the unaligned F1 lover. Just imagine what the season could have been like if Williams were removed from the equation! Instead of a boring processional hand waving tour to the title Mansell’s talent undeniably deserved (in this writer’s opinion, a discussion for another day perhaps!), we would have been treated to a battle royal of reigning champion and established F1 standard of excellence Ayrton Senna at McLaren-Honda (back when McLaren-Honda was a combination to be feared!) vs the rookie Michael Schumacher, entering his first full season with Benetton-Ford. We were robbed! That year Schumacher finished best of the non-Newey runners by virtue of a second place finish at the season finale behind Senna’s McLaren team-mate Berger, but seeing as Senna ended the race empty handed only after throwing his race away giving Mansell’s Williams a friendly farewell shove while disputing the lead, it’s easy to envision Senna just edging the young Schumacher to the title.
What might have been: Senna to take a fourth title for McLaren-Honda in their last year together after tight battle with rising star Schumacher
Amazon – ClearView-F1, Williams FW14B, The Evolution and Development of the Williams Grand Prix Car 1991-1993
1993 – Senna vs Schumacher II
Williams again dominated in ‘93, embarrassingly faster than their opponents, with Alain Prost eventually cruising to a fourth world title. Honda had walked away from F1 at the end of 1992, leaving McLaren in a sticky situation engine wise. They wound up starting the season with customer Ford engines, woefully off the pace. That didn’t stop Senna though, and through some misfortune and errors from Williams, Senna at least made Prost sweat a little in the early stages of the season, with wet weather races in Brazil and Donnington giving Senna a chance to upstage the dominant Williams. Senna took 5 wins and wound up second in the championship, finishing ahead of the second Williams of Damon Hill, with Schumacher, who picked up a solitary victory in Portugal, coming in in fourth place. But without he Williams the season would have looked much different – while Senna produced arguably his greatest ever season to come home in second place, Benetton eventually allowed McLaren access to the more powerful version of the Ford engine for the latter part of the season – a highly unlikely event if the title fight was just Senna vs Schumacher! The wonderful battle between Senna and Schumacher in the season opening Grand Prix in South Africa saw a stubborn Senna come out on top, but without the Williams in play Schumacher would have been able to be more patient. While Benetton’s reliability was not great either, in giving ’92 to Senna then ’93 may have seen the changing of the guard with Schumacher taking over the title after another titanic battle between the two.
What might have been: Schumacher/Benetton manage to overthrow Senna/McLaren after season long struggle on the back of their works Ford deal
Williams Renault FW 19, No.3, formula 1, 1997, Model Car, Ready-made, Minichamps 1:43
1996-1999 –Schumacher unrivalled, a title for fast Eddie
With Michael Schumacher departing Benetton for Ferrari, Williams found themselves with no real competition in 1996. Benetton were hit and miss, and Ferrari were starting from scratch. The Williams pair of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve had a straightforward battle for the tile with Hill coming out the winner. Despite its poor reliability, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher emerged as the only driver outside Williams to taste victory, which he did on three occasions, including his memorable first win for the Scuderia in a soaking Spanish Grand Prix. Remove the Newey factor, and it would have been a dream start for Schumacher at Ferrari, who would have had more than enough to hold off his Benetton replacement Jean Alesi, who would at least have added to his sole F1 victory. . From 1997 through 1999, as Ferrari’s rise continued, F1 had real reason to be thankfully for Adrian Newey’s involvement, without it, a lot of time and effort could have been saved by simply announcing Schumacher as champion before the season began! Schumacher took his fight with Jacques Villeneuve down to the last race in 97, famously crashing into Villeneuve at the final round and losing out in his quest for a first title. In 1998 and 99, Newey had switch to McLaren, and his designs saw Mika Hakkinen come out on top of an intense battle with Schumacher in 98, before Mika barely saw off Eddie Irvine’s challenge after Schumacher’s injury in 99.
What might have been: The Schumacher/Ferrari dominance that became so boring in the early 2000s would have been extended by 4 years, with Eddie Irvine picking up a driver’s title when Schumacher was injured!
1/18 Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 – Lewis Hamilton – 2012
2010-2013– Alonso’s career moves wouldn’t have looked so bad, Button a 2xWDC!
When Sebastian Vettel first took the driver’s title in 2010 as Fernando Alonso was frustrated behind Vitaly Petrov in Abu Dhabi, it was a breath of fresh air for F1. But Vettel’s success soon became all too inevitable, he would simply run away with the championship in 2011 and 2013, and it was only in the year of the Pirelli tyre lottery in 2012 that Alonso was able to bring the fight down to the last race, desperately trying to pull out results as Red Bull’s rate of development, saw Vettel finish the season strongly and take the crown. To be fair to Seb, it’s worth noting that his team-mate never managed to come home in second place in that period, meaning the Newey Red Bull might not have been as dominant as some of his previous cars, but without those cars the big beneficiary would undoubtedly have been Alonso and Ferrari, with Alonso likely to have had relatively straightforward titles in 2010 and 2013, while his versatility in 2012 surely would have seen him take the title then as well. So three extra crowns for Fernando, and with 5 title in the bag he may well have decided to leave F1 already to pursue his other racing interests! While Alonso was able to make the best out of a bad Ferrari in 2012 and succeed thanks to consistency in a strange season, in the more standard 2011 season Ferrari didn’t quite have the pace to be best of the rest – it was McLaren’s Jenson Button who finished second in the championship that year, ahead of Alonso in fourth and his McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton in fifth.
What might have been: Fernando Alonso takes his tally to 5 driver’s titles before quitting F1 early for a stint in the WEC/Indy (and becomes the go to guy for career advice for aspiring young drivers!), while Jenson Button takes a second title at McLaren at the expense of Lewis Hamilton!