Formula 1

European Grand Prix 2012: F1 Gets Nostalgic

3 Mins read

It is fair to say that yesterday's European Grand Prix in Valencia was far from boring, despite what various people – some who claim to know about these things – predicted last week.

But despite the race taking place on a street circuit with only five grand prix to its name, there were a couple of things about this eventful race that brought to mind Formula 1 of yesteryear.

The first, and most obvious (and hinted at by the photo at the top of this article), was the re-uniting of some famous world champions on a Formula 1 podium.

The last time Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher all shared  a podium, was six years ago today (25th June 2006) in Canada. Six years is a very long time in Formula 1, and it is great testament to the skills of all three that they have remained competitive over that time (although Raikkonen and Schumacher have both had a rest during that time of course).

(As a mildly interesting aside, there is only one prior race in which the top three finished in exactly the same order as yesterday, and that is the 2005 French Grand Prix featured at the top of this article).

But while yesterday's podium gave a nice excuse for a bit of nostalgia it does raise some interesting questions about the state of Formula 1 at the moment. The average age of yesterday's podium was over 35 years and eighth months – what sort of message does that send out to these promising young rookies clambering for an F1 seat?

Some might argue that, on the evidence of yesterday's race, these 'old geezers' deserve their place. Jean-Eric Vergne, Bruno Senna, Pastor Maldonado and Kamui Kobayashi – all relative rookies compared to those on the podium – managed to pick up penalties yesterday for questionable driving. This argument is a bit selective though, considering that Sebastian Vettel, 24, and Romain Grosjean, who was competing in only his 14 F1 race yesterday, would have both been on the podium if the alternator gremlins had not intervened.

So while yesterday's top three prompted some fine reminiscing about how F1 was six or seven years ago, some will be asking the questions about whether or not it is time for some of the 'veteran' generation to move on and give the youngsters a chance in their seats.  In particular, my colleague Peter Allen, who reports on GP2 and GP3 (amongst other things) aired the odd thought about this on Twitter yesterday.

However, podium positions aside, there was more chance to cast one's mind back to F1 days of yore yesterday, with the retirement of Vettel and Grosjean. Reliability is something now, more or less, taken for granted these days – retirements are generally more likely to occur through human error rather than a technical malfunction (or so it seems – this statement is slightly lacking in research).

Looking back over recent years, the chance of your car getting to the end of the race has improved considerably. For example, last year's race in Valencia saw all 24 drivers get to the end of the race – a new F1 record. In fact, three-quarters of the races last season had five or fewer retirees. Compare that to 1996, and only two of the sixteen races can make the same claim.

Ferrari, during the Michael Schumacher error, seemed to re-write the rule book when it came to reliability. For them, designing a car almost guaranteed to get to the end of the race was not about compromising on speed and performance, and so it showed. During Schumacher's dominant years, the Ferrari was about the only car you say with some degree of certainty would not be parked at the side of the track before its race was run.

These day's however, the rest of the teams have come around to this way of thinking, and have begun to follow the Murray Walker mantra of 'if you want to finish first, first you have to finish.”

Is this low retirement rate a good thing? It is if you're a driver. And if you are an ultra-enthusiastic supporter of a particular driver, the last thing you want to see is your favourite grind to a halt at the side of the track when he has a thirty-second lead over the rest of the field.

But for the casual observer, the neutral, dodgy reliability does throw in that extra sense of jeopardy. After Vettel trounced off into the lead yesterday, his victory seemed inevitable, despite the safety car that bunched the pack together. Last year, when he was dominating, many 'fans' might have switched off after the first few laps, knowing that the race result was a forgone conclusion. Back in the old days, however, there was always that thought in the back of your mind about whether or not the car would make it to the end.

Nostalgia is all very nice, and that podium and sudden retirements may have given us the opportunity to cast our minds back (and write articles like this), but given the unpredictability of this 2012 season – seven winners in eight races – you wouldn't necessarily want to go back, would you?

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David is an occasional contributer to the site on matters related to Formula 1. You can follow him on twitter at @Dr_Bean.
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