Anyone who tells you this new Formula One season will be a classic, packed full of thrilling uncertainties, is stretching the truth.
The outcome — Mercedes’ super-quick cars again scooping up both the team and driver’s championships — is so certain you could bet your house on it. The biggest uncertainty is which Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg, will be champion. Such a meager diet of suspense will struggle to hold the interest of casual F1 fans.
So be it.
While predictability isn’t brilliant, some alternatives are worse.
As Mercedes cleans up and TV viewers switch off in droves, as millions did in 2013 when Sebastian Vettel dominated for Red Bull, expect renewed discussion about how to improve the F1 “spectacle.”
As though drivers risking life and limb to wrestle twitchy multi-million dollar marvels of modern technology around winding circuits at hundreds of miles (kilometers) an hour isn’t spectacular enough. Lest anyone forget: Jules Bianchi remains unconscious and hospitalized five months after his horrific crash at the Japanese Grand Prix last season and concussion from an accident in preseason testing for McLaren has forced Fernando Alonso to miss this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Still, because F1 is the most narcissistic of sports, fixated on looking glamorous, there will be talk yet again about what can be done to make races more unpredictable. The absurd idea of sprinkling circuits with water to make them slippery — why not grease while we’re at it? — could come back from the dead. There may be calls for yet more tweaks to tires or to cars’ aerodynamics to ease overtaking. And there will be arguments for a shift to bigger, noisier 1,000-horsepower engines to generate more “wow” and dent Mercedes’ advantage.
Or, alternatively, F1 could accept and do a better job of explaining to casual observers what it is: a sport of cycles where dynasties wax and wane. For the moment, Mercedes is to F1 what Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls were to NBA basketball, the team to unseat. It is for rivals to catch up, not for F1 to seek ways to put spanners in the Mercedes works.
Instead of fretting about Mercedes’ superiority, F1 should celebrate that feat of engineering. When so much brainpower and hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in teams’ hunt for hundredths of seconds of extra speed, it is truly remarkable that one of them has pulled so far ahead. Switching from McLaren to Mercedes from 2013 was the shrewdest move of Hamilton’s career.
In 2014, the eventual champion or Rosberg started from pole position for 18 of the 19 races. And, on average, their qualifying advantage over the next best team was a whopping 0.655 seconds. Only in three races were they beaten, by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, the only other driver to win last season.
Mercedes’ rivals subsequently worked furiously to narrow the gap. Yet, if anything, indications from preseason testing and the initial warm-ups in Melbourne are that they slipped even further behind.
“Mercedes are out of reach,” Vettel conceded Friday. This from a four-time world champion now driving a Ferrari.
The 20 races to come will tell, of course. But don’t expect an array of Grand Prix winners like in 2012, which had eight, or a down-to-the-wire contest like 2010, when the last race had an unprecedented four drivers still in contention for the title.
In 1988 and 1989, McLaren-Honda dominated, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost battling within that team as Rosberg and Hamilton are now at Mercedes. From 2000-2004, Michael Schumacher cleaned up with Ferrari. Vettel got his four in a row from 2010-2013, when Red Bull was on top. Now is Hamilton’s chance to string together championships and Rosberg’s to stop him.
The simple fact: not every F1 season can or even needs to be a classic.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester
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