In 20 years, perhaps, when people look at the results of the Formula 1 races in the early 2010s, they will think that it was all a bit of a Red Bull walkover. Three consecutive double World Championships looks pretty impressive on paper, but in reality the last three seasons have been anything but dull. One has rarely gone to a race knowing who is going to win in advance. That, of course, is a real problem for any sport because unpredictability is the very essence of what makes a sport exciting. Dominance may be impressive, but it is a turn-off. In the days when Ferrari was completely dominant with Michael Schumacher some may have pretended that people turn on TVs to watch a great maestro at work, but it is not really true. What viewers want to see is tension and excitement. Formula 1 has delivered that in recent years without really compromising the nature of the game, which is rather different to some other racing series where they simply throw a yellow if things get dull. Some will argue otherwise but F1 still has a purity about it, which is appealing.
The other thing F1 has right now is mature regulations. This means that engineers have looked at every loophole and played with every tweak they can think of. They have been forced in recent years to look at ever more esoteric aerodynamic solutions. Airflow has long been analysed and fiddled with, but in recent times the gains have come from double diffusers, air being piped around the cars and exhausts being used as aerodynamic aids. It is an era that has been dominated by the aerodynamicists, with the engine designers barely getting a look-in. All of this has meant that the relative performance between the different teams is much smaller than it used to be as all the good ideas have been spread around.
The problem with stable rules is that while the racing gets better, the sport’s technological image is undermined because the cutting edge leaves the sport behind. The key is to find a nice balance between rule changing and stirring the pot, and close racing. When the teams are as closely-matched as they are these days, it is not easy to predict winners. If you had tried to guess a World Champion in March last year, you would probably have gone for Lewis Hamilton, but Red Bull fought back remarkably as the season went on, and McLaren seemed to lose its drive. Ferrari was chipping away all the time, led by inspiring performances from Fernando Alonso, while Lotus, Williams, Sauber and even Force India had their moments in the spotlight.
Bernie Ecclestone says that he would like to see Ferrari winning in 2013 and there is no doubt that a lot of fans around the world would like that as well. Ferrari is always popular, but will the Italian team produce a car as good as those from the other top teams? We won’t know that until the second or third weeks of testing in February, by which time it will be fairly clear who will have a decent car when the F1 circus tips up in Australia in mid-March.
The sport is at the end of an evolutionary period when it comes to car design and next year we will see some more radical changes as the new turbo hybrid engines kick in.
McLaren is a formidable force and, amazingly, the team has not won a World Championship since Lewis Hamilton’s memorable title in 2008. Even more astonishingly, McLaren has not won the Constructors’ title since 1998, but has finished second on no fewer than seven occasions (eight if one includes 2007 when the team was excluded as part of the espionage furore). Lotus F1 Team needs just a little bit more performance to get in with the top players on a regular basis and a lot of fans would like to see the recharged Kimi Raikkonen winning another World Championship. Williams fans too will be hoping to see Valtteri Bottas quickly getting up to speed and helping the team to get back into contention at very. It may be a little early for that, but seeing a top driver in a Williams again is a good thing. Sauber too has a lot of fans and with Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez it has an exciting new line-up.
So there is a lot to look forward to in 2013… At the moment I’m still enjoying the break, but I expect in a month or so I will start to be a little restless and will want to hear the engines singing again.