Following Sebastian Vettel’s stunning defence of his maiden F1 drivers’ crown in Japan yesterday, we wrap up the four other forerunners to his achievement in part two of our Back-to-Back Champions feature.
Alain Prost (1985–6)
Unlike his great rival Ayrton Senna in 1990–1, Alain Prost’s maiden title was at a canter, by 20 points from Ferrari’s Michele Alboreto in 1985, and it would have been more if not for the ‘best 11 results’ scoring method. Retaining it in 1986, however, was certainly not easy. Until late in the last race in Australia, Nigel Mansell in the Williams looked set for maiden title glory until a tyre failed, and the team cautiously brought in his team-mate Nelson Piquet for new rubber, effectively handing the title to Prost and McLaren for a second consecutive year. But this is perhaps unfair – had Prost not managed somehow to nurse his fuel-less car over the line to win the San Marino GP earlier in the season, while team-mate Keke Rosberg couldn’t and was classified fifth, Prost might have been out of title contention anyway.
Jack Brabham (1959–60)
There are many multiple championship winners between 1961 and 1984: But for an oil leak, Jim Clark would have followed his 1963 title with that of 1964 instead of waiting another year; Jackie Stewart’s three came in neat two-yearly instalments in 1969, ’71 and ’73; Emerson Fittipaldi’s were two in three years – 1972 and ’74; Niki Lauda might have retained his title in 1976 but for fate and a decision not to race in the rain in Japan; two of Nelson Piquet’s titles, 1981 and 1983, sandwiched a title-free 1982 where he finished 11th. But you have to go back to the turn of the 1960s to find another back-to-back success, and some success it was. Jack Brabham came to the UK after proving his dirt-track and hillclimb credentials at home in Australia, and it was his friendship with the Cooper brothers and his own skill (he built his first F1 chassis himself) that saw him burst onto the scene in the mid-1950s. In 1959 he won the first race of the season at Monaco from pole, then again in the British GP, with podiums in Holland, France and Italy seeing him finish ahead of Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss. However, five straight wins in 1960 meant that back-to-back titles were assured, despite highly consistent showings from nearest rival Bruce McLaren.
Juan Manuel Fangio (1954–7)
Whenever someone mentions age to 42-year-old Michael Schumacher, one wonders whether he thinks to his Mercedes and Ferrari forerunner Juan Manuel Fangio – the Argentinian didn’t even race in Europe until he was 38, and by the time he won his first title in 1951, the distinctly stocky Fangio was 40. Schumi himself, when he finally exceeded Fangio’s record of five titles, commented, “Fangio is on a level much higher than I see myself.” There is no way that anyone could have levelled the argument that Fangio won simply because he was in a good car, either – his first title came in an Alfa, then the crowning glory of his four consecutive championships from 1954–7 which came while driving for Maserati, Mercedes, Ferrari and then Maserati again, the latter when he was 46 years old.
Alberto Ascari (1952–3)
Handily slotting in between Fangio’s five triumphs is Alberto Ascari, son of the other famous Ascari who went racing, Antonio. Like Fangio, Ascari wasn’t exactly svelte in the cockpit, but he nevertheless totally dominated the 1952 championship for the Scuderia with six wins from seven races, then five the next year to become the series’ first ever back-to-back champion. Despite this, Alberto left the Ferrari team after his 1953 title to join Lancia in a lucrative deal, which turned out also to be a fateful one. Just days after his Lancia L50 crashed out and sank into the harbour at Monaco in 1955, the still-recovering Ascari bowled up at Monza and decided to test drive Eugenio Castellotti’s Ferrari, despite the extremely superstitious Ascari not having his ‘lucky’ blue helmet with him and having to borrow Castellotti’s. For reasons still unexplained, he crashed and was killed in frighteningly similar circumstances to his father 30 years earlier…
- Back-to-back champions in F1 feature: part 1
- Sebastian Vettel profile
- Japanese GP event page