What is happening to the current F1? Are changes in rules and regulations really affecting the show?
Much is being said about the dominance of Red Bull for the past four seasons and the current domination of Mercedes in 2014, but, is this new? Have past five years been the only ones in the history of the current F1 where the importance of having a good car has exceeded the importance of having good hands?
Many questions and very little memory. This sport is a combination of many factors, all decisive in its own way. We cannot underestimate any of the men that are risking their lives every Sunday on a race track, just because they do it with a better tool than its competitors. The teams, their budgets, their engineers and their ability to adapt each year to the FIA requirements have much weight and are also part of the game. Like strategies, being in the right place at the right time, the reliability of the cars, the weather and being the first or second driver of each team - all these factors play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the championship.
Let's start by remembering the past 13 seasons. Back in 2000, when we still had the seven times winner Michael Schumacher on the grid, there were only two teams capable of winning races in the 17 GPs of the season. The four drivers of those two teams, Schumacher and Barrichello in red and Hakkinen and Coulthard in grey, shared the first place on the podium between them all season. There was no way to beat Ferrari, which got 10 wins, or McLaren, which took the remaining seven. Were the races boring back then? Did people still complain about dominance?
Let’s analyze what happened in 2001. Winners that season were a bit more varied, since Williams entered the fight. That left us five different winners belonging to 3 teams: Ferrari, with 9 wins, all from the Kaiser, McLaren and Williams with four victory trophies each divided between the two drivers: Hakkinen and Coulthard with the Mercedes engine car, Ralf Schumacher and Montoya with the BMW engine car. At that time, I do not remember anyone complaining about the superiority of the three greats of F1. It was accepted that they were the teams which worked harder in pre-season, probably thanks to their high budget.
Moving into the next year, things continued the same way. There were only four riders able to climb to the top of the podium; drivers who served in the ranks of, of course, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. And yet there were three teams that won the gold - Ferrari was the one which dominated the season, with 15 of the 17 possible first positions. German took 11 wins while the Brazilian claimed the other four. The FW24 and the MP4/17 settled for a win each, with David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher behind the wheel. I do not remember having had a season with a crushing domination of one team than 2002 .
In 2003 the situation improved somehow. Teams like Jordan, Ford Motor and Renault, joined the fight for the championship. That season we saw eighth drivers rising victorious: there were eighth wins for the team of the Cavallino Rampante (6 for Michael, 2 for Rubens), two for the men from Woking (one for David and one for Kimi), Williams took four victories (two for each driver, Ralf and Juan Pablo Montoya), and one win each for the two new team joining the fighting for the top step on the podium, Renault, thanks to the Spanish driver Fernando Alonso, and Jordan, with Giancarlo Fisichella behind the wheel.
The 2004 season was almost a copy of 2002, in which the Maranello team again got 15 victories in the 18 Grand Prix season. Again, Schumacher outmanoeuvred his partner, taking 13 of the 15 trophies. McLaren, Williams and Renault scraped 1 gold each, thanks to Raikkonen, Montoya and Trulli respectively. Back in the early 2000s, I did not hear much hype of non-winning teams requiring changes to avoid the great excellence of the others.
What happened in 2005? Well, the Ferrari era ended and the two teams battled for the championship were McLaren and Renault. Although the British team took more victories, 10 versus 8 for the French, Renault was at the end who won the championship with Alonso in command thanks to the unreliability of the MP4/20 of Kimi Räikkönen. Schumacher's sole victory at the controversial US Grand Prix was Ferrari's only solace. It was one of the most exciting seasons in recent years as to the very end of the year, we did not know who will lift the drivers crown. Even so, only two were the dominant teams during all GPs.
The red team went in the business again in 2006. Schumacher got seven wins, against one for his teammate Felipe Massa. Renault took another eight wins, distributed in the same manner as in Ferrari: seven for Alonso and one for for Fisichella. Honda and Button picked up the remaining triumph. At mid-season, the Kaiser announced his withdrawal from the pinnacle of motorsport. He wanted to go out through the main door, having spent his last years as a driver in a historic team like Ferrari.
With the farewell of German, the driver changes between teams followed. Alonso moved from Renault to McLaren, while Räikkönen switched to Ferrari, having spent the last five seasons at McLaren. The first year of the Finnish in Maranello’s team helped him get his first world title. Raikkonen won six races, compared with three of his teammate, Felipe Massa. McLaren were busy with an internal war among drivers, newcomer Alonso, as already mentioned, and debutant Lewis Hamilton, a protected driver by the team boss Ron Dennis. Even with these struggles, both drivers were able to win four races apiece. Until the last GP in Interlagos track, we were intrigued with who would be the winner. Thus, 2007 was again a season of just two teams and 4 drivers.
The following season was not very different from what we have discussed so far. More names of drivers and teams reappeared at the top of the podium, but the duel between Ferrari, with nine wins, and McLaren, with six, continued. That year, it was Massa who beat Kimi by six wins to two. Kovalainen, Alonso's substitute in the Woking team, was crowned winner at one occasion while Hamilton had five visits to the top step of the podium. Alonso, who had returned to Renault, won only twice times with his former team. A very young Sebastian Vettel, running with the sister team of Red Bull Racing,Toro Rosso, slipped in between the big winners at Monza GP 2008 with an impressive drive in wet conditions. Robert Kubica, BMW driver, took the gold that was left at Canada - his sole victory in Formula 1.
In 2009, the Honda team became Brawn GP after the technical director of the Ferrari team, Ross Brawn, moved there in 2007. He was responsible for the design, engineering and manufacturing of new cars and, later, he decided to buy the shares of the team and start his own. The cars added a controversial double diffusers that gave them half a second per lap advantage. The other team questioned to the legality of those diffusers to the FIA but the sport's governing body found nothing wrong in them. Despite other teams copying this concept and some others having it since the start of the year, Brawn GP, clinched the Constructors'and the Drivers' Championship, thanks to Jenson Button who managed to take 6 wins for 2 of his teammate, Barrichello. That season, the race for the title was not between Ferrari and McLaren as has been the case for the past two years. In fact, Ferrari could only get one win in Kimi's hand and McLaren two, with Hamilton behind the wheels. The remaining six wins went with Red Bull Racing with four golds for Vettel who was promoted to the senior outfit, and two for Webber. The team finished second in the constructors stake.
After three seasons of drought, Fernando Alonso joined Ferrari after Räikkönen decided to leave F1 to try luck in the rallies. Alonso made a decent debut at the Maranello based outfit but it wasn't not enough to snatch his third world title from Sebastian Vettel who consequently became sport’s youngest world champion. Both Alonso and Vettel had the same number of victories, five, but Vettel was more consistent of the two. The Abu Dhabi strategy blunder by Ferrari also worked against Alonso’s favour. Button, Hamilton’s new McLaren partner, rose two times to the top of the podium, while himself Hamilton himself finished there thrice. Finally Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, added 4 wins to his resume. Thus, in 2010 we had more tension in the fight for the title, although there were only 3 teams with the machinery to win a race.
From 2011 on, Ferrari began their particular decline. Red Bull Racing stood as one of the new big teams and the fans weren't particularly pleased with their dominance. One wonders as to why that wasn't the case during the glory years of Ferrari and McLaren. Coming back to 2011, Red Bull were the clear masters of the season, with 11 of the 19 possible wins for Vettel. Hamilton and Button’s McLaren tried it with 4 and 3 wins respectively, and Alonso settled for the only victory for Ferrari in 2011. Thus, the season was extremely similar to Ferrari's 2002 and 2004 campaign and Nigel Mansell's championship winning year at Williams in 1992.
Although many insist on saying that the 2010-2013 seasons were boring by the absolute dominance of Red Bull Racing, the fact is that, in 2012, we had 8 different driver winners from 6 different teams. That means that this season was one of the most exciting in recent years if you take into account number of race winner . Finnish driver Kimi Räikkönen returned to the premier class of motorsport, signing for Lotus. He took a well deserved victory at Abu Dhabi, one the fans won’t ever forget for his amusing radio call. Vettel won five times that season, Webber twice, this giving 7 golds to RBR that would be worth the title. Seven victory trophies also went in McLaren’s favour: 4 for Hamilton and 3 for Button. Alonso led Ferrari to the top of the podium 3 times, Rosberg took Mercedes’ first victory in modern era while Pastor Maldonado also helped Williams take their first victory in nearly a decade. There was a nice battle between Alonso and Vettel until the last race, Interlagos, where the German had to climb from last position due to a crash on the fourth corner, to 6th. Interlagos 2012, in wet conditions, was one of the greatest GP of all the times.
In 2013, RBR were proclaimed winners again with 13 wins out of 19 possible, but there were 3 other teams who also won some GPs: Mercedes, which 3 wins, Lotus, which took another victory thanks to Raikkonen and Ferrari, with two wins thanks to the Spanish driver.
In conclusion, we may say that the beginning of the 2000s was an era with far fewer colors than today, when the victories were split among fewer drivers and fewer teams than today but, even so, fans are much more unhappy now than then used to be at the turn of the century. We better go back in time and realize that every year, the driver who wins is the driver with the one of the best cars, if not the best. But this doesn’t make the sport less interesting or spectacular.