When Teams Improve From One Season To The Next

Every Formula One team undergoes periods of poor results from time to time. Sometimes such lulls in performance last an entire season. It shows incredible resolve to be able to quickly improve your fortunes in the space of just a single calendar year. In this article, we will look at 10 of the greatest comebacks that F1 teams have carried out in history.

Honda/Brawn 2008-2009

File:Jenson Button 2009 F1 World Champion - Brawn GP001. British Grand  Prix, Silverstone (50094344246).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Martin Lee from London, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the biggest improvement in Formula 1 history occurred not so long ago. The team headed by Ross Brawn went from 9th in the Constructors’ to winning the competition in just a single season.

Honda pulled out from the sport at the end of the 2008 campaign. This prompted Mr. Brawn to buy the team for just a single pound, saving many jobs and livelihoods in the process.

2008 was an utter disaster for the Japanese team. Both drivers (Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello) complained of a lack of drivability. Not to mention the RA108 was just downright slow.

The following year brought with it a complete overhaul of the technical regulations. This gave Brawn a clean slate to work on, and the outfit concocted a revolutionary new design.

The controversial double diffuser immediately gave Brawn GP a huge advantage on track. Button won 6 of the first 7 races of the season, which turned out to be enough for him to clinch the drivers’ title. His teammate won a further two events to hand the Constructors’ Championship to the team as well.

Williams 1978-1979

File:Williams F1 FW07.jpg
KevS at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

1978 was Williams’ first year as a constructor, and the struggles of a debut season at the pinnacle of motorsport were clear from the outset.

The FW06 didn’t utilise the ground effect technology that others had, and even with the great Alan Jones behind the wheel the team only finished in the points 3 times in 1978. This was only good enough for 9th in the standings.

When the FW07 was finally introduced at the Spanish GP in 1979, fortunes began to change for Frank Williams’ outfit. While neither car finished the first 2 races, it was evident that the FW07 was the fastest car on the grid.

When they weren’t retiring, Jones and Clay Regazzoni appeared on the podium regularly and 5 victories were achieved over the calendar year. This gave Williams second in the championship.

Lotus 1959-1960

1958 Lotus Climax 16 | Goodwood Revival 2019 - Richmond and … | Flickr

Colin Chapman is regarded as one of the most talented automotive designers of all time. His second ever design, the Lotus 16, was not able to live up to its full potential however.

While the chassis was truly innovative, inspired by the victorious Vanwall of the previous season (1958), it was paired with an underpowered 2-litre Coventry Climax engine.

With 18 Lotus 16 competing over the whole 1959 campaign, the team only finished in the points twice, for a grand total of 5 points!

The turn of the decade meant yet another machine for Chapman. The Lotus 18 was miles better than the 16, taking a commanding victory at the Monaco Grand Prix and United States Grand Prix with Stirling Moss. Lotus managed 34 points, a near seven-fold increase on the previous year.

Brabham 1979-1980

File:Brabham BT49 Nelson Piquet.jpg
Nelson Piquet in the BT49

Brabham came up with the BT48 for the second race of 1979, powered by a V12 Alfa Romeo engine. While quite powerful, it was woefully unreliable.

The team were frequently unable to convert solid qualifying spots into points come Sunday. Niki Lauda only finished 2 races with the car, both in the points. His teammate, Nelson Piquet, only mustered one points-scoring finish.

1980 was a huge change in fortune for Brabham. The BT49 was instantly quick, especially in the hands of Piquet. Three wins and several podiums rocketed the team to 3rd in the constructors’, 55 points compared to 7 in 1979.

Ligier 1984-1985

1985 Dutch Grand Prix Zandvoort, Holland 23rd 25th August 1985 Andrea de  Cesaris (Ligier JS25 Renaul

3 points over 16 races is poor by anyone’s standards. Ligier’s 1984 effort, the JS23, wasn’t that slow really. It’s just that neither driver, Andrea de Cesaris or Francois Hesnault, were able to drag the car into the points very often. In fact, Hesnault stroke out in ’84, while de Cesaris scored all of Ligier’s points over the year.

The only noticeable change made to the car for 1985 was that the JS25 ran on Pirelli tyres as opposed to Michelin rubber. Perhaps this was all that was needed to improve the team’s performances.

Jacques Laffite returned to his beloved team and made an immediate impact with a trio of podiums. Philippe Streiff in the other vehicle gave Ligier a 2-3 at the finale at Adelaide. 23 points were scored in the same amount of races, for 6th in the standings.

BAR Honda 2003-2004

File:Sato usgp 2004.jpg
Rick Dikeman, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Jenson Button pretty much carried British-American Racing (BAR) throughout the 2003 season, securing regular top-8 positions in a decidedly lower mid-pack vehicle. He scored 17 of the team’s 26 points for 5th in the constructors’.

The Briton upped his game yet again the next year, and so did his teammate Takuma Sato. Button managed 6 podiums in the first 8 rounds and a further 4 podiums thereafter.

Sato was also impressive, with a third place at Indianapolis and consistent points giving the team 2nd in the championship with a massive 119 points.

McLaren 1967-1968

Denny Hulme - McLaren Ford | Denny Hulme splashes round the … | Flickr
Jim Culp, Flickr

McLaren’s fourth design, the M7A, was light-years ahead of their previous iteration, the M5A.

The latter competed in the 1967 F1 season. While you can argue that they only had one driver (Bruce McLaren himself), the car failed to even finish 4 of the 6 races it started and only scored points at Monaco.

On the other hand, the M7A was fast. Bruce was partnered by compatriot Denny Hulme, who snagged 2 wins while McLaren came 1st at Spa-Francorchamps in 1968. 52 points versus a measly 3 is a big difference for sure.

Lotus F1 2014-2015

File:Lotus E22 Maldonado Silverstone 2014 (1).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Jake Archibald, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Apart from being hideously ugly, Lotus’ car for 2014 was an established backmarker. Their best result was a pair of 8th places by Romain Grosjean.

Pastor Maldonado scraped a ninth position at COTA, and that was all she wrote for the whole year for Lotus. 10 points was only enough for 8th in the final standings.

A switch to Mercedes power for 2015 was a game-changer for the Norfolk-based team. They began to score points at most races and achieved a single podium at Spa.

78 points placed them 6th in the championship in a year where Mercedes wiped out the competition.

Brabham 1968-1969

GP FRANCE 1969 | Jacky ICKX Brabham BT 26 A Jean-Pierre BELT… | Flickr
Copyright: (C)2010 Marc Le Beller, tous droits réservés

Motor Racing Developments, as they were often called, ran two different designs in 1968, but both weren’t particularly successful.

Both the BT24 and BT26 suffered greatly when it comes to reliability, failing to finish more than 80% of the races they entered. So while the cars were decently quick, Brabham Grand Prix only scored 10 points that year.

Mechanical issues were mainly solved with the updated BT26A, which was used for the majority of the following campaign. Jacky Ickx performed miraculously in the Brabham, with two wins securing 2nd for both himself and the team.

BRM 1961-1962

File:1962-08-05 Graham Hill, BRM - Hatzenbach (sw).jpg
Photo by Lothar Spurzem

BRM, short for British Racing Motors, decided to use a customer engine for 1961, sticking a Coventry Climax unit inside their P57 chassis.

It proved to be both unreliable and underpowered, as not even Graham Hill could wrestle the car into contention on most occasions. Along with Tony Brooks, the pair of them scored 7 points combined.

The British team retained the same chassis for 1962, but went back to their old ways of building their own engine. This time it was a custom 1.5-litre V8, dubbed the P56.

While the car was slightly slower than the Lotus 25 piloted by Jim Clark, it was much more reliable. Hill didn’t retire from a single event in ’62, which was pretty much unheard of at the time!

He won the drivers’ crown ahead of Clark, and their 42 points along with Richie Ginther gave BRM their first Constructors’ Championship.

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