As the example of Michael Schumacher has shown us, Formula 1 is about the combination of the best drivers with the world’s most reliable cars. During his time with Ferrari, the German pilot won five World Champion titles, and 72 Grand Prix wins – and none when he returned from retirement and drove a Mercedes. Even his “slow” first Ferrari, an F310, helped him win three Grand Prix. Schumacher sure made an impression on the track and is definitely remembered as one of the best pilots Ferrari ever had. There were, in turn, many others in the brand’s history that contributed a great deal to its greatness.
One of them is Niki Lauda, the legendary driver who passed away at the age of 70 this May. Lauda joined Ferrari in 1974 when the team regrouped under the helm of Luca di Montezemolo after a pretty bad season. While he was seen as little more than a rookie at first, he quickly proved his worth at the season-opening Argentine Grand Prix where he finished second. Three races later, Lauda won the Spanish Grand Prix – his second win in his debut season, followed by only one more despite winning six consecutive pole positions. The car he drove was unreliable, apparently, and combined with his inexperience, it stopped him from adding any more trophies to his collection. Things changed in the next season, though – while 1975 started slow for the driver, his new Ferrari 312T helped him win several races across the season, ultimately winning the World Championship title (and helping Ferrari win its first Constructors’ Championship in 11 years). He would have probably won the 1976 championship, too, if his Nürburgring crash wouldn’t’ve put him on the sideline for weeks. Ultimately, he went on to win another F1 season for Ferrari but the relationships between him and the team deteriorated significantly. Ultimately, he left the team at the end of the 1977 season, joining the Brabham-Alfa Romeo team in 1978.
While he didn’t win any championships during his time with Ferrari, Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve is regarded as one of the greatest drivers the team ever had. He made his F1 debut at McLaren at the 1977 British Grand Prix, earning the respect of the press – he was even called “a future World Champion” by The Times. Despite his performance, McLaren didn’t sign him for the 1978 season. He flew to Italy to meet Enzo Ferrari, who decided to give him a try: the ‘piccolo Canadese’ (little Canadian) made an impression at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, so the team decided that he was in. He drove two races at the end of the 1977 season with Ferrari and the entire season in 1978.
Villeneuve was forced to retire from several races at the beginning of the 1978 season, mostly due to issues with the engines and the tires, but later, his results improved. His first Grand Prix win came at the end of the season – he won the Canadian Grand Prix, becoming the first and only local to do so. His best championship result was second place in 1979 when he finished four points behind teammate Jody Scheckter. He stayed with the team until his untimely passing at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. He was a very popular driver and a veritable icon of Formula 1. His son, Jacques Villeneuve, chose a career as an F1 driver, too, becoming the only Canadian ever to win a World Championship title.