Juan Manuel Fangio achieved his with different teams – Michael Schumacher won his all with Ferrari. And several other drivers came tantalisingly close – but failed to achieve the same. Here is how.
Juan Manuel Fangio, champion 1954-57
The first of these (his second title) came while driving for Maserati and Mercedes-Benz, his second while driving for Mercedes exclusively, the third driving Enzo Ferrari’s Lancia D50 and the fourth (his fifth overall and final) back the wheel of a Maserati 250F.
Fangio was almost universally liked among his rivals, not least of which Stirling Moss, who finished runner-up to Fangio from 1955-57.
Fangio drove two different cars in 1954 because the new Mercedes W196 was not ready until the fourth round of the season at Reims, France. He won the first two European rounds (ignoring the Indianapolis 500) in a Maserati 250F – and won his first race in the Mercedes too.
The next season was all about ‘the train’ of Fangio and Moss, leading as they liked at every round. Fangio was champion again, but Mercedes curtailed their return to racing after the terrible accident at the Le Mans 24 Hours that killed over 80 spectators plus one driver.
The departure of Mercedes forced Fangio to look elsewhere for a drive – and it ultimately pushed him into an unhappy relationship with Enzo Ferrari. The Ingegnere preferred younger drivers grateful merely of the chance to drive for Ferrari, to a multiple champion in his forties who knew his value and demanded a competitive car and total team support.
But both men realised they needed each other, so an accommodation was reached.
By the final round three drivers were in the running for the championship: Moss (now in a Maserati), Fangio and team mate Collins. Third place would give Fangio the title but his car’s steering arm broke on lap 20. Team mate Luigi Musso pitted but refused to hand is car to Fangio, as the rules permitted and honour rather dictated at the time.
Instead, Collins forfeited his own chance of the championship to give Fangio his car and, ultimately, his fourth title and third in a row.
Fangio was done with Ferrari, and won his final title in 1957 for Maserati after another long tussle with Moss who had joined the British Vanwall team. The meastro retired the following season, but it was almost 50 years before his benchmarks of five titles and four consecutive championships were broken.
Michael Schumacher, champion 2000-2004
The common team to the two men was Ferrari, but Schumacher never had to reach an accord with Enzo – the Ferrari patriach died eight years before Schumacher joined the team.
The political in-fighting of the Scuderia had been swept away by a new technical elite mainly form countries outside Europe: Jean Todt (France), Ross Brawn (Britain) and of course Schumacher himself (Germany) – a vital part of the team’s operating structure.
While Fangio hopped from team to team in search of the best equipment, Ferrari ensured that they always had the best and that Schumacher was the only driver of theirs allowed to wield it to its full. Team mate Rubens Barrichello was put over to slavish support of Schumacher’s title bids, in a manner which attracted public outcry in 2002.
Schumacher was utterly central to his and Ferrari’s shared success. Together they won five drivers’ titles and six constructors’ championships in a row – a new benchmark in excellence that it may take another 50 years to overhaul.
Niki Lauda won the 1975 and 1977 championships for Ferrari, losing the 1976 championship by a single point after he was almost killed at the Nurburgring.
Ayrton Senna was champion in 1988, 1990 and 1991. He lost the 1989 championship in extremely controversial circumstances to his team mate Alain Prost – whose McLaren had also proved far more reliable that year.