Editorial, February 2002

Got a pretty good idea how the 2002 Formula One season might pan out? Yeah, me too.

Schumacher and Ferrari will set the pace, win the bulk of the races and take the titles, while Montoya’s Williams-BMW and Coulthard’s McLaren-Mercedes, will give chase. There’ll be some surprises — Raikkonen, I hope, and perhaps Renault — but the pattern has, in general, been set.

That’s nothing new. Only a handful of drivers and cars do the winning in any given era. During the 1952-53 period, for instance, Alberto Ascari won nine GPs in a row for Ferrari. Jim Clark and Lotus lauded it in ’63 (often on the same set of Dunlops) and ’65. And McLaren’s Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost won all bar one of the races in ’88.

The emergence of the British garagistes in the late 1950s broke up Italy’s hegemony, but it was the arrival of the ubiquitous Cosworth DFV in 1967 that truly hotted up the competition. Prior to this, only one season had seen five different winning teams: 1966. This, though, was repeated in 1967, 70, 72, 74 and ’85. This was bettered by one in 1975-77, ’81 and ’83.

But there is one season that stands unsurpassed in this respect: 1982. The winning marques that season were: Renault, McLaren, Ferrari, Brabham, Lotus, Williams and Tyrrell. Seven! The winning drivers were: Main Prost, Nild Lauda, Dither Pironi, John Watson, Riccardo Patrese, Nelson Piquet, Rene Arnoux, Patrick Tambay, Elio de Angelis, Keke Rosberg and Michele Alboreto. Eleven! We won’t have that much variety on the first two rows, possibly the first three, this season.

It’s odd that as more and more manufacturers take up Formula One’s challenge, the more predictable becomes the podium. It’s like watching Groundhog Day — again, again, again. Not since 1985 have we had more than four winning teams in a single season.

This stolidity stems from the maelstrom of 1982. Drivers and teams took it in turn to strike as FISA and FOCA slugged it out. The latter were undermined by their need for manufacturers’ turbos, and Bernie Ecclestone realised that a revolution from within the corridors of power, rather than without, was required.

The result of this can be measured in billions of dollars and millions of television viewers. Teams have grown huge on these profits, and success with such large companies is not the work of a moment. This, combined with the stability and strictness of the regs, has flatlined performance graphs, any small improvements tending to come in parallel with the team just ahead.

In 1982, Ecclestone’s Brabhann had little more than 40 staff, yet ran Cosworth BT49 and BMW turbo BT50. One race they failed to qualify, the next they won.

Nerve-jangling for the team and their sponsors — but thrilling for the likes of you and me.