Yep, the first race of the Formula 1 season has come and gone, and I’ve seen all I need to see.
To no one’s surprise, Mercedes took a commanding 1-2 finish in Melbourne — Lewis Hamilton 1.36 seconds clear of teammate Nico Rosberg. The next closest? Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari 33.163 seconds behind him. I don’t know about anyone else, but the thought of watching another season of the same two cars at the front of every race makes me roll my eyes.
Yes, the biggest name in the sport (Ferrari) is back in good form after a genuinely surprising uncompetitive season in 2014. And yes, a private team (Williams) is proving again that they can compete consistently with the manufacturer-backed teams. And yes, Sauber overcame one of the most almost-comically-challenging opening weekends in anyone’s memory to score points (after failing to score one last year). And yes, there will undoubtedly be an interesting showdown between Hamilton and Rosberg to see who takes the title.
Yes, there is interesting secondary stuff happening throughout the field. But, as Herm Edwards so poignantly put it, you play to win the game. It’s all well and good to have storylines in the paddock and some drama mid-pack, but what really matters is who takes the checkered flag. It is going to be a long season if fans of racing have to invest in a competition to see who comes in second (or rather third) behind the two Mercedes drivers.
This has always been the problem for modern Formula 1. At its best there are, at most, two or three competitive teams vying for the front. More often than not, though, one team becomes dominant and even that little bit of parity is lost. We saw it in the Schumacher/Ferrari years, the Vettel/Red Bull years, and we saw it last year. Mercedes clearly put themselves in a position to maintain that kind of dominance, which is great for them, but boring as all hell for spectators who want to see a competition.
All this begs the title question: is it really possible to have parity in F1? Not to put too fine a point on it, but for all of Ferrari’s improvements, as one commentator pointed out, the time from Vettel’s third-place car to the front was about the same as Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari last year. So really, by improving they picked up at exactly the same spot they left off in 2014. Will Maranello eventually give the Silver Arrows a real challenge? That remains to be seen, but I doubt they’ll make up 34 seconds in time to have an effect on the outcome at the end of the season. Williams? Same story, really. And Red Bull and McLaren both took big steps back.
The answer, it seems then, is no. At least, not this season. As David Coulthard said, “it looks very much like we will have another season of Hamilton and Rosberg fighting among themselves for the title.” That is sad for lovers of racing as a sport, like me. I picked a tough season to get back in to this.