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What heritage can F1 teams claim as their own?

February 4, 2019

The rebirth of Sauber as Alfa Romeo in Formula 1 for the 2019 season got me thinking about what entitles a team to claim any part of past glories that have been achieved by any of their associated parties.

Williams Grand Prix Engineering was formed in 1977 by Sir Frank Williams and Sir Patrick Head.

Since then, their lineage has been unbroken. Frank Williams was team principal at its inception and there he remains.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Williams team of 1977 is the Williams team of 2019, and anyone working for Williams can legitimately claim that ‘we’ won 16 titles and 114 Grands Prix.

But that privilege is reserved for a handful of F1 teams only. For many of the others it isn’t quite so straightforward.

The fluid nature of team ownership in Formula 1 has meant that many teams have assumed multiple identities, either through partnerships, buyouts or sponsorship deals.

Alfa Romeo won the first two Formula 1 championships in 1950 and 1951, but withdrew prior to the 1952 season due to the unwillingness of the Italian government to fund the development of a new F1 car.

Forty years later the Swiss Sauber team entered Formula 1 in partnership with Mercedes, enjoyed moderate success before being bought out by BMW in 2005, from whence they were known as BMW-Sauber until BMW, slightly underwhelmed by their inability to regularly challenge for wins and championships, withdrew, and Sauber once again became independent.

Alfa Romeo and Sauber joined forces for the 2018 F1 season with Alfa becoming title sponsor of the Swiss outfit. This partnership grew into 2019 with the team being rebadged, removing Sauber altogether and are now simply ‘Alfa Romeo Racing’.

So to which part of their combined histories can Alfa Romeo Racing lay claim?

If you’re Alfa Romeo the subsidiary of Ferrari, then you’d want to supplant the two championships and ten Grand Prix wins from the 1950s on to your new team but these came forty years before the current team’s inception, irrespective of its name.

The combined existences of Sauber and BMW-Sauber won a single Grand Prix in 2008 in the hands of Williams’ current driver Robert Kubica, to which the team probably have more of a right to claim ownership, but you’re unlikely to get the chaps over at BMW to agree, and (I presume) the winners trophy still sits in Munich.

And its no less complicated elsewhere. The Force India team that took part in the Hungarian Grand Prix 2018 was, on paper, a different entry to the Racing Point Force India team that competed in the Belgian Grand Prix four weeks later, despite the only difference between the two being ownership and name.

Force India ceased to exist in August 2018 and the team it became started on zero points. So if they’re not entitled to the points they scored in 2018 prior to that, then they certainly aren’t entitled to the solitary point the organisation scored under the ‘Spyker’ and ‘Midland’ banners (I’m sure they’re gutted!), or the three wins scored by Jordan Grand Prix, the name of the team when founded in 1991.

And there’s more.

Mercedes were born out of the Brawn GP team that won both championships in its maiden season of 2009. Prior to Brawn, the team was Honda and then BAR which was built on the embers of a Formula 1 legend – Tyrrell, an iconic F1 team that dated back to the 1960s winning multiple championships with Jackie Stewart.

Mercedes F1 consider their involvement in F1 to have been solely those that have seen a team enter badged as ‘Mercedes Benz’.

Their approach is that they want to celebrate their own achievements rather than those of anything with which they had no involvement.

After all, it would seem rather perverse if Mercedes were to assume credit for any success their team achieved powered by a Ford or a Honda engine.

This is where manufacturer teams – Like Alfa Romeo and Mercedes – who have their own rich non-F1 heritage – approach seems to differ from independent teams.

Which brings me to ‘Lotus’.

Team Lotus

Colin Chapman’s Team Lotus first entered Formula 1 in 1958, and would revolutionise the sport with several periods of dominance that resulted in them winning six drivers world championships and seven constructors’ world championships in the 1960s and 1970s.

Chapman’s death in 1982 saw the team slowly decline until it eventually folded in 1995.

Prior to the team’s closure, David Hunt, brother of F1 world champion James bought the rights to the ‘Team Lotus’ name, with a view to later selling it to the highest bidder.

The highest bidder turned out to be Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes who entered a brand new Team Lotus in the 2010 F1 season, against the wishes of the Chapman family who made it clear that they did not want the Team Lotus name returning to Formula 1.

Not only that, but they considered their new entry a continuation of Chapman’s Team Lotus, with technical director Mike Gascoyne saying “We’ve got a great heritage that we’ve got to live up to“, decking the cars out in the famous green and yellow of Team Lotus and celebrating Lotus’ 500th Grand Prix at the European Grand Prix of 2010, despite it being Fernandes’ team’s ninth actual Grand Prix start.


What made this situation even more complicated was that the same season, a second ‘Lotus’ team appeared when the Renault F1 team (who started life as Toleman, and became Benetton – who both competed AGAINST actual Lotus – before becoming Renault) struck a deal with Group Lotus (the road car division of Chapman’s original company, now owned by Malaysian car company Proton) to buy a stake in the team, and for it to be renamed Lotus-Renault.

Also wishing to cash in on Lotus’ heritage, their cars featured the Lotus logo and their cars black and gold in an effort to evoke memories of Chapman’s JPS liveries of the 1970s and 1980s.

But their connection to Lotus would end with their branding and this team would pin their roots firmly at Enstone, featuring three stars on their cars – one for the F1 Constructors Championship Benetton won in 1995, and one for each of the two F1 Constructors Championships Renault won in 2005 and 2006.

So it would appear there are different approaches to how teams view their (or other peoples’) achievements.

Which has the most merit?

I think that this depends on whether the team in question is a manufacturer, which exists outside Formula 1, or whether it’s an independent team that exists solely within the confines of the F1 paddock.

Mercedes and Alfa Romeo have every right to attach their Grand Prix heritage to their new Formula 1 entities, because despite dipping in and out, the company that built the cars and operated the team in the 1950s is the same one involved today.

Taking the heritage of one team and passing it on to its successor as per ‘the Enstone Team’ is a bit of a stretch. Once your entry ceases to be, and a team starts from scratch then with the old entry should go any claim on its heritage.

And when the only thing that connects two teams is a name, a la Team Lotus, then trying to leverage heritage to which you have absolutely no right borders on the morally questionable!

The evolution of the current F1 grid

Red Bull Racing2005-present Jaguar2000-2004 Stewart Grand Prix1997-1999
Toro Rosso2006-present European Minardi2001-2005 Minardi1985-2000
Alfa Romeo2019-present Sauber2011-2018 BMW-Sauber2006-2009 Sauber1993-2005
Renault2016-present Lotus-Renault2012-2015 Renault2002-2011 Benetton1986-2001 Toleman1981-1985
Mercedes2010-present Brawn GP2009 Honda2006-2008 BAR1999-2005 Tyrrell1968-1998
Racing Point2018-present Force India2008-2018 Spyker2007 Midland Racing2006 Jordan Grand Prix1991-2005


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