The Japanese grand prix underlined how enjoyable Formula One has been recently: the racing was close, there was a lot of incident and the winner of the race was not at all clear before the start, or for many laps into the race. Unlike last year, this has been a genuinely excellent season: in 2007 the championship was exciting, but a lot of the races, the vast bulk, were really very dull. This year, we have had memorable races at probably most of the grands prix.
This has been partly down to a lot of wet races, plus the track breaking up in Canada which had much the same effect; but the closeness has also been down to the stability of the regulations putting the cars within each other’s pace: the whole grid can regularly be covered by less than two seconds at the end of qualifying – in F1 terms this is extremely close. The result has been a lot of different race winners: in my experience, this is generally an indicator of a good season; only four winners or so suggests the season has been dominated by only one or two teams; considerably more and the season has probably been exciting. Have a look at the ITV-covered years:
1997: 6 (Villeneuve, Frentzen, Schumacher M, Hakkinen, Coulthard, Berger)
1998:4 (Hakkinen, Coulthard, Schumacher M, Hill)
1999: 6 (Hakkinen, Coulthard, Schumacher M, Irvine, Frentzen, Herbert)
2000: 4 (Schumacher M, Barrichello, Hakkinen, Coulthard)
2001: 5 (Schumacher M, Hakkinen, Coulthard, Schumacher R, Montoya)
2002: 4 (Schumacher M, Barrichello, Schumacher R, Coulthard)
2003: 8 (Schumacher M, Barrichello, Coulthard, Raikkonen, Montoya, Schumacher R, Fisichella, Alonso)
2004: 5 (Schumacher M, Barrichello, Montoya, Raikkonen, Trulli)
2005: 5 (Alonso, Fisichella, Raikkonen, Montoya, Schumacher M)
2006: 5 (Alonso, Fisichella, Schumacher M, Massa, Button)
2007: 4 (Raikkonen, Massa, Hamilton, Alonso)
2008: 7 (Hamilton, Kovaleinen, Massa, Raikkonen, Alonso, Kubica, Vettel… so far)
In compiling this list, I find generally it’s the seasons with more than six winners that I remember best: 1997, 1999, 2003 and 2008 makes for a credible list of the best four F1 seasons in that period. A lot of the “unusual names” above came in unusual races: rain, odd safety cars or strange first corner incidents: but even so, in an odd race it requires any driver who lucks into the win to have the pace to take advantage of the situation, and in less competitive seasons the lesser teams often are unable to do this. It’s worth noting none came in the year of major regulation changes: all came when regulations had been stable for at least a couple of years. This doesn’t bode well for next year: the changes are intended to make the cars more suited to overtaking, but any major change tends to spread the field – so enjoy the remaining two races of this year while the field remains close!