quiz. Who won the 1958, 1973, 1976, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1994, 1999 and 2008 world cham­pi­onships?

Cor­rect. Mike Hawthorn (Fer­rari), Jackie Ste­wart (Tyrrell), James Hunt (Mclaren), Keke Ros­berg (Wil­liams), Nel­son Pi­quet (Brab­ham), Alain Prost (Mclaren), Michael Schu­macher (Benet­ton), Mika Häkki­nen and Lewis Hamil­ton (Mclaren).

Yet also wrong. You could also have said “Van­wall, Lo­tus, Fer­rari (in ’76, ’82, ’83, ’99 and ’08) and Wil­liams: all these teams were big win­ners in the years their driv­ers didn’t win.

We’re talk­ing here of the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship, the dampest – and rich­est – squib in all of sport. The cham­pi­onship that isn’t about the rac­ing.

We saw it in some of the clos­ing races of 2015. With both ti­tles won, Mercedes op­er­ated purely as a team. They pro­vided two very nice and very equal rac­ing cars for Lewis Hamil­ton and Nico Ros­berg, but set tighter lim­its than we’d seen for most of the year: the first cor­ner kind of de­cided it; there was no room for the other Mercedes driver to adopt a re­vised strat­egy born of su­pe­rior tyre, fuel and/or brake wear (or not). Be­yond that, as I men­tion in my anal­y­sis of Lewis Hamil­ton on page 42, a strong Nico in 2016 will make it sub­stan­tially harder for Lewis to beat Fer­rari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel (as­sum­ing the new Fer­rari is on a par with the Merc W07).

I get the Mercedes pol­icy. Hav­ing man­aged Wil­liams for a while, I know how hard it is to win an F1 race – never mind fin­ish one-two. If there’s no need to play around, the last thing a team wants is to jeop­ar­dise a one-two fin­ish in any way. With Nico lead­ing from the pole, but Lewis on a longer mid­dle stint, who knew what could have tran­spired in the clos­ing laps?

Noth­ing is of it­self, how­ever. There are al­ways bounce-backs. For ev­ery race in which Mercedes do not de­vi­ate from the straight-and-nar­row, there will be days when they will have to do so to beat a Vet­tel or per­haps a stray Red Bull. And the more they run as two equal num­ber ones in pur­suit of con­struc­tors’ points, the harder those switches will be. Like Jackie Ste­wart, and Niki Lauda in the Fer­rari years, Michael Schu­macher redi­rected the en­ergy of his team. He re­quested a quick driver for the other car – a Rubens or a Felipe – while he, Michael, max­imised any points that would be scored on any given day. Seb Vet­tel has more or less du­pli­cated this sys­tem by run­ning with Kimi in the other Fer­rari. Kimi is still good enough to score points and to win a race or two; he isn’t, though, go­ing to nib­ble into Seb’s slice of road. Lewis, mean­while, has first to beat Nico. And vice versa.

So here’s the big ques­tion: if run­ning Seb and Kimi means that they won’t win the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship in 2016, will Fer­rari none­the­less be sat­is­fied if Seb wins a fifth driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship? Con­versely, what will be the mood at Mercedes if they win the con­struc­tors’ ti­tle but Lewis and Nico are in­di­vid­u­ally beaten on points by Vet­tel? An­swers: ‘Yes’; and ‘Dark’. Get it? The con­struc­tors’ ti­tle isn’t up there with the driv­ers’, de­spite what they tell you in the press state­ments. Yes, it earns money for the team. But if you’re Fer­rari or Mercedes, that money will at least be matched by the global re­wards of pro­duc­ing a cham­pi­onship­win­ning driver. Ob­vi­ously the ob­ject is to win both ti­tles. Given one, it has to be the driv­ers’.

None of this is new: there have been dis­con­nec­tions be­tween the two cham­pi­onships since 1958, when the lat­ter was in­tro­duced (eight years af­ter the first driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship was in­sti­gated). Mike Hawthorn be­came the tragic hero of Bri­tish mo­tor­sport in 1958/9 but it was ac­tu­ally Van­wall, fea­tur­ing Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks and Stu­art LewisE­vans, who that year won the con­struc­tors’ ti­tle (or ‘Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Cham­pi­onship’ as it was then known). Hawthorn-collins was

not too far away from Vet­tel-räikkö­nen; Moss-brooks, though, was much more in the di­rec­tion of Hamil­ton-ros­berg. And on it goes.

Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi and Ronnie Peterson snatched points from one another in 1973 to win the con­struc­tors’ ti­tle for Lo­tus, but in so do­ing lost the driv­ers’ ti­tle to Jackie Ste­wart (who dom­i­nated within Tyrrell). What a thing it would have been for Lo­tus to have run, say, Tim Schenken along­side Ronnie Peterson in 1973. Al­most cer­tainly, Peterson would have won the driv­ers’ ti­tle – just as Emer­son would have won another cham­pi­onship had Wil­son Fit­ti­paldi raced the other Lo­tus 72.

Con­struc­tors’ ti­tle al­ready clinched, Wil­liams in 1981 none­the­less fielded four cars (two rac­ers, two spares: equal­ity for all!) in the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship fi­nale in Las Ve­gas. The com­plex­ity of the op­er­a­tion cost them the ti­tle. And while 1976, 1982 and 1994 were ac­ci­den­tand/or in­ci­dent-filled anom­alies, 1983 was no fluke: Nel­son Pi­quet won the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship while his team, Brab­ham, fin­ished third in the con­struc­tors’. Three years later, Alain Prost calmly led Mclaren to the driv­ers’ ti­tle, while Nel­son Pi­quet and Nigel Mansell squab­bled at Wil­liams.

Mercedes are thus in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion. Their two driv­ers – de­spite pit­wall ex­hor­ta­tions – could still eas­ily run into one another, given enough pres­sure. Equally, given the in­ten­sity of the race be­tween Lewis and Nico, one driver’s abil­ity to beat the other will in­evitably be com­pro­mised by the im­por­tance of both of them be­ing given an equal chance. The truth is that noth­ing is equal in rac­ing – or in any form of ath­letic en­deav­our. Lewis’s strong points aren’t the same as Nico’s, and the same can be said of their weaker sides.

When F1 was re­ally dan­ger­ous, and the odds of fin­ish­ing the year with the same driv­ers were small, the con­struc­tors’ ti­tle made sense. These days, I think the choice is clear. As­sum­ing equal-ish cars amongst the top few teams, the Ste­wart/lauda/michael/seb sys­tem is the way to go: the driv­ers’ ti­tle is ev­ery­thing; the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship, by con­trast, a mere mea­sure of points won… and lost.

“The con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship is the dampest – and rich­est – squib in all of sport”

All eyes are on the main prize

Lewis Hamil­ton has to beat a strong team­mate in Nico Ros­berg to win the driv­ers’ ti­tle, po­ten­tially com­pro­mis­ing Mercedes’ chances of win­ning the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship. But Seb Vet­tel will be un­trou­bled by solid team-mate Kimi Räikkö­nen, which, con­versely, could boost Fer­rari’s chances of win­ning the con­struc­tors’ ti­tle

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