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Formula 1 history: Top cars without a world title

The Ferrari F1-75 started the ground effect era in 2022 as the best car. Nevertheless, it was only enough for four GP wins and second place in the World Championship. We have found twelve other cars with a similar fate in F1 history.

There are racing cars that had what it takes to be world champions, but took a wrong turn on the way there or got into a dead end. The Ferrari F1-75 is such a car. By race seven he looked like the probable champion, by mid-season a possible. Nothing worked after the summer break. Ferrari even had to fear for second place. Red Bull drove up and away, Mercedes caught up.

In the end, everyone was wondering how the best car of the first half of the season could collapse like that. Why the F1-75 shed all of its good qualities and the Red Bull RB18 inherited them. In Imola, Red Bull star designer Adrian Newey praised the competitor's product for its large working window, its versatility, the ease with which it can be set up, the grip on the front axle, the low tire wear, the most powerful engine, the stability and the lower weight.

Chain of unfortunate circumstances

Half a year later, Newey could have said the same thing about his car. And the Ferrari seemed to have lost all its good qualities. He was only a defensive opponent for one round. In the race he ate his tires and was vulnerable on the straights. Ferrari quickly realized that the World Championship train had left and was concentrating on the 2023 car early on. You don't want to make the same mistakes twice. At least that.

Looking back, it's easy to explain why Ferrari failed. One could benevolently speak of a chain of unfortunate circumstances. However, the runner-up was not entirely innocent of some of these circumstances. As it turned out later, Ferrari started the season with a weight advantage of ten kilograms. That was exactly the three tenths that the red car was initially faster.

Top speed deficit is forcing Ferrari into a dead end

Technically, there was actually a tie early on. Now it was a matter of who developed better. At Red Bull, the goal was clear. You just had to do what the Ferrari could do and lose weight at the same time. After the summer break, the weight was at the same level. Ferrari, on the other hand, felt more and more headwind the smaller the weight delta became. Now you were forced to find your own lap time.

In Imola and Miami, the Italians noticed that Red Bull, with its top speed advantage, had an advantage in the race on tracks with a high percentage of straights. Ferrari generated its downforce at a greater percentage than the competition the classic way. About the wings and fairing. As a result, the car was good-natured and predictable, and not as dependent on ground clearance.Therefore, the technicians had more freedom in tuning. The bouncing that was definitely present was therefore manageable for the drivers.

A new underbody with weaknesses

The opponent's strong top speed forced Ferrari to generate the contact pressure more efficiently. At the same time, a valve problem forced Ferrari to shorten the engine's running times and reduce performance. This made the task of getting more downforce over the ground and less over the wings all the more pressing. An underbody debuted at the French GP that former race director Mattia Binotto later identified as the cause of the F1-75 suddenly losing its good qualities. The ground now provided more downforce, but it was unstable under certain conditions.

At the same time, the FIA ​​tightened its measures against bouncing and announced stricter controls on the planks and floors. Everyone was forced to drive higher than desired. Red Bull could handle it, Ferrari not anymore.

Because the F1-75 with the France underbody had reduced its working window. And because there was no going back to the old ground. Then you would have had to drive with larger wings again, which would have widened the top speed gap further. That was the dead end. The solution to the engine problems came too late. Charles Leclerc had them on board from Austin, Carlos Sainz from Interlagos.

Fast but fragile

The Ferrari F1-75 is not alone in its story. There have been many other cars in Formula 1 history that had what it takes to be world champions but didn't make it onto the road. The reasons for failure are different.

The Lancia D50 from the 50s was actually a better racing car than the Mercedes W196 due to its genes. But it was too extreme, too critical in handling, too prone to defects. Gianni Lancia would have had to spend a lot of money to stop all teething problems. But that was exactly what he ran out of in the early summer of 1955. He shut down his racing department in the middle of the season.

Lotus had the fastest car in the field in 1962 with the 25 model and in 1967 with the 49 type. The 25 was the first monocoque Formula 1 car, the 49 the first with the engine as a supporting element. Both Lotus failed due to lack of reliability. B.R.M. benefited in 1962 from the fact that Graham Hill failed only once, but Jim Clark in the Lotus 25 four times. Hill covered 3,254 race kilometers, Clark only 2,516. At the second attempt in 1963, Clark drove everything into the ground in the Lotus 25.

Five years later, history repeated itself. World Champion Denis Hulme dropped out twice, Jim Clark five times. The brave Brabham-Repco wasn't the fastest car in the field, but it was as stable as a tank. The Lotus 49, elegance cast in aluminium, lightning fast but fragile. Hulme's 3,526 kilometers of racing faced Clark's 2,539.The Lotus 49 also took two years to mature into a world champion car. In 1968 Graham Hill won the world title, which actually seemed reserved for Clark.

A good idea not thought through to the end

Lotus once again got in its own way. The 1977 season's Model 78 was the forerunner of the ground effect cars. Hugely superior on tracks that demand a lot of downforce. Sometimes hopeless on the fast tracks because the car was too slow on the straights.

Team boss Colin Chapman went for width because he couldn't pull the inverted wing profiles through the full length of the sidepods yet. In addition, Mario Andretti was knocked out by the Cosworth experimental engine six times. So he could not become world champion despite four victories.

Ligier launched one of the better Lotus copies in 1979 with the JS11. Jacques Laffite and Patrick Depailler started like firefighters: three wins in five races. To save weight, Ligier experimented with plastic wing panels under the sidepods.

Designer Gérard Ducarouge noticed too late that the plastic elements warped under full contact pressure and no longer delivered the downforce values ​​of before. "When we reacted, the World Cup train had already left," Laffite said angrily afterwards. Ferrari took the title without even having a proper ground effect car. Reliability was the trump card.

Accidents decide the World Cup

In 1982 it was the other way around. Ferrari had the best car in the field with the 126C2. But an eerie series of accidents brought the Scuderia to the world title. Gilles Villeneuve died in a training accident at Zolder. Before the German GP, ​​Didier Pironi was nine points ahead of John Watson and 16 points ahead of eventual world champion Keke Rosberg.

A serious accident in the totally insignificant rainy training session on Saturday morning ended Pironi's career. He was five points short of the final count, even though he hadn't even driven six of the 16 races.

In 1990, Ferrari was also allowed to be annoyed about a missed opportunity. The duel between former teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost lived on in different teams. Senna at McLaren, Cheers at Ferrari. McLaren lived on the Honda power, Ferrari on the better chassis. But the performance advantage shrank as the year progressed. In the final third of the season, the Honda V10 was rated at 710 hp and the Ferrari V12 at 690 hp.

Prost was still within reach of the title with five wins of the season two races to go and nine points behind. He only had to finish ahead of Senna in Suzuka to keep the world championship duel open. Both started from the front row, Prost on the better outside lane. Senna knew he couldn't hold Prost once he won the start. The Ferrari was much more careful with the tires during the race than the McLaren.When Prost got out of the starting blocks better, Senna just drove into his car in the first corner. The Ferrari 641 was thus denied the world title.

When reliability becomes a joker

The fundamentals of the Ferrari 641 were actually a design by John Barnard. Its outstanding technical feature was the semi-automatic transmission. Williams took over the idea, but solved it technically in a simpler and more ingenious way. But in the first season, the power transmission, which was controlled like a motorcycle transmission via shift drums, still showed weaknesses. The Williams FW14 eclipsed the McLaren MP4-6 in terms of speed, but failed due to its technical defects.

After five years of Ferrari dominance, the 2005 season was thriving on new players. Fernando Alonso vs Kimi Raikkonen. Renault versus McLaren. The McLaren MP4-20 was faster but more fragile. Alonso and Raikkonen each won seven Grands Prix. The Renault driver posted a clear lap, his opponent from McLaren three. Reliability didn't give Speed ​​a chance. When Renault introduced the mass damper with three races to go, McLaren was no longer able to counter it.

Brilliant idea beats the better car

In 2009, technical regulations set all clocks to zero. The Red Bull RB5 had the greatest potential, which it underlined with six wins and five pole positions. Nevertheless, Jenson Button became world champion on Brawn GP. Honda's successor racing team lived on an ingenious idea. The double diffuser became a match winner for Brawn GP. It took Red Bull eight races to retrofit. By then it was too late.

Ferrari returned to winning ways in 2017 with the introduction of the two meter wide cars. With the SF70H, the technicians in Maranello succeeded in creating a car that was as unusual as it was fast. Easy to drive, easy to set up, easy to understand.

A rectangular box in front of the cooling inlets shortened the side boxes and improved the flow. The rear wing bowed back two anchor points on the straight, the floor on the sides facing the road. Ferrari had become bolder and more radical. Suddenly you dared to venture into gray areas that were previously taboo. In addition, Ferrari had tested the wide tires more intensively than anyone else and also understood them better.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari could still hope until the GP Japan. Then the second failure within three races sealed Vettel's fate. Hamilton scored 68 points at the three Asian races in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. Vettel only twelve. That was the death knell.

Ferrari's defeat was all the more bitter as it came at racetracks where the SF70H outperformed the Mercedes. Seen over the season, Mercedes had the higher speed, Ferrari the more constant package. But Vettel wrote two zeros. Lewis Hamilton always finished. That's how you win and lose titles.


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