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One step too far? World champions on the move 19 Oct 2007

Monza, September 1953: Juan Manuel Fangio won the Italian Grand Prix for Maserati after inheriting the lead on the final lap. It ensured him of the runner-up spot in the drivers’ championship. © Sutton Race winner Niki Lauda (AUT) Brabham BT46. Italian Grand Prix, Rd 14, Monza, Italy, 10 September 1978. World ©  Phipps/Sutton. Winner Denny Hulme(NZL) Mclaren M7A Italian GP, Monza, 8 September 1968. World ©  Phipps/Sutton. Alain Prost(FRA), Ferrari 641, second place Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, 9 September 1990. World © Sutton Damon Hill (GBR) Arrows A18 overtakes Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F310B Formula One World Championship, Hungarian Grand Prix, Rd 11, Budapest, Hungary, 10 August 1997. World © Sutton

If Fernando Alonso wins a third world championship at Interlagos this weekend, he will become the first driver since Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s to win consecutive titles with different teams.

After leaving Renault as world champion in 2006, Alonso headed to McLaren with an air of optimism. Personally and professionally, however, his time at the British team has been far tougher than he could have ever imagined.

Putting aside the supposedly fraught working relationships, the Spaniard has enjoyed a relatively successful season on track and is still in with a chance of adding a third crown to his collection. For other reigning champions who have got itchy feet and switched to a new team, the move has been much less rewarding…

Damon Hill:
1996 - Champion with Williams: 8 wins, 97 points
1997 - Arrows: 12th in standings, 1 podium, 12 points

After out-scoring rookie team mate Jacques Villeneuve, clinching eight victories and winning the world championship in 1996, Damon Hill no doubt felt he had his feet firmly under the table at Williams. Sadly that was not the case. Abruptly dropped by the British team and replaced by Heinz-Harald Frentzen for ’97, Hill was left without a seat and without many alternatives.

Eventually settling on the Yamaha-powered Arrows squad, the reigning champion accepted his new surroundings - and six consecutive DNFs - in characteristically stoic fashion. Despite the disappointment, there were some glimmers of hope, and gradually Hill was able to extract some positive showings from the cumbersome A18.

The most memorable was his near-victory at the Hungaroring. Robbed of the win - it would have been Arrows’ first - by a hydraulic problem less than three laps from home, Hill had to settle for second, gallingly behind former team mate Villeneve. Nevertheless, his gritty drive in an underpowered car has gone down in history as one of the best underdog performances of all time. Needless to say it was not enough to defend his title and Hill finished the year 12th in the standings.

Michael Schumacher:
1995 - Champion with Benetton: 9 wins, 11 podiums, 102 points
1996 - Ferrari: 3rd in standings: 3 wins, 8 podiums, 59 points

Following back-to-back drivers’ titles in ’94 and ’95, Michael Schumacher bid adieu to Benetton and made a brave move to Ferrari. But the Italian team hadn’t won a drivers’ championship in almost 20 years and many believed Schumacher would live to regret his decision.

Ignoring the cynics, the German immediately set about reviving the legendary team. Joined by technical maestro Ross Brawn and uber designer Rory Byrne from Benetton, Schumacher successfully put in motion the resurgence of the Italian squad.

Initially, however, he was forced to rely on himself to get results. Through sheer hard work and ambition, the reigning world champion eked out three victories in the underperforming F310. Although by Schumacher’s standards it wasn’t a spectacular tally, it hinted at what would soon become one of the most successful driver-team relationships of all time.

Alain Prost:
1989 - Champion with McLaren: 4 wins, 11 podiums, 76 points
1990 - Ferrari: 2nd in standings: 5 wins, 9 podiums, 71 points

Formula One racing in the late 80’s was dominated by the intense rivalry between McLaren team mates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. At Suzuka in 1989, the duo’s relationship finally reached breaking point, when Prost made contact with his team mate and took the title.

Without looking back, Prost jumped ship to Ferrari to make a fresh start. Clinching five wins and nine podiums, the Frenchman had a real chance of defending his title with his new team. Only Senna, still with McLaren, could stop him. At another title showdown in Suzuka, it was the Brazilian who slammed into Prost, thereby denying his nemesis another crown and claiming it for himself.

Even though Prost would contest another season with Ferrari, he would never win another race in red. He did, however, go on to win a fourth championship with Williams in 1993.

Nelson Piquet:
1987 - Champion with Williams: 3 wins, 11 podiums, 73 points
1988 - Lotus: 6th in standings: 3 podiums, 22 points

Nelson Piquet’s two years at Williams garnered him seven race wins and, in 1987, a world championship. Nevertheless, Piquet was unhappy at the squad, and in the hope of escaping arch enemy - and team mate - Nigel Mansell, the Brazilian decided to follow Williams’ engine supplier Honda to Lotus in 1988.

Despite a hefty salary, the Brazilian’s time with Lotus was largely unfulfilling. That first season he took no wins and just three podiums, to score fewer points than he had back in 1985. Although he stayed for a second season, an upswing in performance remained elusive and Piquet would have to wait until he moved to Benetton in 1990 to win again.

Niki Lauda:
1977 - Champion with Ferrari: 3 wins, 10 podiums, 72 points
1978 - Brabham: 4th in the standings, 2 wins, 7 podiums, 44 points

Lauda’s 1977 championship campaign at Ferrari had been so strong that he clinched the crown with two races left to run. Skipping those last two events, Lauda announced he would defect to Brabham to defend his title in 1978.

Although he would enjoy two victories with his new squad, he also endured five engine failures and three further retirements during that maiden season, eventually finishing fourth in the standings. Matters worsened in his second year. Saddled with an even less competitive car, he had scored just four points by the penultimate race of the season in Canada and announced his immediate retirement.

It was not all over, however. Lauda would make a triumphant return to Formula One racing with McLaren in 1982, eventually scoring a third title in ’84.

Denny Hulme
1967 - Champion with Brabham: 2 wins, 8 podiums, 51 points
1968 - McLaren: 3rd in the standings, 2 wins, 3 podiums, 33 points

In 1967 unassuming New Zealander Denny Hulme won his first - and only - world championship with Brabham. In spite of this achievement, when news broke that countryman Bruce McLaren was to set up a new team, Hulme decided the time was right for a change and joined his compatriot.

Although the M5A and its successor, the M7A, were worthy charges for the reigning champion, it was the Lotus team who had the upper hand that year. With Graham Hill taking the title, Hulme finished the season third in the standings, three points behind second-placed driver Jackie Stewart for BRM and 15 adrift of Hill. Hulme remained at McLaren for the next six seasons, winning a further four times.

Juan Manuel Fangio
1951 - Champion with Alfa Romeo: 3 wins, 5 podiums, 31 points
1953 - Maserati: 2nd in the standings: 1 wins, 4 podiums, 28 points
1954 - Champion with Mercedes: 6 wins, 7 podiums, 42 points
1955 - Champion with Mercedes: 4 wins, 5 podiums, 40 points
1956 - Champion with Ferrari: 3 wins, 5 podiums, 30 points
1957 - Champion with Maserati: 4 wins, 6 podiums, 40 points

The original mover and shaker of the paddock was legendary driver Juan Manuel Fangio, who changed teams four times in six years. After winning his first drivers’ title with Alfa Romeo in 1951, Fangio was forced to find a new home after the team withdrew from racing and moved to Maserati for the 1953 season.

His first year at Maserati, however, proved comparatively fruitless, with Alberto Ascari taking the title, and two races into his second season with the Italian team, the Argentinean jumped ship to Mercedes. Back at the top of his game he won six races and took the drivers’ crown. He stayed with Mercedes to win another title, but when the German team withdrew at the end of ’55, Fangio headed to Ferrari.

The move brought him another world championship, but it was a largely unhappy year and Fangio’s itchy feet took him back to Maserati for ‘57. Considering the two Italian marques were sworn enemies, it was perhaps the most controversial move of his career. Fortunately it was also one of the wisest and while Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn and Luigi Musso struggled, Fangio took four victories and his fifth - and final - drivers’ crown.