Last season, a new era in Formula One was ushered in. Gone was the sole reliance on megabuck manufacturers dominating the sport and the necessity for sprawling factories housing hundreds upon hundreds of employees.
If this new era of resource restriction could be explained in a single word, it would be competitive.
The fascinating contrast through 2009 was indeed the racing, off the track even more so. The dichotomy of having what was in essence a privateer team being hounded and chased by more established squads with more scope and resources for R & D kept us on the edge of our seats, until the fairytale was complete and the rebranded Honda team clinched its first, and last, drivers and constructors titles under its then guise of Brawn GP.
This season, the evolution of this new era has taken hold and we’ve witnessed experience, success and the status quo return in the form of a rejuvenated Ferrari and McLaren, with Red Bull using last year’s relative failure and Adrian Newey to lead the charge in dominating fashion.
What is even more astounding is the fact that after two successive years of moderately large regulation changes which included a prohibition on refuelling and narrower front tyres to balance overall grip on the cars, the competition gap has shrunk and produced some enthralling action throughout 2009 and 2010.
An outright ban on refuelling during races for 2010 was expected to produce a higher frequency of overtaking and thus, a higher standard of racing.
Post-Bahrain, this theory had been well and truly consigned to the scrapheap as we witnessed one of the dullest races in living memory, despite the fact that there had been more overtakes during the 2010 running of the event than in 2009.
One thing that has made the 2010 season one of the most exciting in living memory has been the tendency of previously-thought invincibles to make mistakes. Fernando Alonso, during his championship winning years of 2005 and 2006, was famed for being consistent in his pursuit of glory.
His debut year with the Scuderia Ferrari has seen him crash during Monaco practice when he looked good for pole around the principality, a jump start in China, a messy race at Silverstone and being taken out in the atrocious Belgian conditions in early September.
Inter-team factions at Red Bull have contributed to moments of madness and retribution such as the collision in Turkey, the refusal of Sebastian Vettel to give in upon being overtaken in Great Britain and a destabilisation job at the same event as front wing-gate engulfed the paddock.
Such cracks in the armoury of our championship contenders are not only highly unusual, but are happening as a result of very diverse mindsets from Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Button and Alonso.
his year has been more than just winning a championship, the circumstances that surround each of these drivers come only once or twice in a generation and provide the viewing public with a rare and fascinating insight into the competitive mind.
Sebastian Vettel. Young, quick and the first to be pumped out of a manufactured scheme (Hamilton comes under different circumstances) to have any immediate success. The young Heppenheim native has yet to taste championship glory and has been given a car that carries with it an air of dominance that is rarely seen.
All of this points to a wish, even a need to get the job done immediately; else such an opportunity will never become available again.
Under similar pressure comes Mark Webber, in the autumn of his career and a man who knows that this could be his only chance to win a World Championship. The Australian has spent the majority of his career at the wheel of middling cars until being given the chance to race an Adrian Newey penned machine, where a desperation has appeared to come over the Aussie to sign his career off in style.
British champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have kept a subtle competitiveness strictly internal, and are all the better for it.
At this end stage of the season, Button has been ruled out of the running for the title he so desperately wanted to retain after his against the odds triumph in 2009.
Both have been driven by the need to prove who is best of British and surely cannot be ruled out in 2011 once the McLaren perfected Kinetic Energy Recovery System is brought back into the sport after a year’s sabbatical.
And finally, the mercenary Spaniard, Fernando Alonso. The man who’s statistically most likely to be crowned World Champion in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. The man who usurped Michael Schumacher and has been chasing glory since the heady days of his previous success with Renault.
Alonso has displayed all the ruthlessness of a champion by scything down the inside of his team mate in the Shanghai pit lane, blithely batting off questions of illegal team orders during this year’s German Grand Prix and confidently predicting midseason that he would be granted the World Championship, despite being a whopping 47 points in arrears.
The comprehensive season review must wait until the dust has settled after the final car makes its way past the chequered flag on Sunday. We will then know the identity of the 2010 Formula One World Drivers’ Champion and who has sealed their name in the annals of Formula One history.
The 2010 Champion will be remembered more than most, for this has been an unusual season in which five drivers have been involved in the chase for the title, something not seen since the golden generation of Senna, Prost, Mansell and Piquet.
This is a defining point for all concerned as we draw closer to the conclusion of a fantastic season—the winner takes all and stamps their authority on the sport, whilst gaining everybody else’s respect.
Alonso, Vettel, Webber, Hamilton. The history books are waiting, it’s crunch time.