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The Worst Title Defence in Formula 1 History

Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

Credit: Motorsport Images

When we think of Formula 1 world champions, we typically expect the best out of these drivers season after season. Even so, some drivers may not fulfill expectations only a year after being on top of the world. Take Lewis Hamilton for example, who went from winning the title in 2008 to only achieving two wins, five podiums, and a fifth-place points finish in 2009. However, “only two wins” is something 1979 World Champion Jody Scheckter would have loved to achieve in his title-defending 1980 season.

The 1979 Season

Coming off of a Lotus and Mario Andretti-dominated 1978 season, fans and drivers alike were awaiting a refresher for 1979. No one quite expected the parity and unpredictability to come their way, however.

The season started off with Ligier’s Jacques Laffite winning the opening two rounds. Given that his primary rivals did poorly to open the season, Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve and Williams’ Alan Jones, Laffite was assumed to have had an insurmountable gap by round three, but it is very wrong to assume in a sport like Formula 1. Villeneuve would respond by winning rounds four and five with Jones taking a podium.

However, the control soon shifted to the other side of the Ferrari garage to Jody Scheckter. Under everyone’s noses, he scored points in every single race so far and ended up winning a pair of back-to-back races for himself at Belgium and Monaco. Jones tried as he might to catch the South African, even winning three races in a row from Germany to Zandvoort, but Scheckter’s consistency would be unmatched.

Credit: Formula 1 Art & Genius

Despite Jones and Villeneuve’s best efforts, Jody Scheckter would be crowned the 1979 Formula 1 World Champion two rounds early in Ferrari’s home Grand Prix in Monza. To the rejoicing of the tifosi, Ferrari finally got to witness one of their own win the championship on home soil for the first time in forever.

This high would only last for so long, and it came crashing down sooner than expected.

The 1980 Nightmare

There’s not much to write home about regarding highlights of Scheckter’s 1980 season. At that time, Scheckter started off poorly and ended poorly, only scoring two points over the course of the full season, and even failing to qualify for a race in Canada.

What was to blame for such a poor season? Well, Ferrari. Yes, the common fan may think Ferrari finishing eighth is terrible now, but back in 1980, Ferrari was a mess. Following 1979, there were major shifts in management, and the Italian favourites did not cope well with the change.

And as expected, the results suffered. While Scheckter only managed to score two points over the season with a P19 points finish, even Gilles Villeneuve’s magic couldn’t drag any results out of the 1980 car. Over the course of the season, Villeneuve managed to score six points and finish P14 in the drivers’ standings, amassing a grand total of eight points for a tenth-place constructors’ finish.

It was after 1980 that Jody Scheckter decided to call it quits on Formula 1, and given how little words can sum up how terrible that season was, who can blame him?


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