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Is Dominance in Formula One Something new?

Is Dominance in Formula One Something new?

Ever since F1 took a turn at the start of 2014 and Mercedes proceeded with its dominance of the sport, criticism of it has grown to new heights with people either rueing the new technology or taking a dig at the German dominance. While F1 has many evils it’s struggling with increasing costs, a poor financial structure and boring tracks leading one way or the other to a dwindling interest in the sport but what’s most interesting is how Mercedes’s dominance is being cited as the major reason behind it. And this begs the question: is the dominance of one team over the grid something new in F1?

The answer is a big NO. Although the margin of Mercedes’s lead over the rest of the field is something that the sport has not seen since long, but as long as history stretches, domination of one team over the entire field has been the norm rather than an exception. One need not look further back than 2010 when Red Bull finally hit their stride and lifted both the champions trophy for 4 times over the course of 4 years. However since the dwindle in the interest and the criticism began around this time, for the sake of merit let’s go further back.

Ferrari was particularly dominant in the Schumacher era

It was the year 2000, the whisper of Ferrari’s resurgence finally took the form of what was going to be the most successful partnership ever resulting in 5 championships. Till 2004 Ferrari ruled the rostrum although competition did rear its head but the Italians reigned supreme.

Rewind further back and it was the Grove based team that dominated the sport from 1992 to 1997 with the mere exception of Benetton taking the cup in 1995 while Schumacher took the title away from Williams twice in 1994 and 1995 but that’s down to Senna’s death in ’94 and the aftermath of it. But Williams’ dominance is evident during the era.

Prior to that, it was McLaren that ruled the grid from 1984 to 1991 winning 7 drivers championship titles and 6 constructor championships with only Williams bettering them in ’86 and ’87.

Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel took over the reins of domination from Ferrari

Although looking back further, this is where dominance in multiple years’ (more than 3) by a team ends but this does not mean the sport didn’t see one team leading the grid for continuous years, rather dominance came in patches of 2 to 3 years.

The constructor championship was inducted into the sport in 1958 and the maiden one was won by Vanwall succeeded by the British Cooper for ’59 and ’60. The next five years saw a to and fro between Ferrari and Lotus till 1965 during which both Lotus and Ferrari won twice but not consecutively. 1966 and 1967 saw Brabham’s team of the same name take home both the titles. From ’68 onwards till ’73 came the Lotus years with only Matra and Tyrrell playing spoilsport in ’69 and ’71 respectively.

From 1975 it was Ferrari’s turn to be the team to beat as it took 3 consecutive constructor titles and 2  drivers titles. It would have been 3 out of 3 if not for Niki Lauda’s infamous accident at Nurburgring. 1980 to ’81 and 1982 to ’83 saw Williams and Ferrari on the top step and this completes the history of the sport.

As the stats clearly dictates Formula 1 has been dominated by one team or the other with only 1961 to 1965 featuring a to and fro between Lotus and Ferrari.

Odd results have been there in a sporadic fashion but that has been the exception and that too falling on the rarest spectrum within it. So this begs the thought: dominance has been the norm in F1, a statement that has become evident since the introduction of the constructor championship to show for it, yet the fraternity cries about it stating it to be a thing of recent times when clearly this is not so.

Hamilton has concern that Mercedes may become complacent and lose to rivals
Hamilton and Mercedes are the latest to take up the dominance mantle

The answer lies in the fact that over the years F1 has lost the element of uncertainty. The early years of the sport were plagued by unreliability on the machine front and danger of life on the human side. To the spectators, overcoming both and lifting the title felt like a feat to be performed starting from scratch each year.

In terms of engineering, the motoring world has reached a saturation point and it’s but natural. The fundamental dynamics of an internal combustion engine have not changed radically over the years which means the basics after a lot of trial and error, are well settled. This was not the case in the early years as engineers kept tweaking the design to find newer ways of gaining an edge over their rivals. Many a time the Chapman lead Lotus lost out on titles because of reliability issues even though the cars were the fastest on the grid.

The technology was perfected many years back which means the uncertainty on the machine front has been lost to a considerable degree. Now don’t get us wrong, reliability still plays a significant role in a team’s campaign but such snags appear due to the implementation of the same technology in the better aerodynamically designed F1 cars of late which presents its own challenges to overcome. Hence to bring back the element of uncertainty, technological changes had to be introduced to the sport.

2015 F1 season
Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W08.
23.02.2017. Mercedes AMG F1 W08 Launch, Silverstone, England.

That’s exactly what has been done every now and then with the latest in 2014 the introduction of hybrid V6 turbo engines. But the biggest drawback of such a move is that it spikes the costs to be incurred by the teams and secondly it provides an opportunity for any team that gets it job done right to dominate the entire field which is exactly what is happening in the current era and that brings us back to square one. Hence technological changes cannot be used as a regular tool to break the status quo as it will set in motion a vicious circle, an Ouroboros if you please.

The problem actually lies in the human tendency. We always look at the highlights of the past to compare to our present. No one remembers what happened over the entire season of a year long gone by but merely the high points of it and then believe that the entire season was same. Who remembers how dominant McLaren was during the 80s and that it was the same team winning each and every grand Prix? People only remember the Senna/Prost rivalry, Senna’s brilliant performances, and that Monaco pole lap. And this has been the norm ever since.

During the 90s people cried about the Williams dominance and glorified the 80s and in the next decade when Mr. Schumacher was busy rounding titles after titles, the Schumacher-Hill battle was cried about.

The circle will go on and on and even sure 6-7 years from today when some other team will be on the top rung people will cry about it, probably even refer to this era, praise the Hamilton-Rosberg duel and say “Those were the good times”.

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