Much has been written about the small number of starters and finishers in the Australian Grand Prix, and how the small number paints the sport in a bad light. With only fifteen drivers taking the start, the number of finishers was always going to be small compared to some of the races last year where it was close to having every one of the 22 starters finish. However reliability has not always been so good, so much so that for many years points were only scored by the top six finishers (and on occasion there weren’t even six car making the finish).
While recently we have become used to 20 or 22 entrants (and 24 for the years when HRT were present), thirty or so years ago it was routine to have 25 or 26 starters (with many more entrants trying to pre-qualify). In the 1970s the number starting the opening race fluctuated widely between 19 and 25, and before this the number was lower, with only 10 starters in the opening Argentinian race in 1958.
The number of finishers has also varied widely during the six and a half decades since the championship started, with the low point being in 1966 with only four finishers. Only eight times in the 66 years have there been more than 15 finishers of the opening race, and only 30 times has the number exceeded this years 11 finishers. So on the number of drivers finishing the race this year’s opening round 2015 is in the top half of all the opening rounds held in the championship. In fact as recently as 2008 there were only 8 finishers, and I don’t recall that being a particularly bad season.
The graphs of the number of starters and the number of finishers is shown below, so you can see how these varied over the years.
The third line on the graph is the number of cars on the lead lap, included to give some indication of the competitiveness of the field. This shows how much we have been spoiled in recent years (with stable V8 engines allowing much more even performance through the field). However, whatever you may consider to be the ‘golden age’ of F1, the figures are likely to be far closer to what we have today. Please don’t write this season off on the basis of one race, as I hope you can see, races of attrition have been very common during the opening Grand Prix of each season. There is no reason why this will not also be considered a great season in years to come.