The deck has been well and truly shuffled with many new drivers in new teams. And for once it’s not just confined to the minor men – there is a new driver in four of the top six seats, of which two are rookies.
Pre-season testing has not seen any one team dominate. But it is my solemn duty as party pooper to point to the history books which remind us that what on paper looks set to be an ‘open season’ is all too often dominated by a single team or driver.
That isn’t necessarily bad news, thoughâ€¦
Think back to 1984. (No, not the George Orwell book, the season. Although I wonder what Orwell would have made of the omnipresence of cameras at F1 races, cameras that somehow to contrive to miss most of the important action.)
The 1984 season saw a thorough rearrangement of the drivers much as we’ve got this year.
McLaren retained Niki Lauda but snaffled Alain Prost from Renault, who in turn acquired two new drivers in the form of Derek Warwick and Patrick Tambay.
Ferrari took Michele Alboreto from Tyrrell and retained Rene Arnoux. Curious how three of the top teams were the same as today..
Champions Brabham held on to Nelson Piquet yet oddly chose to alternate the number two seat between Fabi brothers Corrado and Teo, depending on the latter’s Indycar commitments.
Finally over at Williams Jacques Laffite and Keke Rosberg got their hands on Honda’s new turbo engine.
An intriguing season lay in prospect. But, one or two exceptional races aside, 1984 was essentially a McLaren benefit as either Prost and Lauda won 11 of the 15 races, the latter eventually taking the title by half a point.
The fact of the matter was that Prost or Lauda were comfortably among the top 5 drivers in F1 at that point and together with the TAG engine and Barnard chassis they were never going to be beaten.
The season wasn’t without interest. The street races – Monaco, Detroit and Dallas – all threw up wildcard results and brought new stars to the fore. Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Stefan Bellof and Martin Brundle all shone, whilst Piquet and Brabham were as potent a combination as ever, on the rare days when the car ran reliably.
Of the fancied front runners the Renault team, despite strong early showings from Warwick, began the path to a very Gallic self-destruction in 1984.
Williams had a good engine, but their chassis had the handling qualities, temperament and looks of a Crufts competitor.
But 1984 brought a shift in the balance of power that set the scene for a string of season in which McLaren were the team to beat. Then in 1988, it happened all over again.
This once more was a season that many predicted to be open.
New turbo equivalence rules were supposed to even things out between the teams, while the move of Honda engines from Williams to McLaren, and the move of Piquet to Lotus (who retained Honda power) had the makings of a classic year.
And once again it was a McLaren walkover. But for Ayrton Senna’s hasty lapping of the clumsy Jean-Louis Schlesser at Monza, Ron Dennis’s team would have won all 16 races. It remains the most dominant performance ever by a single team with a success rate even Ferrari did not eclipse in the Michael Schumacher years.
Even 1988 could hardly be characterised as a dull season. The embryonic Prost/Senna rivalry was shaping up nicely with Senna’s mind-games occasionally getting the better of Prost. Most importantly, the team were allowed to race each other, and always did.
Behind them the race for runner-up was often fantastic with multi-car dices between Ferrari, Benetton, Lotus, Williams and, later on, Leyton House (March).
Mansell’s drives with the Judd-engined Williams often far excelled his machinery’s capability. Leyton House’s Adrian Newey-designed cars were a revelation and lead driver Ivan Capelli was the only driver to really take on McLaren in a straight fight (his drives in Spain and Portugal are worth hunting down on Youtube).
So, whilst I can’t guarantee that every race in 2007 will be an on-track nail-biter (unless Catalunya and the Hungaroring are blessed with rain), it is absolutely certain that 2007 will be as intriguing and interesting a season as we’ve had for many years.