In 1988 McLaren won 15 out of the 16 races that season. Missing out on a clean sweep only because Senna collided with the stand-in Williams driver (Jean-Louis Schlesser) while lapping him two laps from winning the Italian Grand Prix. During that year of complete domination by one team I recall feeling that F1 had lost its way, and that the racing was not as exciting as it should be. Part way through the season Nigel Roebuck wrote an excellent Fifth Column article for AUTOSPORT stating that for all the McLaren domination we would one day look on this season as a Golden Age for F1. Looking back now, of course he was entirely correct. The two best drivers at the time fighting it out in equal machinery, surely F1 couldn’t really get any better?
At the time I disagreed with the premise of the article, but years of Schumacher domination with no real competition even from his team mates made me appreciate that 1988 season.
Over the last few seasons many have complained about the state of F1, with the introduction of DRS, tyres that are deliberately engineered not to last a race and Vettel seemingly unbeatable for World Drivers Champion. However if we compare the competitiveness of recent seasons with that 1988 season it is clear that F1 today is much closer than it was 25 years ago.
In addition to winning 15 out of 16 races, McLaren also had 15 out of 16 pole positions (Great Britain being the only time a McLaren wasn’t on pole with Ferrari locking out the front row). In fact they were the sole occupants of the front row in 12 of the events. They even had fastest race lap in ten of the events.
In qualifying the McLarens averaged one second faster than their closest rival, and in the race the winning car was on average 39 seconds ahead of the nearest non McLaren.
Over the period that Vettel has been dominating (2010 to Germany 2013), qualifying one second slower than pole position would average out at 7th on the grid. In the same period finishing 39 seconds behind the leader would also average finishing in 7th place. So in addition to the championship going to the last round since 2010, usually with more than two people able to win the series, the whole field is much closer to the lead pace. Vettel may have won the championship for the last three years (and be leading this year), but he has been under much greater pressure than is apparent from a simplistic look at the results.
With the number of previous World Champions racing currently, and teams closer than they have ever been in the history of F1, I believe that this is truly a golden age of the sport. We just need to forget about the artificiality introduced by DRS or high degradation tyres and concentrate on the racing.
What is your favourite era of the sport and why? Was it the drivers, the cars allowed by the regulations, the circuits or the quality of the racing? What would need to change for the current era to be regarded as a golden age?