Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The best season in Formula 1 history?

A thrilling triple-team battle for the championship; an established team with a pair of evenly-matched drivers, winning several early Grands Prix, but then falling away in the development race; a young team with the fastest car, struggling for early-season reliability, but then mounting a late charge with a string of consecutive victories; and a Ferrari team scoring consistently with a car suitable on all types of circuit, but rarely possessing ultimate speed. The best-ever season of Formula 1? Yes, quite possibly 1979 had it all.

In the modern age, the World Drivers' Championship provides Formula 1 with an overall narrative which ties the individual Grands Prix into a coherent story, and imbues individual races with a significance they might not otherwise possess. Thus, by virtue of the fact that the 2010 season featured a five-way battle for the Drivers' Championship, many are already suggesting that 2010 was the best season in F1 history.

However, quick on the draw, Mark Hughes points out in his mini 2010 season-review, that for those who preferred the "rawness" of previous eras, "the greatest seasons have already been set."

Moreover, one can argue the case for 1979, not merely on the basis of its rawness, but on the quality of the individual races. 1979 featured great drivers, in fabulous cars, engaging in genuine racing on challenging circuits. Fortunes swung back and forth through the year, with the Ligier team of Laffite and Depailler initially dominating, before Ferrari won some races, and before the young Williams team eventually nailed their reliability problems, and began to dominate. For McLaren in 2010 read Ligier in 1979, for Red Bull in 2010 read Williams in 1979, and for Ferrari in 2010 read Ferrari in 1979. And remember, Williams in 1979 were only denied the opportunity to emulate Red Bull's late 2010 championship victory by an idiosyncratic scoring system which limited the number of points which could be scored in each half of the season.

In contrast, what were the truly great racing moments of the 2010 season? Certainly, there was a tremendous battle between the Red Bulls and McLarens at Istanbul, and the wet early-season races conspired to produce plenty of overtaking, (from Lewis Hamilton at least). However, are you really going to sit your grandchildren down and reminisce about how the old petrol-driven F1 cars struggled with their tyre degradation at Canada in 2010, or how Ferrari failed to cover both Red Bulls strategically at the season finale in Abu Dhabi?

Perhaps, instead, you might reminisce about Villeneuve and Arnoux banging wheels with expressionistic freedom at Dijon in 1979, or the exciting battles between Jones and Villeneuve at Zandvoort, Canada and Watkins Glen that same year. Or perhaps you'll just smile, and gently shake your head as you replay for the umpteenth time your holographic video of Villenueve, lapping at close to racing speed on three wheels at Zandvoort.


Sean said...

nope I am going for 1984. and Lauda v Prost. I still have a lot of sympathy for Prost after being sacked for not winning in 1983 by Renault but what a comeback by Lauda. I think I am right in saying that under they new points system Prost would have won.

It was also the year Senna arrived, and I wondered if he was mad. bad or brilliant when he made everyone else look like idiots in the wet at Monaco, as it turned out he was brilliant.

What fun it was to watch Ferrari FiUp on Sunday!

Gordon McCabe said...

I must admit, (and this should not in any way be taken as detrimental to my impeccable impartiality credentials), that I danced a little jig in the living room as the lead Ferrari crossed the line in seventh place.

Important, I feel, that Adrian Newey's design genius receive its due reward, and important for the future of the sport that allowing team-mates to race each other be seen, for once, as a strategic strength rather than a division of resources.

1984 had some spankingly good races, such as Zolder, Monaco, Detroit, and Dallas, but there were plenty of very dull races as well, in which the McLarens just crushed the opposition.

Note that Prost was really sacked in 1983 for sleeping with the wife of team-manager Gerard Larousse!

Gordon McCabe said...

I'm not publishing your second post Sean, on account of libel!

Sean said...

You mean Rene's lawyers are watching?

Patrick said...

I'm not quite old enough to have seen either 1979 or 1984, but I'm going to nominate 1988-89 for the rivalry between Senna and Prost. There might have been relatively few really stand-out races but the drama of the battle between two drivers who were head and shoulders above anybody else of their generation was something I will never forget. If an F1 season is, in part a narrative, then in Senna and Prost, we got two fascinating, three-dimensional, but ultimately flawed characters. And had either one of them not become an F1 driver, I think the other would almost certainly have dominated the sport in the manner of Schumacher in the early part of the last decade.

In recent years, only the 2006 fight between Alonso and Schumacher came close to rekindling that intense personal two-way battle. Though that felt less like a battle between two equals and more like the passing of a torch from one generation to the next (something Schumacher himself seems unable to acknowledge has occurred)

As for last weekend, I've never claimed to be impartial - a smile came across my face the moment I saw Alonso head for the pits to cover Webber. Even at that moment, I was convinced it was the wrong move.

Gordon McCabe said...

Rene's lawyers could be watching Sean; I've never seen anything published concerning the real reason for his Ferrari dismissal. In contrast, people have gone into print on the Prost affair, and it seems fairly well established.

Like Mark Hughes says, Patrick, the Senna-Prost feud continues to possess something akin to (long half-life) radioactivity. And remember, it could have been a three-way battle between Bellof, Prost and Senna...