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F1 Rewind: The Williams-McLaren decade 1984-94

rehaan díaz

Williams powered by a turbo engine with sparks flying off
Williams powered by a turbo engine with sparks flying off

Formula 1 currently is in the Red Bull-Mercedes era, with both combining to win the championships from 2010-2018.

That is 9 straight years of just 2 teams winning the constructor's trophy. There is another, longer instance of a sustained duopoly - that of Williams and McLaren, both based in Britain, in Grove, Oxfordshire and the other in Woking, Surrey respectively.

The McLaren-Williams duopoly began in 1984. Supplied by Porsche engines that were branded as TAG, the McLaren teammates Niki Lauda and Alain Prost fought for the world championship with Lauda eventually prevailing by half a point.

It remains the smallest margin in Formula One history and clinched him a third title. McLaren comfortably won their first Championship since 1974.

1985 was the emergence of the gang-of-four i.e. Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Prost finally secured his first world title after narrowly losing out in the previous 2 years.

Next year, he fought tooth and nail with Williams drivers Mansell and Piquet and won back-to-back drivers' championships at the final race of the season in Adelaide, Australia.

The famed gang of 4 - Senna, Prost, Mansell and Piquet
The famed gang of 4 - Senna, Prost, Mansell and Piquet

In 1987, Piquet won his third title with Williams-Honda, quite comfortably in the end. That year, McLaren with Honda engines absolutely destroyed the competition, but also had collateral damage with their drivers Senna and Prost in a year-long battle, with the Brazilian winning his maiden world championship as Williams slipped down the grid with their new Judd engines.

1989 saw Prost get back at Senna and clinch his third title with McLaren in a controversial race in Suzuka, Japan. Williams having inked an engines deal with Renault came back strongly to finish second. Senna won in 1990 and 1991 as Prost switched to Ferrari.


Williams resigned Mansell as their number 1 and he duly delivered the title in a car that was by far the best on the grid. Prost replaced Mansell in the Williams-Renault and comfortably won his 4th title and promptly retired.

In 1994, Senna switched to Williams and lost his life in a fatal crash. The season saw him, Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Mansell (who returned briefly) drive for Williams who together had enough points to win the constructor's title over Benetton-Ford.

The McLarens being chased by a Williams and Lotus
The McLarens being chased by a Williams and Lotus

When in 1995, Benetton finally won both championships, the 11-year-old streak of these iconic English manufacturers was broken.

Looking at the current condition of Williams and McLaren, one realises how the once mighty have fallen. It is not an anomaly, rather a norm in the sport that is cyclical in form and performances.

While they dominated the seasons, they didn't lord over every race, which made for a very interesting period of racing in the history of Formula 1.

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