Then and Now – Noah’s Ark Racing

In Bahrain, particularly after the late safety car, most of the field was racing two by two with the majority of battles being between team mates in identical machinery.  Through F1 history this has often happened, usually at times where the circuits require high power and when teams have had big differences in engine performance.  In the latest F1B podcast #363, Todd and Grace discussed whether this intra team battle was enough to keeps fans interested given the domination shown so far by the Mercedes team.  The obvious parallel season to draw on is 1988, where the McLaren team won 15 out of the16 races that season, Senna winning the championship from Prost by three points after winning eight races to Prost’s seven.

There are a few examples where the racing produced a team formation:
in Mexico the finishing order was McLaren, McLaren, Ferrari, Ferrari, Arrows, Arrows, Benetton, Benetton;
in France it was McLaren, McLaren, Ferrari, Ferrari, Lotus, Benetton, Lotus, March, March.

This two by two formation wasn’t limited to the finishing order, qualifying as well produced its share of similar instances:
in France they qualified McLaren, McLaren, Ferrari, Ferrari, Benetton, Benetton, Lotus, Lotus;
in Britain (odd that the pole wasn’t a McLaren) we had Ferrari, Ferrari, McLaren, McLaren, March, March;
in Belgium they lined up McLaren, McLaren, Ferrari, Ferrari, Williams, Benetton, Benetton, Lotus, Lotus, Arrows, Arrows;
in Italy we had the grid with McLaren, McLaren, Ferrari, Ferrari, Arrows, Arrows, Lotus, Benetton, Benetton.

Other similarities exist with 2014, Ferrari were struggling with fuel economy, the cars looked and sounded similar to today’s examples (the high noses wouldn’t start to appear until Tyrrell introduced the 019 in 1989, and although some had 3.5 litre V8s the front of the grid was powered by the 1.5 litre turbo engines.

The differences are also interesting, it was the large capacity V8’s that were more economical than the small turbos, and active suspension* was just being introduced – Lotus having had it on the car in 1987, and Williams starting the year with it before famously converting Mansell’s car overnight to passive specification for the British Grand Prix.

By most peoples reckoning the 1988 season was a classic, with the two best drivers of the day battling it out in identical cars, with the championship battle going down to the final race.  If we had such a season this year, would this be enough to rank the 2014 season alongside 1988 as a great year?  OK, the two Mercedes drivers are arguably not the best two drivers in current Formula 1, as there are four other World champions on the grid and hopefully one or two who have yet to win the championship, but they are two evenly matched drivers who have so far been allowed to race each other.  Prost and Senna spent the whole season taking turns to win races, but through the entire year only over took each other during the following events:

Canada – once, Senna spent the first 18 laps within a second of Prost before passing and pulling away;

France – twice (once due to pit-stops, then 14 laps for Prost to catch Senna, ten laps with Prost within a second of Senna before passing and pulling away);
Japan – once, Senna caught Prost on lap 19, and took until lap 27 to pass before pulling away.

The only other occasion when the two got close, but no overtaking took place was in Hungary – lap 48 – 58 within a second before Senna pulls out to a six second advantage before the flag.

So already in one race, we have seen more racing between the two drivers in the fastest car than during the whole of the 1988 season.  What made 1988 great was the constant change in which of the two McLaren drivers won, and therefore lead the championship.  We have seen this year that there have been occasions where Hamilton has been faster than Rosberg, and where Rosberg has been faster than Hamilton.  If the relative speed of the two Mercedes drivers continues to ebb and flow, there is no reason why we shouldn’t get the pair of them sharing the race wins even if the team maintains its advantage over the rest of the field.  As a bonus, if we occasionally get a repeat of the race in Bahrain (where the slower of the pair successfully manages to hold  back the faster) then we could be in for an  excellent season regardless of what the rest of the field do to catch up to the silver team.

While we are a long way from knowing if Mercedes can equal McLaren’s domination by only dropping one race this year, I can see a situation where late in the season (say Monza) a Mercedes drops out with engine failure and the other car is taken out late in the race when lapping a backmarker.  With Maldonado in the field we don’t even need a stand in sports car driver to be the offending driver.  What I can’t quite see happening is Ferrari being in a position to pick up a one two should both Mercedes fail to finish, however there is a lot of development yet to do on this years’ cars, so never say never.

* Active suspension is being talked about now as a cost cutting measure.

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