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Once More, With Feeling

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
02/02/2022

Sade sang; "It feels like the first time", yet it is often the case that it is the follow-up that causes the pain.

Just ask Medvedev. Nice try, but no cigar (Australian Open, following 2021 US Open - he lost). That awkward second album. That awkward second in-line for the throne. The bloated second-generation Audi A4 (larger, heavier, slower, and cost more... I mean really!). Chase, after Bernie. Comment not, I offer. Ah! The pain of the second frequently comes first on the list of regrets of many following a stellar first.

Here we are off-season content-starved dear reader. My second article of the off-season (your scribe finds every split-infinitive a cause for alarm), and what better time to ponder that great sporting challenge; back-to-back wins, or more specifically in this case a second Drivers' Championship immediately after a first.

Gaining one is more than most humans achieve. Gaining two, or more, is a feat worthy of the history books and the singing of great songs after the consumption of great ales and fine wines. So if we can leave aside Real Hollywood Mermaids (or whatever the Godforsaken reality series of the week is...) and ignore aspects of the "Will he, Will he not?" saga of Sir Lewis, the real off-season questions boil down thus... Will Mercedes build a follow-on world crusher of a package? Probably. Will the rule changes make a significant change to the order of the teams? No chance (sorry Mr. Haas). Will Pirelli tyres suddenly be praised by all the drivers? Don't make me laugh! Will anyone watching notice the rims have grown in size, while tyre walls are a fraction thinner? Certainly not the fans drawn in by Drive to Survive ("What's a rim mommy?"). Will the FIA financial audit teams successfully discover all aspects of team spending? Refer final race of last season as a reference point on FIA ability to organise a cold salt water plunge-pool on the Titanic. And finally, what are the chances of young Max Verstappen backing up championship number one, with championship number two? Shall we investigate?

Sir Lewis being on seven championships is a marvel only equalled by dear Michael. It was only late last century that we considered five an inhuman feat! Prost, and others, managed three or four. A number have managed a worthy two. And a few, like Jenson Button, long may his bike gears mesh flawlessly, have but a single trophy on the mantelpiece. That single trophy being more than 99.99% of humans ever achieve in any top-level sport.

Yet back-to-backs, most especially Drivers' Championships one and two, are rare even for this fine breed of combat heroes. Buckle-up, here we go!

1950! Giuseppe Farina is for all time the first F1 World Drivers' Champion. He did not back this up however, for Juan Manuel Fangio, driving an Alfa Romeo, as Farina had the year before, won in 1951. So it was that Alberto Ascari in a Ferrari became the first to pilot their way to back-to-back championships, winning first in 1952, and backing it up by winning again in 1953.

1954 to '57 saw the might of Fangio at his finest as four in a row fell to the remarkable man. Yet not in the same car. Ever the canny planner, Fangio drove for both Maserati, and Mercedes in '54, just the three-pointed star in '55, Ferrari in '56, before a final return to Maserati in '57. Making for a remarkable total of five Championships with four different manufacturers! Thereby making Fernando Alonso look like the most loyal fellow in the paddock compared to this selective driving! Never mind Lewis with a single team change so far in his entire F1 career.

Jack Brabham then closed out the 50's, and welcomed in the 60's by winning in a Cooper Climax in '59, and '60. The 60's proved a remarkable era of competition, drama, and tragedy that did not involve a single back-to-back success. Indeed, we need our thumb firmly on the fast-forward button until 1985 for our next back-to-back champion. Hello Alain Prost, the first of our back-to-back champions to still be with us. Driving a McLaren-TAG in both '85, and '86 Prost won the first of an eventual four Drivers' Championships, which would mark him as the most successful driver, in terms of titles, since Fangio.

McLaren moved on from the TAG engine to a highly successful partnership with Honda, which delivered Ayrton Senna back-to-back titles in 1990, and '91. Then a new legend in the final decade of the century wins his first championship in 1994, as Michael Schumacher flies to victory first in a Benetton-Ford, then a Benetton-Renault.

The 90's were not done with double heroes yet! 1998, and '99 witness Mika Hakkinen achieve the double in his McLaren-Mercedes, enduring many a fine battle with Schumacher along the way.

Goodbye 20th century and hello again to Schumacher. This time in a Ferrari, Michael breaks Fangio's record of four in a row, by achieving five. From 2000 to 2004 Schumacher and Ferrari were simply the class of the field. Not without moments which can generate high emotion in pub discussions, even today it was a run of success that Sir Lewis has not been able to meet, or exceed. Indeed for Lewis to win six in a row he would need to win every championship from this year, 2022, through to 2027, which would appear to be an impossible task, not to mention the idea of a single human having a total of thirteen Drivers' Championships being beyond comprehension. So for now, at least, five in a row is a record which one can be confident will stand for some years yet.

2005 and 2006 immediately delivered back-to-back delight for Fernando Alonso in a Renault.

Following a brief pause, back-to-back service was resumed in 2010, when Sebastian Vettel took the first of four in a row for Red Bull, powered by Renault. Four years of domination as total as Michael's had been a decade earlier.

2014, and taking Michael's seat at Mercedes Lewis promptly won a fine championship. A poetic changing of the guard indeed! Michael, a legend for all time, directly making way at Mercedes for a legend in the making. We will never know if Michael could have won in the 2014 car he had directly helped to shape. Lewis took 2015 in fine fashion for his first taste of back-to-back championships.

2016 saw Nico, his teammate, and soon to be former friend (sorry Netflix, you missed that real world drama), wrestle the Drivers' Championship from him in highly emotive style. Possibly one of the most emotionally bruising championship drives of all time.

2017, and Lewis resumes where he left off in 2015, and proceeds to win four in a row, dominating all the way to the 2020 season in his Mercedes. Seven Drivers' Championships to equal Michael, and four in a row, one short of the German's remarkable five.

Sir Lewis might have dreamed of equalling Michael's five in a row, and thus in 2022 having a shot at six, if not for the cheeky young Max Verstappen lunging for the championship mere centimetres from the finish line to deny him that chance by winning the 2021 title.

So, today. Hovering on the event horizon of season 2022.

Respect for history in the rear view mirror. Ten heroes using seven constructors, with Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull leading the domination stakes. Ten heroes across 72 seasons. Ten back-to-back giants of the sport, who between them have claimed a total of 39 titles. That's 55% of all championships ever held won by one of these remarkable colossi of the sport. Not only is the achievement of a back-to-back title defence remarkable, it tends to mark one out as a legend to be carved in stone for all time.

A true whirlwind of champions that brings us to 2022 and a fresh new season. Sir Lewis can move into the stratosphere with an eighth championship, yet, as noted earlier, he would need to drive mercilessly until 2027 to set a new wins-in-a-row record. Unlikely? Indeed. Improbable? Yes. Impossible? Well this is Lewis we're talking about...

Max is at the start of his wild ride at the top of the sport. Is he proficient enough in his skills, body, mind, and soul, to be a back-to-back winner, and thus join this league of ten mighty champions? I believe he is. Will his 2022 chariot be capable of carrying him to the realm of the sporting gods? Probably, but it is not guaranteed. Will the 2022 Mercedes be a top racer? Again, highly probable, but equal to or greater than the Red Bull is probably the key question.

So as we exit this review, two questions form that balance, excitement for the new season, and respect for the past, on the edge of a well-honed Katana are thus; will a refocused Lewis be unstoppable? Will a new driver, and constructor rule 2022 to claim the Drivers' Championship?

History teaches us that back-to-back championship wins are not easy to achieve. Yet they often auger well for multiple championships beyond a remarkable two.

Max steps into 2022 with the ability to start equalling legends of the past. Sir Lewis will buckle on his armour, whistle for his trusty steed, and dive headlong into a realm where no other has ever raced. With which hero do you think the Fates, Lady Luck, or the weight of calculated probability sits?

Which of these two, or possibly another, will battle, and triumph to ensure that once more we the fans are treated to a season for the ages? Might I offer that whomever does it once more with feeling is going to be champion at season's end? Gentlemen. Gentlemen, please. Start your engines, and let the race into legend commence!

Max Noble

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Max Noble, 24/02/2022 11:20

"@aroutis - indeed! The driver’s styles is an often over looked aspect. Given how delighted Alonso has been in the media recently, one can only assume the new cars are very much to his liking because of his driving style. On a different planet all together… I’ve alway preferred rear drive cars, as me and front wheel drive simply do not get on. I can only imagine what it is like for these pilots when you are trying to dial a car in at 300kph!"

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2. Posted by aroutis, 23/02/2022 10:04

"@Max Noble,
Exactly that.
And if I may say so, people tend to be sort of binary thinking (ie. they keep thinking RBR/Merc, or Merc Ferrari earlier) but they tend to forget that we insert ourselves into a new era; new set of regulations, in a way into a new unknown.
Who really knows (as we speak) the one team that might be dominant?
Who can tell with certainty that Mercedes, Ferrari, RBR , or any other team has got it right?
And even if the teams have designed the best cars, what about the drivers? How fast are they really going to adapt?

Interesting times, indeed."

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3. Posted by Egalitarian, 14/02/2022 5:50

"I'm hoping for a 97/98 transition for McLaren.
@Spindoctor - I am inclined to agree with MV's self-control on occasion. For those who recall watching JV back then, there are moments where MV seems to have inherited his old man's temper."

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 10/02/2022 6:19

"@aroutis - I hope we see Ferrari right back in the mix. Recalling it was a major regulation change that put Mercedes in their current position."

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5. Posted by aroutis, 09/02/2022 14:54

"This is not going to be a Mercedes , neither a Lewis year. People need to start to understand this; regulations changed for a reason; care to understand why?

My money is on Ferrari. Not Mercedes, nor RBR. "

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6. Posted by kenji, 04/02/2022 12:12

"What makes '22 even more intriguing is that now that we have a marginally reduced cost cap any 'out there' concepts will have to be given greater scrutiny as certain teams will no longer be able just throw $$$ at any major problems, if these arise, like they did in the past. The costs of developing this new car will have swallowed up a great deal of discretionary funds so it had better be right the first time.Given the paucity of data avaiable picking a winner [ s ] is fraught with diversity of opinion. Eight years of absolute domination by one team has been too much..."

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 03/02/2022 23:44

"@ChickenFarmerF1 - We can only hope a “Brawn Moment” is in fact visited upon us, and one of the smaller teams has hit a genius idea all the others have missed… I mean it did happen before…!

@Spindoctor - I think you’re being a bit harsh on V. Max, but I agree the Mercedes drivers taking points off one another will only work to his favour. If we have a repeat of the Lewis-Alonso years at McLaren, then Lewis is in for a tough year."

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8. Posted by Spindoctor, 03/02/2022 21:48

"Given the new aero rules you'd have to expect advantage to RBR & Max car-wise, but even though he had a faster car for most of last season Max's lack of self-control and poor race-craft lost him several races. Nonetheless with a good car & the Mercedes drivers taking points off one another he could win again."

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9. Posted by ChickenFarmerF1, 03/02/2022 19:39

"I'd guess Liberty will lean on the FIA to make sure Lewis comes back. The question will be how focused he's able to be given the emotions over Abu Dhabi. Lewis is more Senna like than Prost like in his emotions.

Assuming Lewis comes back, and is focused, and RBR keeps up with Mercedes development, I'd give even money between the 2. However, there's the wild card of George Russell. Will he do to Lewis what Lewis did to Fernando? Or will he fall on his face?

While smart money assumes it will be an RBR vs Merc fight with the rest squabbling over the scraps, that's not assured. Will Ferrari put together a worthy contender or shoot themselves in the foot as so many times before? Will McLaren rise back to contender levels of performance, or will the MBAs hold them back? With Claire gone will Williams have the focus and resources to rise to the occasion? Will Alpine or Aston Martin come up with something unexpected? (Sorry Alpha Tauri - RBR won't let you beat them, and Alpha Romeo and Haas are highly unlikely to advance significantly)."

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