In F1, success tends to be built on stability and that stability usually involves having a long-term relationship between the team and the driver. At the same time, stability must not come at the cost of the synergy between a driver and his team.
Sometimes the culture within an F1 team is just not right for its participants and hence, even though a partnership may appear to be successful, it might be better to move on and look for an alternative.
In the history of F1, there have been multiple such instances where a team has let go of a driver despite winning the championship with him.
The reasons? Well, it came down to the synergy between the team and the driver, as the team felt it was better placed for success with a different option. There are three such instances that stand out in the history of the sport. Let's take a look at them.
#1 Alain Prost - McLaren (1989 F1 season)
Alain Prost's success in the 1980s coincided with the rise of McLaren. Prost moved to McLaren from Renault and began his successful stint with the team.
The French driver learned a lot from Niki Lauda in 1984 and used that learning to win his first title in 1985. This is precisely why it was a bit of a surprise that McLaren boss Ron Dennis seemed to favor Ayrton Senna when the Brazilian joined the team.
The 1988 F1 season saw Ayrton Senna win the title ahead of Alain Prost and the 1989 season saw the relationship between the teammates blow-up completely.
By the time Prost won the 1989 title, it was clear to him that McLaren was Senna's team by then and he had to leave. Dennis did not make much of an effort to retain the driver either, as Prost left for Ferrari.
#2 Nigel Mansell - Williams (1992 F1 season)
Nigel Mansell was extremely fortunate to get his hands on the active suspension equipped, Adrian Newey-designed Williams in 1992. The car was in a league of its own and had no competition. Mansell, who had almost given up hope of ever winning a world title, was invigorated and cruised his way to the drivers' championship that season.
Williams' announcement that they had decided to let Mansell leave and would replace him with Alain Prost in 1993 came as a surprise to everyone. The reported cause was negotiations breaking down between the driver and the team.
As it turned out, losing Mansell did not impact the outcome for Williams as the team still won both titles in 1993 with Prost leading the way.
#3 Damon Hill - Williams (1996 F1 season)
Arguably the biggest shock on this list was Williams' decision to let Damon Hill leave the year after he won the F1 title. This decision was particularly shocking because Williams had already lost three world champions a year after they won the title (Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, and Alain Prost).
Frank Williams had expressed regret on that front and vowed not to let that happen again.
However, in the case of Damon Hill, there were serious question marks that Williams had to address at the time. The first was the fact that Hill was never signed as the team leader. He shot to prominence after the tragic death of Ayrton Senna and took over the reins of the team's leadership.
The second reason was that in 1995, Michael Schumacher won the title in inferior Benetton machinery over Hill. The final nail in the coffin was Ayrton Senna's passing comment about Heinz Herald Frentzen, the man who eventually replaced Hill at Williams.
Senna had commended Frentzen's driving within the Williams pit box after following him for a few laps during a practice session. Hill became the fourth world champion to leave Willard the year after he won the F1 championship.