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The Formula 1 constructors’ championship has run since 1958, in that time 15 constructors have won the championship, and of those only four are currently racing (Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams).  Although there is a team that is currently running with the name Lotus, they only have the name in common with the team that Colin Chapman founded in the 1950’s.

A couple of constructors stand out in that after their championship winning season they left the sport.  Vanwall, who won the first championship in 1958, ceased racing at the end of that year.  Brawn, the 2009 champions, was sold to Mercedes after winning their one and only season in the sport.

Matra had quite a short life following their last championship in 1969, with this also being the last season that they won a grand prix, however they did survive as a constructor until 1972 before leaving F1.  The constructor having parted ways from the successful Tyrrell team when the team wanted to use the Cosworth DFV engine and the constructor insisted that its own V12 was used.

Two iterations of the Enstone based team that now calls itself Lotus are the next shortest lived once they stopped winning constructors’ championships.  As Renault they survived for five years after the success in 2006, and as their previous incarnation Benetton they lasted for six years beyond the 1995 championship.  In both cases they carried on winning races for two years beyond the final championship year.

Cooper as the pioneer of mid engined F1 cars in the post war period won its last championship in 1960, losing out to others who exploited the concept better.  They continued winning though, with the last victory in 1967 before quitting F1 at the end of 1968.

All the other constructors’ champions had a long and drawn out departure from F1.  There steady decline is shown in the table below:

Constructor Last Constructors’ Championship Last Race Win Last year in F1
Tyrrell 1971 1983 1997
Brabham 1967 1985 1991
Lotus 1978 1987 1993
BRM 1962 1972 1974

 

While these teams carried on competing for many years after their last championship, their slow decline as they failed to keep pace with the advances in the sport led to a fall in sponsorship and the eventual departure from the sport.  While BRM’s departure was before I followed the sport in any detail, the slow decline of the other three was painful to watch.  There are parallels for Williams here, it is 17 years ago that they last won a constructors’ title (1997), and although they had a solitary race win in 2012 they are not as well funded as they would like.

However it is McLaren that I would like to highlight as being on the same slippery slope.  Their last constructors’ title was only a year after Williams’ in 1998*, and with the lack of podiums in 2013 and no lead sponsor on the car, this season will be as critical for them if they are to avoid the slow decline we have seen previously.  Both Williams and McLaren have already equalled Ferrari’s record of 16 years between constructors’ championships, and while they have a further decade to go before they equal Tyrrell’s survival beyond their last title I feel this is a key year for both teams to show improvement.

* Note that McLaren would have won the 2008 constructors’ title had they been allowed to keep their points following the spy-gate scandal.  This would then put them in a slightly better position than Ferrari, however it isn’t the red team that has lost its sponsorship.

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A long time fan of Formula 1 and grass roots motorsport, I am interested in the engineering aspects not only of F1 but the 'men in sheds' who develop homemade specials to take on the products of the big racing car manufacturers.
  • Tom

    I really can’t see McLaren fading away. But then again, I would never have thought that Williams would go backwards to the degree that they did. But once BMW pulled out, the team and its performance collapsed.

    I do have a good feeling regarding McLaren’s MP4-29 though. So even if they should struggle to find a new sponsor this year, they’re healthy enough to get by this one season and with a good 2014 showing, they should be attractive to potential sponsors again.

    Plus, both Mercedes and Honda should be capable engines, so at least they don’t have to settle for Cosworth engines the way Williams did. Also, McLaren does have a strong engineering pool and they’re not bleeding talent the way Lotus is or Williams used to. So the ingredients are all there.

    • Jack Flash (Aust)

      …and they have Ron Dennis OCD back on “dust buster” duty !
      (ps. not sure where OCD ranks in the Queen’s honour list. Somewhere below OBE.) ;-) Jack Flash

  • Hap Sharp

    Have to agree with the above post, especially with Honda coming in ’15, I don’t think this is a make-or-break year for McLaren….in fact, while nobody will say so, could this be more than anything a rebuilding year for them? Other teams seem to think along those kind of timelines. Also, circumstances were far different for Tyrrell, Lotus, etc. For example, as late as 1973 BRM had Marlboro sponsorship and helped squander it by trying to run no less than 5 cars!

  • JakobusVdL

    Do you have data on how the former champions scored in the wcc and wdc in the years of their decline?
    I don’t have any data but my impression is that McLaren have remained a top 4 team for most of the time since 1997 – is that correct, and how does that compare with the ‘failed’ teams?