Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The benefit of hindsight

I'm going to go back in time today and look at an item in history that I don't think has ever really been resolved.

Come with me back to 1990 and imagine a young Jean Alesi - driver of the moment, the man who had impetuously passed Ayrton Senna's McLaren in his little Tyrrell, the man surely destined to be a multiple grand prix and championship winner. The man who had somehow managed to sign himself to both Williams and Ferrari contracts at the same time and who now had to choose which one to go with. A contract hoo-haa erupted, but Ferrari were the eventual winners and young Alesi would be partnering his hero, Alain Prost - the world was at Alesi's feet.

Fast Forward to the end of the 90s and there's Jean once again, 1 grand prix victory under his belt, no championships and a bemused paddock wondering quite what had happened to the man destined to be one of the greats. During the same period, Williams had made world champions out of Mansell, Prost, Hill and Villenueve as well as winning 5 constructors championships.

"Obviously", everyone said, with grave voices, knowing nods and the benefit of hindsight, "Jean made the wrong decision to go with Ferrari and the fiery Sicilian has let his head rule his heart. He should have taken the logical choice and have gone with Williams."

However, I'd like to take a different view. My view is that Jean made the correct decision for the time and I suspect most in his situation would have make the same choice; Jean was just unfortunate that it turned out over time to be the wrong decision.

To understand why I'm putting my head on the block like this, you need to look at the bigger picture.

In 1988, Ferrari had one race win to Williams zero wins and finished second in the championship against Williams 7th.
1989 Ferrari had 3 wins to Williams 2, although Williams took 2nd in the championship and Ferrari were 3rd.
In 1990, Ferrari had 6 (!) wins to Williams 2 and were runners up in the championship whilst Williams were 4th.

If the trend continued, as it looked like it might, then Ferrari were by far the stronger team and had the strength and experience to possibly take Alesi to the title. Williams looked like they were still in their rocky period after a dominating time with Honda. Their relationship with Renault hadn't yet shown its potential.

I think, looking at the stats above, Alesi would have been crazy to go to Williams at that time. Sadly for him, craziness was what we needed at that time but any sane person would have gone to Ferrari, a team that was fighting for the championship, and get the experience to partner and learn from Prost - one of the greatest drivers ever in the sport.

Jean was just unlucky.

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