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Who are the greatest F1 team principals in history?

Formula 1 has been graced with some legendary team bosses over the years - but who is the most successful?

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

F1 has long been raged with a debate over who the greatest driver in history is and that is something which will continue to happen for as long as the series exists.  

Statistically, it is Lewis Hamilton, but there is also Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and even Max Verstappen coming into the fold. This is not to discount Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss et al, but is more a reflection on the ever-increasing length of seasons and careers. 

However, none of those drivers would have been able to achieve what they did without a great team and leader behind them. 

Hamilton won six of his championships under the leadership of Toto Wolff, Jean Todt led Schumacher to five titles, while Christian Horner took seven titles between Sebastian Vettel and Verstappen. 

So, F1 is lucky enough to have been graced with some great leaders over the years but, statistically, who is the best? 

1. Sir Ron Dennis - 17 F1 world championships (seven constructors, 10 drivers) 

Ayrton Senna, McLaren Honda, prepares to qualify under the watchful eye of McLaren team boss Ron Dennis

Ayrton Senna, McLaren Honda, prepares to qualify under the watchful eye of McLaren team boss Ron Dennis

Photo by: Motorsport Images

  • Team: McLaren (1981 - 2008; 2014-16) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 7 (1984-85, 1988-91, 1998) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 10 (1984-86, 1988-91, 1998-99, 2008) 

  • Grand prix wins: 138 (1981 - 2008) 

Ron Dennis is statistically the greatest team boss in F1 history, having won a staggering 17 world championships during his time at McLaren. Dennis joined in 1981 when McLaren was without a victory since 1977, yet his excellent management quickly turned it into a championship-winning machine. 

The addition of car designer John Barnard and Porsche as the engine supplier, plus partnering triple world champion Niki Lauda with youngster Alain Prost, helped McLaren to win five titles (three drivers and two constructors) from 1984 to 1986. More championships came from 1988 to 1991, but a lull period followed once McLaren’s partnership with engine supplier Honda ended at the end of 1992.  

However, Dennis quickly returned McLaren to winning ways as Mika Hakkinen ended the century with back-to-back championships after the team had lured legendary designer Adrian Newey from Williams

The 21st century has not been as fruitful for McLaren though, with its only championship win being Hamilton’s 2008 drivers’ title. In 2009, Martin Whitmarsh became team principal after Dennis switched his focus to McLaren Automotive before returning to the racing operation in 2014. However, things quickly turned sour as McLaren stakeholders ousted Dennis from his position at the end of 2016. 

2. Sir Frank Williams - 16 F1 world championships (nine constructors, seven drivers) 

Frank Dernie, Frank Williams and Alan Jones, Williams

Frank Dernie, Frank Williams and Alan Jones, Williams

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

  • Team: Frank Williams Racing Cars (1969-76) and Williams Racing (1977 - 2020) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 9 (1980-81, 1986-87, 1992-94, 1996-97) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 7 (1980, 1982, 1987, 1992-93, 1996-97) 

  • Grand prix wins: 114 (1979 - 2012) 

Sir Frank Williams actually founded the Williams Racing team that is known today after a seven-year stint with a different constructor. Frank Williams Racing Cars made its F1 debut in 1969, however it left the series in 1976 having failed to win a grand prix. 

The following year, Frank co-founded the current Williams team with Patrick Head who took control of the engineering side. This team proved far more successful as Williams clinched its maiden championship in 1980 before winning five more titles (three constructors and two drivers) that decade.  

Soon McLaren became dominant, but the signing of Newey for 1991 put Williams back on top. Newey and Head’s innovative designs helped Williams win eight championships (four constructors and four drivers) from 1992 to 1997, but the success soon ended as Newey and engine supplier Renault both departed. 

An aging Frank then seized control of the day-to-day running in 2013 when his daughter, Claire, became deputy team principal until the Williams family sold the operation in 2020 when it could no longer compete financially. Frank then sadly died the following year at the age of 79. 

3. Toto Wolff - 15 F1 world championships (eight constructors, seven drivers) 

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1, 1st position, and Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG, celebrate on the podium

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1, 1st position, and Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG, celebrate on the podium

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

  • Team: Mercedes (2013 - present) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 8 (2014-21) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 7 (2014-20) 

  • Grand prix wins: 115 (2013-22) 

Wolff’s Mercedes team has broken many records, like winning the most consecutive constructors’ championships with eight. The Austrian joined in 2013 after serving as Williams’ executive director and it did not take long for the Silver Arrows to start winning championships. 

Mercedes mastered the 2014 regulation change to turbo-hybrid engines and won 15 championships (eight constructors and seven drivers) over the next eight years. What’s more impressive is that Mercedes achieved the difficult thing of winning through a regulation change, as cars became wider and faster in 2017, yet it fended off a challenge from Vettel’s Ferrari to clinch more titles. 

During that time, Hamilton doubted whether anybody could run a business as successfully as Wolff, who had approximately doubled Mercedes’ workforce and annual turnover during his time in charge. Mercedes’ dominance eventually came to an end in 2022 though when it struggled to cope with the switch to ground-effect cars, as Red Bull once again became the team to beat.  

=4 Colin Chapman - 13 F1 world championships (seven constructors, six drivers) 

Jochen Rindt and Colin Chapman in the pits

Jochen Rindt and Colin Chapman in the pits

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

  • Team: Lotus (1958-82) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 7 (1963, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1972-73, 1978) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 6 (1963, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1978) 

  • Grand prix wins: 67 (1961-82) 

Colin Chapman is one of motor racing’s most influential figures as he brought aerodynamics to F1 car design and pioneered the first use of ground-effect which is still used today. 

But, he wasn’t just a car designer. The Lotus founder led his team to 13 world championships (seven constructors and six drivers) from 1963 to 1978, managing big-name drivers like Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi. 

Chapman clearly operated differently to his fellow team managers, but the success still followed. However, in 1982, just four years after Lotus’ final title, Chapman suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 54 while his team continued until the 1994 season.  

=4 Jean Todt - 13 F1 world championships (seven constructors, six drivers) 

Podium: race winner Michael Shumacher, Ferrari with Jean Todt, Ferrari

Podium: race winner Michael Shumacher, Ferrari with Jean Todt, Ferrari

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

  • Team: Ferrari (1993 - 2007) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 7 (1999-04, 2007) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 6 (2000-04, 2007) 

  • Grand prix wins: 98 (1994-2007) 

In 1993 Todt joined a Ferrari team in disarray. The Scuderia had not won a championship in 10 years and it had just achieved its lowest finishing position - fourth - since 1987. 

So, Todt had to rebuild a team from top to bottom while knowing it would take time for Ferrari to become successful again. But, once it did, Todt led Ferrari to levels of success that had not been reached before. He began by restructuring the management team before persuading reigning drivers’ champion Schumacher to undertake a fresh challenge at Ferrari in 1996. 

The glory days soon returned, as Ferrari won its first constructors’ title for 16 years in 1999 before clinching five consecutive double championships from 2000 to 2004. Todt soon put Ferrari back on top as it clinched another double title win in 2007 - although, it only won the constructors because McLaren got disqualified after obtaining confidential information regarding the Scuderia. 

That was also Todt’s final year in the job, as he became president of the FIA in 2009 with Stefano Domenicali succeeding him at Ferrari.  

=4 Christian Horner - 13 F1 world championships (six constructors, seven drivers) 

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, lifts the Constructors trophy on the podium

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, lifts the Constructors trophy on the podium

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

  • Team: Red Bull (2005 - present) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 6 (2010-13, 2022-23) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 7 (2010-13, 2021-23) 

  • Grand prix wins: 115 (2009 - present) 

Horner is approaching 20 years in the job after taking over the newly formed Red Bull team in 2005. Red Bull spent its first year in the midfield but at the end of 2005, it signed Newey which laid the foundations for the success to come. 

Red Bull became a race-winning outfit in 2009 before clinching four consecutive double championships from 2010 to 2013. The inevitable championship drought followed in the next era of regulations, but Red Bull did not go away and during that time Horner handed a race seat to an 18-year-old Verstappen, which allowed him to grow with the team until another opportunity to win a title presented itself. 

That came in 2021 as Verstappen won Red Bull its first drivers’ title for eight years, but it was unknown if that could be repeated due to the impending regulation change. However, Red Bull mastered the switch to ground-effect cars as it dominated both championships in 2022 and 2023 and is on course to do the same in 2024. 

7. Flavio Briatore - 7 F1 world championships (three constructors, four drivers)  

FIA President Max Mosley talks with Flavio Briatore

FIA President Max Mosley talks with Flavio Briatore

Photo by: Sutton Images

  • Team: Benetton (1988-97) and Renault (2000-09) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 3 (1995, 2005-06) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 4 (1994-95, 2005-06) 

  • Grand prix wins: 26 at Benetton (1989-97) and 20 at Renault (2003-08) 

Flavio Briatore became one of F1’s most divisive characters during his years in the paddock. He made his debut as a team principal in 1988 with Benetton, but it took a while for success to come. Everything changed in 1991 when Briatore beat Eddie Jordan to the signing of Schumacher, who eventually led the team to world championship success in 1994 and 1995. 

Once Benetton lost Schumacher to Ferrari in 1996, Briatore set about rebuilding the team but ultimately failed as he was sacked in 1997. However, the chance to return presented itself in 2000 when Renault bought Benetton and reinstated Briatore to his previous position. 

Similar to his time at Benetton, Briatore signed a young driver who he could then build the team around to win championships. It worked as Fernando Alonso and Renault won back-to-back double titles in 2005 and 2006, but it was also in the headlines for the wrong reasons in 2009. 

The year prior, Briatore and Renault’s executive director of engineering Pat Symonds ordered Nelson Piquet Jr to deliberately crash during the Singapore Grand Prix, as it would help Alonso to take the win. When news of it broke out, Briatore resigned as team principal before receiving a lifetime ban from motorsport, though this was lifted in 2013.  

8. Ken Tyrrell - 5 F1 world championships (two constructors, three drivers) 

Jackie Stewart, Tyrrell 006 Ford with Ken Tyrrell

Jackie Stewart, Tyrrell 006 Ford with Ken Tyrrell

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

  • Team: Matra International (1968-69) and Tyrrell (1970-97) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 2 (1969, 1971) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 3 (1969, 1971, 1973) 

  • Grand prix wins: 9 at Matra International (1968-69) and 24 at Tyrrell (1970-83) 

Ken Tyrrell was best known for his legendary partnership with Jackie Stewart, who he discovered in the junior formulas in 1964. Stewart got his F1 opportunity a year later, but for Tyrrell the dream did not arrive until 1968 when he became team principal for Matra International. 

Tyrrell once again joined forces with his star driver, who had been with BRM for three years, and a double championship win soon followed as Stewart and Matra dominated the 1969 season. However, after becoming disenchanted with the direction Matra wanted to go, Tyrrell set up his own constructor for 1970 and employed Derek Gardner to design the chassis while continuing his partnership with Stewart.

The partnership continued to be a success as Tyrrell and Stewart claimed another double championship win in 1971, while clinching the drivers’ title again in 1973. But, 1973 was to be the end of their partnership as Stewart retired from racing and Tyrrell failed to win another championship before selling the operation in 1997, four years before his death.

=9. Marco Piccinini - 4 F1 world championships (three constructors, one drivers) 

Maranello 1980, Mauro Forghieri, Gilles Villeneuve, Marco Piccinini, Jody Scheckter for the presentation of the Ferrari T5

Maranello 1980, Mauro Forghieri, Gilles Villeneuve, Marco Piccinini, Jody Scheckter for the presentation of the Ferrari T5

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

  • Team: Ferrari (1978-88) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 3 (1979, 1982-83) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 1 (1979) 

  • Grand prix wins: 26 (1978-88) 

While Enzo Ferrari is regularly seen as the person who ran Ferrari - the team he founded - in its early years, he always appointed a team manager as the Italian rarely visited grands prix outside of his home country. 

The man he hired in 1978, Marco Piccinini, is currently the second-longest serving Ferrari team principal in history. During his time in charge, Ferrari won four world championships - three constructors and one driver - which continued the success of Piccinini’s predecessors in the 1970s. 

Piccinini is also known for his role in the dispute between the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile and the Formula One Constructors' Association - commonly known as the FISA-FOCA war - which is when the two sporting organisations battled for control of the series. 

It led to Piccinini organising a pre-season meeting in 1981 between the sporting authorities and teams, which resulted in the first Concorde Agreement - the contract between F1, FIA and the teams - being signed. Seven years after said meeting, Enzo died causing Fiat to assert its position as Ferrari’s majority shareholder by replacing Piccinini with Cesare Fiorio, who’d already had a long history with Fiat.  

=9. Sir Jack Brabham - 4 F1 world championships (two constructors, two drivers) 

Jack Brabham, Brabham BT19

Jack Brabham, Brabham BT19

Photo by: Motorsport Images

  • Team: Brabham (1962-70) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 2 (1966-67) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 2 (1966-67) 

  • Grand prix wins: 13 (1964-70) 

Sir Jack Brabham remains the only person to win the F1 drivers’ championship while racing for their own team. The Brabham outfit made its debut in 1962 after Jack had already won two drivers’ titles for Cooper. But, he was confident that he and Brabham co-founder Ron Tauranac could build a more competitive car than his former squad. 

Brabham got a relatively slow start though, as its maiden podium did not come until 1963 with the first two victories arriving the following year. The next win did not come until 1966, but that was the season Brabham clinched its first double championship with Jack winning his third and final drivers’ title as well. 

Another double championship came in 1967, with Denny Hulme winning the drivers’ title. Jack soon had enough of racing though and at the end of 1970 he quit F1 and sold his share of Motor Racing Developments, Ltd - the company who owned the Brabham team - to Bernie Ecclestone. 

Under Ecclestone’s ownership, Brabham’s glory days returned as it won two more drivers’ championships in 1981 and 1983 but could not seal the constructors’ trophy. 

=9. John Cooper - 4 F1 world championships (two constructors, two drivers) 

John Cooper and Jack Brabham

John Cooper and Jack Brabham

Photo by: Motorsport Images

  • Team: Cooper (1950-65) 

  • F1 constructors’ world championships: 2 (1959-60) 

  • F1 drivers’ world championships: 2 (1959-60) 

  • Grand prix wins: 14 (1958-62) 

John Cooper also won a combined four F1 world championships when running the Cooper team that he co-founded with his father Charles, who held more of an upstairs role. The team debuted at the 1950 Monaco GP before scoring its maiden podium two years later, with the first victory then arriving at the 1958 Argentine GP. 

During its early years, Cooper ran some innovative designs like entering a rear-engined car into the 1957 Monaco GP. Not everybody caught onto the idea at first though, as it took Cooper winning both championships in 1959 for others to latch on. Cooper sealed back-to-back title wins in 1960, but its decline soon followed as it could not match the technology used by its big-money rivals, who were now running rear-engined cars.  

In 1963 the decline was accelerated when John seriously injured himself in a road accident, while a year later his father Charles died. So, John sold the F1 team in 1965 and it remained on the grid until 1969 without winning another championship.

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