Never say best ever

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So Lewis thinks this season will be the best? Perhaps, but first you must consider what has gone before
By Rob Widdows

Lewis Hamilton says he’s looking forward to his most exciting season ever in Formula 1. Not for the first time – nor the last – both experts and fans are proclaiming that 2010 will be the best season ever in the history of F1, if not the world. But we’ve heard this before.

Yes, we have four World Champions on the grid, possibly five competitive teams, and a higher calibre of driver than we’ve seen for more than a decade. And, importantly, we have a change of rules, slightly different cars, narrower front tyres. And that man Michael Schumacher is back. Yes, the ingredients are there. But let’s look back, see what history tells us.

In the 1950s there were few top-notch drivers. Many were wealthy, or aristocratic, or both, and went racing for fun. Unsurprisingly, the big works teams won almost everything. The ’60s brought more teams, both independent and factory-backed. And commercial sponsorship arrived.

The early ’60s were all about Jimmy Clark who, in 1965, won six races on the trot. It would probably have been seven but he missed Monaco while he was away winning the Indy 500… But the grids were impressive, including, to name a few, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Jack Brabham and John Surtees who, in ’64, fought Hill for the title. This was decided, by a single point, in favour of Surtees as only the best six results counted, although Hill scored more points overall. It was as close as it gets, until Niki Lauda beat Alain Prost by just half a point in 1984 after a shortened Monaco Grand Prix gave Prost only half points for his victory.

The ’70s had their moments, too. One year that stays in the memory is 1976, those vivid images of James Hunt vs Lauda, the Austrian’s horrible crash and his extraordinary recovery, then the denouement at a wet and terrifying Fuji. Ferrari, in the wilderness since 1964, came back in ’79 to give Jody Scheckter his first and only world title. Not a great racing year, but memorable nonetheless.

The ’80s were patchy, some great years, some real duffers if you’re looking for lots of different winners and a championship going all the way. But 1982 and ’86 were notable exceptions.

In 1982 11 different drivers won races in seven different cars. Keke Rosberg took the title with just a single victory, the first man since Mike Hawthorn in 1958 to do this. It was a truly unpredictable and surprising season. Four years later Prost pipped Nigel Mansell to the title by two points after a sensational season-long battle between McLaren and Williams. And Nelson Piquet, duelling with them both, was just a point behind. Again people said it was the best season ever, but you can never say best ever. Not until men have stopped racing.

The ’90s started with a bang. The title, touch and go between Senna and Prost, was decided in Japan when Senna drove them both off the circuit, effectively winning the championship after a bitter feud that had festered all year. In ’98 Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard and Eddie Irvine were all in with a chance after Schumacher broke his leg at Silverstone. The Finn took it by two points from the Irishman.

A new century was dominated, initially, by Schumacher and Ferrari. People began to speak now of the worst seasons ever, but in 2003 we were treated to a humdinger. With three races to go, there were two points in it, Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen all touching the lip of the precious cup. No less than eight drivers won a race that year – not as many as in ’82, but still a thriller. Even Giancarlo Fisichella won a race for Jordan.

Yet again, some of this was down to rule changes, and this is where we came in. In 2003 refuelling between practice and the race was banned, allowing some odd strategies from lesser teams and thereby mixing up the grid. This year, of course, race refuelling is banned – not the same thing, but rule changes so often mix up the pack.

And now for 2010. The most exciting season ever, according to Hamilton. In his short career, yes. But you can never say ever.

What’s your favourite season of Formula 1? And how do you think 2010 will compare? Let us know at www.motorsportmagazine.co.uk

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