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Defence of the realm - Part One 31 Aug 2006

Race winner Jack Brabham (AUS) Cooper Climax T53. Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Holland, 6 June 1960. World ©  Phipps/Sutton Jack Brabham (AUS) Cooper Climax T53 crosses the line to win the race. French Grand Prix, Reims, France, 3 July 1960. Double world champion, Alberto Ascari (ITA) prepares his Ferrari 500 for qualifying. He would take pole and go on to win the race. British Grand Prix, Silverstone, England, 18 July 1953. World © Duerden/Sutton L to R: HSH Prince Rainier, Winner Alain Prost, 3rd place Ayrton Senna and Keke Rosberg on the podium. Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, 11 May 1986. World © Sutton Race winner, Alberto Ascari (ITA) Ferrari 500 in Woodcote corner. British Grand Prix, Silverstone, England, 18 July 1953. World © Duerden/Sutton

Fernando Alonso’s task over the remaining four races of 2006 is to achieve something only a handful of men have managed before - to successfully defend his first drivers’ title. Since 1950, 28 men have won the championship crown, but only five have taken their inaugural title and then retained it the following year. We take a look at those Alonso has to emulate and discover just how hard a task lays ahead…

Alberto Ascari (1952-1953)
Ascari was the first driver to claim back-to-back world championships, a feat he accomplished with characteristic flair. The Italian dominated the 1952 season, driving his Ferrari 500 to victory in six out of eight races and securing his first title with a 12-point advantage over his closest rival, Ferrari team mate and compatriot Nino Farina. In 1953, Ascari returned to face a different contender, Juan Manuel Fangio, the legendary Argentinean having been absent most of the previous year after an accident. Fangio, who had already won the first of his five world championships in 1951, was a formidable competitor, but was hampered during the season’s early stages by an unreliable Maserati and retired from the first three races. As Fangio struggled, Ascari continued to chalk up the wins for Ferrari, ultimately accumulating five victories and 34.5 points (the half a result of a shared drive in the German Grand Prix). And although Fangio won the last race of the season in Italy, increasing his points haul to 28, it was too little too late, as Ascari’s lead was already unassailable.

Jack Brabham (1959-1960)
In the late 1950s, Brabham was one of the biggest proponents of rear-engined cars. Having persuaded British manufacturer Cooper to enter such a machine in Formula One racing, he became the first man to win a world title with his engine behind him. That 1959 campaign saw Brabham take just two Grand Prix wins - in Monaco and Britain - but consistent points finishes meant the Australian finished the year four points clear of Ferrari’s Tony Brooks. Brabham’s second title in 1960 was, in comparison, a cut-and-dried affair. After a shaky start - his two opening races were marred by retirement and disqualification - he scored five successive victories in Holland, Belgium, France, Britain and Portugal, wrapping up the championship with two rounds to spare. His closest rival was Cooper team mate Bruce McLaren. The New Zealander had established an early 14-point lead over Brabham, after victory in Argentina’s season opener and second place to Lotus’s Stirling Moss in Monaco. However, once Brabham hit his winning streak, there was little McLaren - or, indeed, anyone else - could do to stop the great man retaining his crown.

Alain Prost (1985-1986)
In 1985 Alain Prost became France’s first world champion after scoring five race wins for McLaren, another six podium finishes and a total of 73 points. Prost’s closest contender was Ferrari driver Michele Alboreto. The Italian had been just three points down on ‘The Professor’ heading into the twelfth of 16 races, but then a13th place in Italy and a run of four retirements left his title hopes in tatters and Prost finished the year a comfortable 20 points clear.

In 1986 Prost faced much stiffer competition from Williams drivers Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. Their Honda-powered machine was the class of the field and with the season little over half run they had already clinched the constructors’ title. However, with the Williams team mates continually scoring points off each other, Prost was able to stay in touch, helped by victories in San Marino, Monaco and Austria, plus a customary string of podium finishes. He, Mansell and Piquet were thus all in title contention going to the final round in Australia. Mansell was favourite, topping the scoreboard with 70 points - seven ahead of Prost and Piquet, who were tied on 63. But the Briton’s hopes were dashed when a tyre failure on Adelaide’s main straight out him out of the race. Fearing a similar problem on Piquet’s car, Williams had little choice but to call the Brazilian in for a precautionary stop, handing victory, nine points and the drivers’ title to Prost. After the runaway success of 1985, this was to be arguably the greatest of the Frenchman’s four world championships, won by the slimmest of margins - a mere two points.

In Part Two - Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.