Back to the Front


Not a Moderator
Valued Member
Pastor Maldonado's impressively controlled win in the Spanish Grand Prix saw Williams return to the winners' circle after more than seven years away - and following on from arguably the worst season in their history in 2011. But did it represent the biggest turnaround in performance - to go from also-rans one season to Grand Prix winners the next - in F1 history? I've ransacked the archives and come up with my top ten examples of teams who went from back to front in one season.

10. Lotus - Mario Andretti, Japanese Grand Prix 1976
Previous season: 7th in Constructors' Championship - 9 points
The Lotus Type 72, first introduced in 1970, had provided two world champions and set the template for the F1 car of the future, but producing a successor car proved one of Colin Chapman's most difficult challenges. The Type 77, introduced for 1976, will not be remembered as a great car, but returned Team Lotus to the podium, with a quartet of third places through the season. At the final race, the first Japanese GP at Fuji, Mario Andretti controlled the race from pole position despite horrendous monsoon conditions. As most of the title drama between James Hunt and Niki Lauda played out in the pits, Andretti stayed out on heavily worn wet tyres - with the canvas visible by the finish - to take Lotus' first win for over two years.

9. Ferrari - Jacky Ickx, Austrian Grand Prix 1970
Previous season: 5th in Constructors' Championship - 7 points
1969 had been a transitional season for Ferrari, as Enzo negotiated the sale of half his company to FIAT the racing team took a back seat, with only one of their outdated 312 chassis turning up to most races. For 1970 Mauro Forghieri used the team's new financial security to produce a much improved car, based around the excellent new flat-12 engine. In the hands of Ickx, it was a regular top five runner in the early races, and the Belgian lost out to Jochen Rindt in a close-fought battle for the win at Hockenheim, having started on pole. In the next race at the Osterreichring the Ferraris were unstoppable, Ickx leading team-mate Clay Regazzoni to a dominant 1-2, the first win for the Scuderia since the summer of '68.

8. Jordan - Giancarlo Fisichella, Brazilian Grand Prix 2003
Previous season: 6th in Constructors' Championship - 9 points
As manufacturer involvement in F1 exploded during the early 2000s, Jordan found themselves rapidly shuffled down the competitive order. In 2002, the disappointing performance of the EJ12 led Honda to end their relationship, and so a difficult season with Ford-badged Cosworth engines was in prospect in 2003. So it proved, but in a chaotic, rain-battered race at Interlagos, Fisichella's excellent driving over the previous twelve months was rewarded. From eighth on the grid, the Jordan was unobtrusive in the early stages, but through four Safety Car periods the yellow car moved forwards as rivals fell foul of standing water at Turn Three. Slipping past Kimi Raikkonen on a drying track, Fisichella took the lead for the one and only time on lap 54 as David Coulthard pitted. A massive accident on the main straight saw the race red-flagged and after much confusion in the aftermath - the trophy was awarded to Raikkonen - it emerged that Jordan Grand Prix had scored their fourth and final victory.

7. Toro Rosso - Sebastian Vettel, Italian Grand Prix 2008
Previous season: 7th in Constructors' Championship - 8 points
Dietrich Mateschitz acquired the Minardi team from Paul Stoddart at the end of 2005 and turned the Italian minnows into the Red Bull junior team. In spite of a lot of direct technical support from Milton Keynes, the Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed struggled to trouble the scorers in 2006-07. The midseason sacking of Speed in favour of youngster Vettel proved a wise move however, as over the course of the 2008 season the German showed an increasing turn of pace in the STR3. The Monza weekend was very wet, and the home team showed they could set their car up for the conditions in qualifying, with Vettel taking a historic first pole position, and team-mate Sebastien Bourdais fourth on the grid. Nobody anticipated the manner in which Vettel would dominate on race day, however, showing extraordinary maturity to hold the field at bay equally challenging conditions.

6. Stewart - Johnny Herbert, European Grand Prix 1999
Previous season: 8th in Constructors' Championship - 5 points
Jackie Stewart's team had a bad case of second season syndrome in 1998, the SF2 failing to make much of an impact with all the teams now running on Bridgestone tyres. The Gary Anderson-designed SF3, however, proved a much faster, if initially somewhat fragile, proposition. Rubens Barrichello finished on the podium at Imola and repeated the feat, from pole position, at Magny-Cours. The European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, round 14 of the championship, was run in wet-dry conditions as so often, and gave the team an opportunity to take a first and final victory, with the change to Jaguar confirmed for 2000. Herbert timed his change to wet tyres perfectly and profited as a succession of leaders retired, while Barrichello could not find a way past Jarno Trulli's Prost and took third.

5. Honda - John Surtees, Italian Grand Prix 1967
Previous season: 8th in Constructors' Championship - 3 points
Honda's new car for 1966, the RA273, had only arrived in time for the final three Grands Prix, and like the company's previous cars was heavy and handled poorly, despite the prodigious power output of the V12 engine. John Surtees, joining the team for 1967, asked his former colleagues at Lola to produce a new chassis to take better advantage of the Honda engine. The new RA300, immediately dubbed the 'Hondola', would not turn out to be a world-beater, but at Monza scored an unlikely debut victory. Jim Clark had led in the early stages for Lotus until a puncture cost him a lap, leaving team mate Graham Hill to build an impressive lead. Hill's engine let go with a dozen laps remaining, leaving Jack Brabham and Surtees at the front from the rapidly recovering Clark. Incredibly, Clark re-took the lead, but a fuel pump failure on the last lap left the way clear for Surtees to outfumble Brabham at the Parabolica and take the win by less than a car's length.

4. McLaren - John Watson, British Grand Prix 1981
Previous season: 9th in Constructors' Championship - 11 points
McLaren had never got to grips with ground effect cars, and after one solitary podium in 1979 sponsors Marlboro negotiated the transfer of the team to Ron Dennis' Project Four organisation. Dennis commissioned John Barnard to produce the first carbon fibre chassis F1 car, but in the meantime the team struggled on in 1980, with no podium finishes for Alain Prost or John Watson. The carbon MP4/1 arrived at the third race of 1981 and after some predictable teething problems, Wattie took third in Spain and second in France. At Silverstone, the turbocharged Renaults of Prost and Rene Arnoux had the legs on the field, but when both retired with distributor failures, Watson was set fair for his first win in five years, McLaren's first for three-and-a-half, and the first for a carbon fibre car full stop.

3. Williams - Clay Regazzoni, British Grand Prix 1979
Previous season: 9th in Constructors' Championship - 11 points
Frank Williams had been running cars on a shoestring budget in Formula One throughout the 1970s with little or no success - things becoming so bad at one point that he had to conduct his business from a public payphone in the street. When Walter Wolf bought his assets in 1977, Frank became little more than Wolf's personal assistant and dissatisfied, persuaded Patrick Head to join him in setting up a new team - Williams Grand Prix Engineering. Head's first car, the FW06, was an excellent design, but didn't take advantage of the ground effect aerodynamics that made the Lotus 79 so dominant in the 1978 season. Head's response, the ground effect FW07, arrived for the fifth round of the 1979 season, and was an immediate front-runner. After Alan Jones retired from the lead at Zolder, Regazzoni was second at Monaco, and the team were on the verge of a breakthrough. At Silverstone, Jones took pole position and looked set for victory until a water pump failed, leaving the way clear for Regazzoni to take the chequered flag and the first of many wins for Williams and Head.

2. Williams - Pastor Maldonado, Spanish Grand Prix 2012
Previous season: 9th in Constructors' Championship - 5 points
By 2011 Williams showed all the symptoms of a team in terminal decline. The team had lost works engine supplier BMW at the end of 2005, shrinking sponsorship income had forced the team to downsize, and Kazuki Nakajima had spent two years with the team to help pay the bills. The Cosworth-engined FW33 proved the least competitive car yet, with drivers Maldonado and Rubens Barrichello usually finding themselves running at the back of the established outfits, behind the much smaller teams Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso. Drastic action was required, and technical director Sam Michael left the team, replaced by Mike Coughlan. Finances obliged the recruitment of Bruno Senna, a second talented driver with backing, to join Maldonado. Hopes were not high, but the new car showed well in the opening races; at Melbourne, Maldonado battled for fifth position until spinning out on the final lap. Senna finished sixth in the wet Malaysian race, with both cars making the top eight in China. In Spain, Maldonado produced a lap out of nowhere to take second in qualifying, inheriting pole position on Lewis Hamilton's exclusion. Fernando Alonso's Ferrari led the early stages, but an aggressive strategy on tyre changes jumped Maldonado back in front, and there he stayed, showing impressive maturity to manage delicate tyres through a long final stint and keep the Spaniard at bay.

1. Honda/Brawn GP - Jenson Button, Australian Grand Prix 2009
Previous season: 9th in Constructors' Championship - 14 points
Honda's second full factory F1 entry had proved even less successful than the first, with Button's wet weather triumph in Hungary in 2006 the only win. The 'Earth Car' of 2007 proved a disastrous flop, and when the successor proved scarcely any better, new team principal Ross Brawn turned all the factory's resources towards the design of a new car for the major rule changes in 2009. Honda's withdrawal from F1, announced in December 2008, threw preparations for the new season into chaos, and it wasn't until 23 days before the opening Grand Prix of the season that Ross Brawn was confirmed as the new team owner. Given the late change of engine supplier to Mercedes, the team's pace in pre-season testing was a major surprise, but even then nobody expected the Brawn car, devoid of sponsorship, to arrive at Melbourne and blow away all the competition. Button's win, with team mate Rubens Barrichello second, was the first of six wins in the first seven races, and the foundation of his eventual world championship victory.

So - do you agree with my choices, and the order? Any great turn-arounds that I've missed out?
Great article G! loved all the choices.

Only one I think you missed off the list was the much talked about Oliver Panis victory in Monaco 1996. The teams first victory since 1981 and the swansong of a team who had finished second in the constructors in 1980.

Other than that I think you hit the lot - although I'm sure an argument for Coulthards win for Mclaren Australia at the start of the 1997 season could be argued too as it was thier first win since 1993 and they'd been pretty terrible. in 94 and 95.
I can't think of too many others at the drop of a hat, but on a race-to-race basis I can think of one or two spectaluar turnarounds. Brabham's Nelson Piquet failing to even qualify for the race at the 1982 Detroit GP, only to dominate and win the following race in Montreal.
Ivan Calelli along with the Leyton House team too slow to qualify for the Mexican GP and only denied a win at the French GP immediately after by a dodgy fuel pump.
RasputinLives - I did have to whittle down a long list to get down to ten, and Panis was on it. I just felt the previous 1995 car wasn't as bad as most of the examples here, even though the win was very unexpected, and came after a long drought. Probably it warrants inclusion.

Incubus - a good topic for another thread! You could throw Hungary 1997 into that mix too, probably, though not quite at the same level.
What about the change in McLaren's fortunes once they got they hands on the TAG/Porsche? They only finished fifth on the constructors championship in 1983 and the normally-aspirated engines were totally out of their depths by then.
In 1984 they beat just about any old record going at the time.
I always marveled at Berger's win in the Benetton at Mexico 86. Pirelli tires doing a full race distance. Imagine that!

And this was kind of a turnaround, as Benetton took over the Toleman team who managed only 2 finishes in 1985 with Teo Fabi, a 12th and a 14th. Benetton had the BMW engine however.
McLaren did win a race in '83, so that ruled them out for me really, but given their dominance in '84 the step change was a big one, that's true.

Toleman to Benetton is another good one. How much credit goes to Munich, we can't be sure.
I'd like to add into this Michele Alboreto winning in Las Vegas in 1982. Tyrrel's first since Patrick Depailler at Monaco in 1978. This was a great drive by a great driver in a car which improved and improved over the season, despite Tyrrell having virtually no sponsorship. The real kick in the pants for me was not seeing Alboreto cross the line and get shown the chequered flag as the director was following Keke Rosberg round in 5th as he wander into his World Title.
There is one that really stands out, but this, unfortunately, did not lead to a victory....

In the 1990 French Grand Prix, the Leyton Houses of Capelli and Gugelmin were looking likely for a 1-2 until late in the race, when Gugelmin stopped, and Prost passed Capelli for the win... However, the previous race, both cars had failed to so much as qualify for the race!
I can't think of too many others at the drop of a hat, but on a race-to-race basis I can think of one or two spectaluar turnarounds. Brabham's Nelson Piquet failing to even qualify for the race at the 1982 Detroit GP, only to dominate and win the following race in Montreal.
Brabham also were nowhere in 1979 (8th with 7 points), but in 1980 Piquet had a shot at the title.
The first thing I thought of when I saw this on the home page was Brawn's season has got to be number one. Good post.
What about Schumacher's drive in Barcelona 1996 for Ferrari? Possibly one of the greatest drives I have ever seen.

Ah those were the days when they actually needed full wet tyres, I don't know why they bother with them these days...
Not sure if it is relevant to this thread considering Ferrari had multiple podiums and a win the prior season and the season up till that point, also Michael was World Champion, but in terms of great drives that would be up there. Was that Michael's first Ferrari win?
Fair enough. Perhaps looking at it in reverse makes it difficult to see the impact it would've had at the time. Calling them a "non-team" is probably going a bit far though.
Ferrari won 1 race in 94 (Berger - Hockenheim), 1 race in 95 (Alesi - Montreal), - Prior to that you had to go back to 1990 (Prost, Spain)...

In the intervening years, they'd produced the twin-floored f92, which whilst a brilliant idea was fundamentally flawed.... Sadly...
BRM--Pedro Rodriguez wins Spa in 1970, ending a 4 year victory drought for the team (a dazzling 7 points in 1969 with Surtees as their leader).

As for the Lotus 77 of 1976, I seem to recall that the car was so dire that Peterson gave up on it after 2 races and ran off to March. It took Mario develop the brick into a race winner and bring the team back to life.
Since the thread is focused more on teams than drivers, I can't possibly include Ferrari 1996 - the car was worse than the previous one! Off topic, I think the view that Ferrari were a 'non team' in the 1991-95 period a lot of nonsense, actually. The team's upward curve began when Todt took over in '93, and the key technical change - the V10 engine - had been planned before Schumacher was signed, I think(?)

siffert_fan - good call.
Although they could have done better, Ferrari might have been a lot worse off in the '90s.

Ferrari's WDC placings from 1989 to 1999 were as follows
4th place: 1992, 1993
3rd place: 1989,1991, 1994, 1995
2nd place: 1990, 1996, 1997, 1998
1st place: 1999

The significant thing about Ferrari's alleged doldrum years was that the teams reliability and survival in the races dominated the team's and its driver's ability to bring home the wins and points. In 1992, for example, Ferrari suffered their worst season with no wins and just two podium finishes but with twenty retirements. Yet they were still fourth in the WDC.

Comparing the results of the Ferrari of 1995 with that of 1996 is interesting:
1995: 1 wins, 10 podiums, 73 points, 14 retirements.
1996: 3 wins, 6 podiums, 70 points, 15 retirements.

The bottom line is that if one team has a significant advantage that gives them a dominant car then everyone else will look bad, and some will come off worse than others. A lot of it is chance but a lot more is down to economics (scale, money and resources) Equalisation of those with budget caps, etc. places a lot more emphasis on the skilled personnel to make the difference between winning and losing, methinks. Perhaps this is why this season is such a mixed bag of fortunes with almost anyone on te grid in with a chance of victories and good points hauls.
Top Bottom