The Decline and Fall of Once Great Drivers

FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
Having recently watched highlights of the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix I was taken with the sad image of Michele Alboreto walking away from his Minardi in his second to last ever F1 race. I remember Alboreto's first win at Las Vegas in 1982, the only time I have never seen the winning driver cross the line as the producer was following Keke Rosberg as he cruised to 5th and the driver title.

Many drivers hang on too long in F1, Alboreto being one of them, and I'm never sure whether it's because they can't live without the buzz of racing or if they simply like getting paid large salaries to jet around the world?

This got me thinking about the decline of great drivers and who fell the lowest from once great heights. To this end I would like to offer up Graham Hill but please don't mis-interpret this as I have a great affection and admiration for him both as a racing driver and as a great wit and raconteur.

Hill won 2 World Championships at a time when Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart were both racing so he must have had some talent. He won 14 Grand Prix and included in these were 5 race wins at Monaco. After his last WDC in 1968 Hill won only one more race, Monaco in 1969. In the following seasons Hill finished 13th, 21st & 15th in the WDC before the ignominy of not scoring a single point in 1973.

As no one else would offer Hill a drive he set up his own team and his name drew sponsorship from Embassy. This allowed him to struggle on through 1974 eventually calling it a day when he failed to qualify his own car at Monaco in 1975. I suppose this was an appropriate place for Hill to bow out but to sign off his career with a DNQ must have been heart breaking for the Master of Monaco. The loss of Hill in a plane crash that same year is well known and I for one have often wondered if this hadn't have happened would Hill cars still be sitting on the grid next to the McLaren, Ferrari and Williams cars of today.

I'm sure there are other drivers who you feel stayed in F1 too long and tarnished a once glittering reputation so please feel free to offer your opinions. You may feel I am doing Graham Hill a great disservice, nothing will take away his World Titles or race wins but my exposure to Hill as a racing driver, when he was racing, was as an also ran rather than the champion he had been which is a shame.
 

cider_and_toast

Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff member
Premium Contributor
Funny thing FB, when I saw this thread and read the opening paragraph the first driver I thought of was Graham Hill. I don't believe it's doing an injustice to his memory to say that he hung around too long. In his day he really was among the top drivers in F1 but I think he should have called it quits after his big accident in 1969 as he was never the same driver afterwards.

Ironically I would like to add his son Damon Hill to the list. Maybe things would have been different if Hill had sorted a contract at Williams for 1997 and it would have been a close battle between Hill and Villeneuve for the title that season which could have seen Hill take back to back world titles but as it was he ended up in the Arrrows. His 1998 season in the Jordan was pretty good and included the win in Belgium but it was all down Hill from there. The final straw being the time when he parked a perfectly good car at the German GP. It's one of the rare occasions when Bernie actually said something that most people actually agreed with. In the run up to the British GP, when Damon questioned weather he wanted to race and still had the motivation Bernie said if he had to ask that he should walk away from the sport now. I believe it was only the fact that Damon finished in the points that made him change his mind and continue for the rest of the season.

Another name I would like to add is Nigel Mansell. After winning the title but not defending it due to not wanting to face being alongside Prost at Williams he left for the US and took the Indy Car title in his first season. When things got tougher over there he then tried to walk back into F1. Ok so he did score a win in a quest appearence at Williams but then came that 1995 Mclaren. Just what exactly Ron Dennis was thinking of in signing Mansell we will never now but the fact that Mansell missed 3 races because he couldn't fit in the car made the team and himself a laughing stock. The fact that his handful of performances when he did actually squeeze his chunky frame in the car were also rubbish and the fact that he was replaced by Mark Blundell for the rest of the season who went on to do a pretty compitant job put the last nail in. After that he went on to race a mondeo in the BTCC and he was rubbish at that as well.
 

FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
I'm not sure what point your making Fedup; is the question would I, personally, still have the motivation to drive in F1 after a serious accident or are you suggesting this was the reason for Hill's decline?

If the question is posed to me, I've never had the chance to drive an F1 car with 2 good legs. In my formative years I had dreams of being a racing driver but, like many, these were simply dreams. At the age I'm at now (and given the rapid expansion of my derriere) I struggle to make it to fridge from the lounge for a glass of orange juice. Bring on the mobility carriage! LOL

If this was the cause of Hill's decline it further reinforces my suggestion that he should have hung his helmet up long before he did. Some driver come back from serious injuries, think of Niki Lauda or Micheal Schumacher, others struggle following accidents and broken bones seem to be difficult to recover from; take for example Jean-Pierre Jabouille or Didier Pironi.

It was incredibly brave of Hill to go back to racing after his accident but I'm not sure what he got out of driving round at the back of the field in an uncompetitive car. It must have been incredibly frustrating for him given the heights he had achieved.
 
Sorry FB about the previous short abrupt reply, I was watching something on Ebay.

I think Graham Hills accident probably ruled him of the '69 season. He didn't fare much better in subsequent seasons, and I think he set up his own team and quit after a DNQ. So I agree a fall of a once great driver, although his previous accident may have weighed heavily on his mind.

If you have ever read Mike Hailwoods autobiography it paints a complete different picture of Graham Hill to what you would expect. He was the only one in the whole of F1, to help Hailwood from his switch from 2 wheels to 4, the rest of F1 treated him a bit like a leper. It sounds like Hill took him under his wing. Hill also kept precise notes on each grand prix, car setup etc. and he shared all these with Hailwood.

With his son I think he just lost motivation, but he did go fromWDC to driving an Arrows!!!!

Mansell, I agree should have retired when he was ahead, although I did enjoy him in BTCC, the BTCC boys where certainly not in awe of his name.
 

FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
No probs Fedup, hope you won.

A couple of other drivers who may fit with this thread. Emerson Fittipaldi, Copersucar Emo, what were you thinking? I know family is important but you had so much talent. And Alan Jones, I presume he bought Beatrice Foods to the Haas Lola team? He obviously enjoyed what they made, chunky monkey :snigger: (like I can criticise)

p.s. why don't you put a review of the Hailwood book in the scrutineering section?
 
Nope - last 3 secs as per bl**dy usually. Shouldn't be such a tight wad. :whistle:

Old age may be blurring my memory, but did Emo have great side burns, oh and he also went to Indy.

Must be the elephant graveyard for F1 drivers :thinking:
 

Brogan

🦶 Leg end
Staff member
An interesting subject and one which is kind of linked to my comments in the Jarno Trulli thread.

I believe that as the margins and limits in F1 are so small that there comes a time when eventually a driver can no longer match the rest of the drivers on the grid.
Most of the time this will be age related but other times it will also be related to the driver's confidence which can quite rightly be affected after an accident or other reason.

Graham Hill I think was severely affected by what was an horrific accident and was never the same again.
Other drivers, his son perhaps, suffered from confidence issues for whatever reason and the end result was the same.

If things had turned out differently this year then I believe we would have had one of the most famous names to add to this list, one Michael Schumacher.
Although he may have retired perhaps 1 year early, at least he still went out on a relative high.
If he had returned this year to replace Felipe Massa then I think it would have been a mistake and he would have ended up tarnishing his reputation and record (and yes, before you say it, I know he's not a stranger to controversy :D ).
 
If things had turned out differently this year then I believe we would have had one of the most famous names to add to this list, one Michael Schumacher.
Although he may have retired perhaps 1 year early, at least he still went out on a relative high.
If he had returned this year to replace Felipe Massa then I think it would have been a mistake and he would have ended up tarnishing his reputation and record (and yes, before you say it, I know he's not a stranger to controversy :D ).
:thumbsup:

I thought it was protested by the Schumacher crew that he could not race due to injury just a little too much.
My personal thoughts where that he test drove, and simply was not fast enough.
MS is older, probably not as fit, reaction times slower, Ferrai not as quick and the cars have moved on.
He would have had a drive in an older car, so too exclude himself from the testing ban.
If Massa can return in Abu Dhabi (not confirmed by FIA) then I'm sure MS could have made an appearance this year. MS thus excused himself from this thread.

FB, IMO listed most of the other drivers who may contend for this accolade. Just for interest Alan Jones also drove for Graham Hill's team.

Could I nomiante James Hunt, he was a playboy character, but 8th, 8th, 4th, 1st, 5th, 13th, 22nd; should be enough to allow me to place him here.
 

bogaTYR

Points Scorer
jacques villeneuve springs to mind too.

i myself am not a racing driver but i can well believe its hard to step away from a racing car. lots of former F1 drivers do seem to go on racing in one form or another.

another point in the discussion: F1 has a commercial side too. from that viewpoint having a famous driver helps. you get more exposure. does it matter if that driver does good or bad? i am not sure as long as there is exposure.

and about schumie's return. honestly, it would not have mattered at all how he would have done. ferrari as a team were in a pretty bad state and they needed something to lift them. F1 is a team sport remember? and the guys in the factory and the pit are a part of that team. the thought michael would be driving really did something for their moral.
 

teabagyokel

#dejavu
Valued Member
bogaTYR said:
jacques villeneuve springs to mind too.
Not for me, I would say that JV was never good enough in the first place, and frankly ended up in a much better car than everyone else, with HHF not in the right frame of mind, and he nearly binned it to the inferior Ferrari!

Mika Hakkinen's 2001 is a good example imo, he did show his class at Silverstone and Indy, but he had a disappointing season!
 

siffert_fan

Too old to watch the Asian races live.
Contributor
I would have to include John Surtees in the group. He never seemed the same after his accident in the Lola T70. His skills diminished to the point that BRM fared much better in 1968 and 1970 with Pedro Rodriguez as their leader then they did with Surtees in 1969. The cars that he went on to design and race were better known for being safe than for being fast.
 

FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
Just wondered if we should add Michael Schumacher's name to this thread or is it too early to suggest that he he has "fallen"?
 

cider_and_toast

Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff member
Premium Contributor
Right now, I would say that an invitation has been sent, his name is on the guest list and we are just waiting for his car to pull up outside the venue however, he isn't quite at the party just yet and there's an outside chance he may go down the road to the "still got it" party.
 

Feckless

Rookie
Really interesting post.

The drivers I think of straight away is Nigel Mansell.

I think this just illustrates that to win in F1 you need alot of things to come together for at the same time. Only one of these is being able to drive fast. I cant put people like Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Jean Alesi, Gerhard Burger and Martin Brundell on this list because (arguably) they are not great but they were quick and even won championships..... By being in the right place at the right time.

As a illustration of this, if you look at the top drivers in the WDC right now. For me, Mark Webber has to do it this season. That must be playing on his mind when he sees Vettel getting his car parts. I feel that Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel and Button will all get another crack at it, but Webber has to deliver in 2010.
 

DOF_power

Banned
Every F1 WDC that lived/survived, except for Hawthorne, Stewart, Prost who retired as active WDCs and Brabham and Fangio to a lesser degree, were fallen/ zeroes.


Farina, Phill Hill, John Surtees, G. Hill, D. Hulme, E. Fitipaldi, James Hunt, N. Lauda, M. Andretti, A. Jones, N. Piquet Snr., N. Mansell, D. Hill, Häkkinen, Räikkönen.
Ascari and Senna died without scoring any points BTW.

So 3 retiring active WDCs + 2 that showed that still had it, and that's it.

F1 was and is a cruel, cruel place.
The failure rate for drivers who don't make it pass the 1st/2nd season is ~75% according to a statistics I've read
 

MCLS

Anti F1 fan
Valued Member
It is immensly harsh to use Senna because his crash was very early in the season
 

teabagyokel

#dejavu
Valued Member
It is actually equally harsh to use Ascari as well, who had also retired from the first two races of 1955 after qualifying 2nd on each occasion before his death. Senna had, of course, qualified on pole position for all 3 races of the 1994 season.
 

DOF_power

Banned
McLarenSupremo said:
It is immensly harsh to use Senna because his crash was very early in the season
teabagyokel said:
It is actually equally harsh to use Ascari as well, who had also retired from the first two races of 1955 after qualifying 2nd on each occasion before his death. Senna had, of course, qualified on pole position for all 3 races of the 1994 season.


Crashes and deaths and reliability retirements are part of motorsport.
 

teabagyokel

#dejavu
Valued Member
DOF_power said:
McLarenSupremo said:
It is immensly harsh to use Senna because his crash was very early in the season
teabagyokel said:
It is actually equally harsh to use Ascari as well, who had also retired from the first two races of 1955 after qualifying 2nd on each occasion before his death. Senna had, of course, qualified on pole position for all 3 races of the 1994 season.
Crashes and deaths and reliability retirements are part of motorsport.
It is unfair to equate decline with demise, however.
 
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