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Sleeping giants

2 months ago

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Writer:

Edd Straw | Journalist

Date:

14 February 2024

After the best part of two decades, Formula 1’s greatest sleeping giants show signs of stirring. McLaren and Williams are in different stages of awakening, but the teams that won 32 out of 40 drivers’ and constructors’ championships in the 1980s and ’90s are each on trajectories that could lead to new glory days.

McLaren is further advanced in its recovery and there’s every reason to expect wins in 2024 after its remarkable transformation from back-marker early in 2023 to nipping at Red Bull’s heels. McLaren’s last title was Lewis Hamilton’s down-to-the-wire first championship in 2008, its sole big win of the 21st century, and it has won just one Grand Prix since 2012. That year also produced Williams’ most recent victory, Pastor Maldonado’s unexpected Spanish masterpiece, but it’s been nearly three decades since it claimed a championship, in 1997. Both have been F1 supporting acts at best in recent times, while Williams is recovering from having been on the cusp of bankruptcy.

Their arcs have plenty of similarities. Both undervalued the services of Adrian Newey and lost the pre-eminent technical mind of modern F1. He was central to Williams’ 1990s success before defecting to McLaren in ’97, primarily because co-owners Frank Williams and Patrick Head didn’t treat him as he felt should be treated by including him in making key decisions – as his contract demanded. After jumping to McLaren, he oversaw its title wins in the Mika Häkkinen years before shocking the F1 paddock by switching to the nascent Red Bull team. Again, the feeling he wasn’t properly valued by Ron Dennis, compounded by an aggressively revised contract, motivated that move.

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