It is around this time of year that Formula 1 aficionados like me (also known as the sad individuals who struggled to meet girls at school) begin to feel excitement at the inauguration of pre- season testing and the new car launches that precede it. Testing for the new season will start next week.
New car launches used to possess as much fanfare as a podium celebration but the dwindling funds at each teams disposal and the introduction of social media has all but ensured that the unveiling of the new cars is now a muted affair. Previous launches have involved performances by pop groups and one such ceremony even included the new machine arriving via a gondola in Venice. But now, however, teams are lucky if a few photographers attend and launches will mostly be orchestrated amongst a backdrop of irritating hashtags via Twitter.
The most recent cars to be launched were the new Ferrari, a pretty looking contraption with more white in their livery than former years. And the Williams whose design department must be the laziest on the grid with a, supposedly, new car that looks no different at all to the last two seasons. Red Bull have also launched their latest challenger, which eventually turned out to be the latest livery on last year’s model- a totally pointless exercise. If the car is not ready then surely do no launch it!
Too much has already been said (by the current author) about the negative impact the Mercedes dominance is having on the sport, and with most fans harking back to a by gone era of better times it seemed judicious to produce a piece on previous pre-season testing from healthier years.
Ten years ago the forthcoming season was in a far more exciting position than at present as Fernando Alonso had just usurped the crown from the long standing champion Michael Schumacher, who had suffered in an uncharacteristically poor showing in 2005. Alonso was then the youngest ever world champion (a record Vettel beat in 2010) and was expected to dominate the sport for many years. A changing of the guard occurred.
The Renault R26 eventually retained the title but a Ferrari renaissance ensured the title fight was far closer than expected. Schumacher retired for the first time at the cessation of hostilities, whilst Alonso went on to Mclaren. He then participated in the worse game of F1 musical chairs by switching teams at the poorest possible time meaning that a third world title still eludes him to this day.
Fernando Alonso would prove victorious again in 2006 to secure his second and so far last world title.
Twenty years ago and winter testing was bustling for one major reason, double world champion (with Benetton) Michael Schumacher had moved to Ferrari in a large money move with the intention of reviving their fortune. Prior to this the Italians had not won the world championship in almost twenty years. Although the F310 was an awful car, Ferrari had spent big and illustrated they had the intention to return to the top. They only managed to win three races in that season but the process had started and it would eventually culminate into one of the most dominant periods in the sports history. Ferrari won both the drivers and constructors championships in 2000, 01, 02, 03 and 04.
Michael Schumacher suffered a less than successful introduction to his Ferrari career. But 1996 was instrumental in laying foundations for the teams future success.
Advancing into the season Damon Hill finally had the machinery at his disposal to win the world championship and with Schumacher out of the competitive Benneton, he was expected to win easily. He did ultimately triumph and became the only son of a world champion to become world champion himself, but only after a season long struggle against Williams team mate Jacques Villeneuve. The French Canadian proved his class by not only finishing second in 1996 but by beating Schumacher to the title the following season.
Despite Ferrari stealing the headlines during pre season testing, it was Damon Hill in the Williams FW18 that went on to win the title.
Both seasons, ten and twenty years ago, ended at the final race with the championships going down to the wire. A thing fans can only dream of for the coming season. I never thought I would say it but if Vettel wins at the first race it will be fantastic for the sport!