Sebastian Vettel’s title triumph in today’s Japanese GP means he joins an illustrious group of men who’ve achieved back-to-back F1 drivers’ championships. Here, we look at four from the recent past.
Fernando Alonso (2005–6)
Not only did Fernando break the stranglehold of Michael Schumacher in 2005 after five years of Schumi/Ferrari dominance, he did it in a Renault – then he did it again in 2006. Michael was so disgusted that he retired at the end of that year, never to be heard of again. Like Vettel since, Alonso was, at the time of his first championship, the youngest ever F1 world champion, at the tender age of 24 years and 59 days. (It helped that he won the title in September at Interlagos with two races to spare.) By winning again in ’06, he became the youngest double world champion as well – a record also broken this weekend by Seb…
Michael Schumacher (1994–5, 2000–4)
Many people forget that, after bossing everyone in F1 around in the Benetton for two years, Michael Schumacher’s third title came fully five years later. He didn’t join the Ferrari set-up of Ross Brawn’s that the fans came to love/despise (delete as applicable) but a team that hadn’t won a constructors’ championship since the days of Patrick Tambay and René Arnoux in 1983 or a drivers’ title since Gilles Villeneuve finished second to Ferrari team-mate Jody Scheckter in 1979. Having won both in his first full season of F1 and then the next, becoming the youngest ever double champion in 1995, moving to Ferrari for ’96 was indeed a brave step, though the $50m paycheck probably helped. Brawn and Rory Byrne soon followed him to Ferrari from Benetton and the team gradually improved their fortunes. Five straight titles later from 2000, and no wonder Schumacher and Brawn had become such close mates.
Mika Häkkinen (1998–9)
‘Flying Finn’ Mika Häkkinen (they always ‘fly’, it’s the law in Finland, just like being ice-cool and laconic) replaced Ayrton Senna as McLaren’s lead driver in 1994, the year Senna died in a Williams at Imola, but then the Finn himself had only been saved by emergency treatment trackside after a horrifying crash in practice for the 1995 Australian GP. Having returned from this, Mika and McLaren’s fortunes, after a period in the doldrums, started to recover with the Merc engine breakthrough in 1996, then a maiden win for Häkkinen at the end of 1997 at Jerez (but only after team-mate David Coulthard had ended the team’s three-year win drought in the season-opening Australian GP and then won again at Monza). Adrian Newey’s arrival for 1998 made Ron Dennis’s team genuine title contenders, Mika taking eight wins on his way to the 1998 title. Retaining the title in 1999 wasn’t as straightforward as M Schumacher’s leg fracture at Silverstone might have made it, and after an unforced error in Monza saw Mika retire from the lead, he ran into the trees to hide and weep uncharacteristically. But this, and Schumacher’s late return to help Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine try to topple him, didn’t stop Mika making it two from two, by two points.
Ayrton Senna (1990–1)
Following his maiden title in 1988, Ayrton Senna missed the chance to take back-to-back championships in 1989, when the now-infamous incident at Suzuka saw McLaren team-mates Senna and Alain Prost collide and lock wheels, ending Senna’s title tilt and seeing Prost to a third title. With Prost at Ferrari the following year, the tables at Suzuka were turned for Senna in the McLaren, and this time a collision at Turn 1 saw the legendary Brazilian take the title from the Frenchman’s grip and deny him back-to-back crowns. In 1991, Senna recorded seven wins to secure the title much less controversially, Prost winning absolutely none and being unceremoniously sacked before the end of the season when he said of the Ferrari 643, “a truck would be easier to drive than this car.” When McLaren’s fortunes wained, so did Senna’s chances of another title before his tragic death at the 1994 San Marino GP…
Read about more back-to-back F1 champions in part two later!