Why Sebastian Vettel needs an F1 history lesson

back to school

Sebastian Vettel suggested in his blog this week that F1 was losing its way and urgent action to prevent its popularity slide should be taken. The Ferrari driver identifies one of the key problems currently being that fans are bored by Mercedes domination. The swift response to the German’s claims – for those other than Vettel ‘lovers’ – has been simple and obvious, and for the simple reason that history demonstrates this state of affairs is normative in Formula One.

Now Vettel prides himself on being a scholar of F1 history, however he apparently has neglected to do some simple comparisons to the last 25 or so years of the sport. Since 1988 Formula One has seen extended periods of domination by a team.


88-91 McLaren – 4 years

91-94 Williams – 3 years

95     Benetton – 1 year

96-97 Williams – 2 years

98     McLaren – 1 year

00-04 Ferrari – 6 years

05-06 Renault – 2 years

07-08 Ferrari – 2 years

09     Brawn – 1 year

10-13 Red Bull – 4 years

14-15 Mercedes – 2 years


If we remove the one-year wonders, the average period of dominance for a team is 3.125 seasons. Mercedes have currently one, for two years in a row.

During the McLaren 1988-91 four years of dominance, Ayrton Senna won 3 (non-consecutive) of those four drivers’ titles; other than when Schumacher was at Ferrari, no other driver has achieved this number of titles with the same team.

So were Mercedes to win the F1 constructors’ title again in 2016 and Lewis again become world champion, this has been the story in 15 of the past 25 years. Same team, same driver winning year after year.

So who is being highly critical of Mercedes? Clearly Sebastian would like to be back at the top of the tree, yet the consistent complaints about Mercedes dominance are not emanating from Ferrari, Williams or McLaren. Each of whom know what it’s like to dominate the sport.

Whenever we read anything, it’s always worth asking who is behind the story and whether they could possibly have an agenda which would skew the opinions expressed therein. Well, a quick glance back through the last six months’ headlines reveals the key protagonists continually busting Mercedes’ balls for winning are none other than Bernie Ecclestone, Christian Horner et al. and Sebastian Vettel.

37 responses to “Why Sebastian Vettel needs an F1 history lesson

  1. Cool article and super helpful to see some comparisons of dominance. That being said, Vettel still has a good point if the rest of his quote is read. He is a fan of turning a car on with a key. He doesn’t think the technical regulations do the sport much justice.

    We gotta ask…”Why so often do we turn to history books to look at a sport that was once ‘better’?,” There must be a link missing somewhere

    Enjoyed the article though!

    • We gotta ask…”Why so often do we turn to history books to look at a sport that was once ‘better’?,”
      Dane … I’ll paraphrase some one smarter than me by typing … when we fail to acknowledge our history, we may be doomed to repeat it. Some call it research, some call it learning, few combine the two.

    • Probably counting in Ferrari’s 1999 WCC as well, but that was hardly a year of red dominance as Hakkinen took the WDC…

  2. I think you folks at thejudge13 need a history lesson as well.

    Many of the “dominance by a team” time periods you listed were actually years of very close battles for both the WDC and WCC. Not the preordained snooze fest we have now with the current Mercedes.

    • The history lesson wasn’t whether or not those seasons contained closely fought battles for the titles but rather teams dominating those championship years. So are you saying that the 00-04 seasons where closely fought? Was the 2013 season closely fought?

          • I think you need to look up dominance. If it is a closely contested victory it is not dominance.
            A winning streak is not the same as dominance.

          • Ok Billy, the meaning dominance/dominant has now been changed to reflect positively on the Seb/RedBull reign from 2010-13. They weren’t dominant at all, they just won quadruple doubles in row.

          • Dominance strongly implies a substantial difference. I would use it for a 5-0 football/soccer win, but not for a 1-0. You could use it legitimately for a longer period of domination, but when I look at the list, I see relatively few of those. Most periods are 1-2 years. Fact is that F1 is a sport with relatively few top contenders, which increases the chance of successive titles, even when there is a close fought battle for the win between teams.

            In football, every year a bunch of top teams can win the champions league. Even though the top teams are dominant as a group, single teams aren’t. So you get few successive titles. In F1, the effect of luck and being ‘in form’ is less, which results in more consistent outcomes between seasons (until the regulations change drastically).

    • The 2014 championship went down to the last race. The 2015 championship finished with only 3 races to go.
      The championship years of McLaren (88-91) were decided with 1 race remaining and largely between only 2 drivers in the same team being in contention.
      From 92 – 93, Mansell won the championship with 5 races remaining and Prost with 2.
      In 94 Schumacher clinched in the last race, like Hamilton in 2014 and in 95 Schumacher got the championship with 2 races to go.
      96 – 99 were all clinched at the last race.
      From 2000 – 2004, all Schumacher, who clinched:
      2000: 1 race to go.
      2001: 4 races to go.
      2002: 6 races to go.
      2003: Last race.
      2004: 4 races to go.
      Alonso won with 2 races to go in 2005 and at the last race in 2006.
      If we jump to Vettel from 2010 to 2013:
      2010: Last race.
      2011: 4 races to go.
      2012: Last race.
      2013: 3 races to go.

      Mercedes latest 2 championships are not that much different, particulary when compared to the Prost/Senna years at McLaren, which is generally regarded as a “Golden Age”.

      • Rosberg and Hamilton are not Senna and Prost. Not even close.

        F1 fans these days want to see battles between teams. Like 1998-00: Schumi/Mika, 2004-12: Alonso/Kimi/Schumi, Alonso/Hamilton/Kimi/Massa, Webber/Vettel/Alonso/Hamilton/Button.

        • Fortunately no one has stated that either Lewis or Nico is Senna and Prost. Not even close. Guess what, we’re all familiar with what F1 fans want to see, as in battles. I also know people who like cake but don’t like dark chocolate. The point some are making here is that the last 2 years are historically, hardly any different than many years in the past, such as the years Sebastien Vettel won the championship, all that time ago. Even Seb seems to have forgotten.

    • Agreed, i’d say the only years of true 1 car dominance in these eras were:
      Mclaren: 88,89
      Williams: 92,93
      Benetton: 95
      Williams: 96
      Ferrari: 01,02,04
      Red Bullies: 11,13
      Merc: 14,15

      For dominant years in succession it’s really just down to Mclaren (88,89) Williams (92,93), Ferrari (01,02,04), Red Bull (11,13) and Merc (14,15).

      The reason people are getting fed up is that 4 of the last 5 season have been complete walkovers, making it probably the worst ever period in formula 1 as far as inter-team competitiveness is concerned.

      • Again though, the teams may have got the WDC and the WCC, but with the exception of the 88/89 McLaren, their was still proper racing and some close battles during the racing.

        The last couple of years have been an absolute snooze fest, to the point where the race outcome was very predictable throughout much of the season. Even when you look at the Bulls in 2011 and 2013 they weren’t 1,2 finishes throughout, nor, did they have 1,2 in the Championship tables.

        Driver dominance is one thing, Car dominance is something else, especially when manufacturers are in effect block teams from being able to compete on a level field by giving lower spec software and PU’s…

  3. “During the McLaren 1988-91 four years of dominance, Ayrton Senna won 3 (non-consecutive) of those four driver titles; other than when Schumacher was at Ferrari, no other driver has achieved this number of titles with the same team.”

    Because Vettel has 4 titles with the same team instead of 3 he doesn’t count?

  4. I think we have to be careful not to misread Sebastian’s comments. No doubt Mercedes’ dominance has only lasted for 2 years thusfar and likely will continue into next year. But in previous periods of dominance, the no.1 team still had to endure a much higher degree of mechanical failure. Mercedes as well as Ferrari have overcome that particular hurdle. Thus leading to an immense degree of predictability. Tell me who can beat Mercedes this season, only Mercedes can beat Mercedes, just like last year.

  5. I know who must goes back to school.. 😉
    Some examples of your mistakes :
    -1988-1989 : McLaren dominance BUT big fight between the two drivers (Senna, Prost). Title at the last race.
    -1990 : no McLaren dominance AND big fight between Senna (McL) and Prost (Ferrari). Title at the last race.
    -1991 : McLaren AND Williams dominance. Title at the last race.
    -2005 : no Renault dominance, too much failure for Raïkkönen’s McL.
    -2007 : Raïkkönen was 17 points behind with 2 GPs to run (and 10 pts for the winner, not 25)
    -2008 : Hamilton champion, no Ferrari dominance.
    -2010 : Vettel NEVER leads the championship but Webber AND Alonso..
    -2012 : Vettel wins the title at the last race.
    And since 2014, a pseudo fight between the two Merzeïdiz drivers.

    • Was the article about how close the racing or the championship was or was it merely highlighting how dominant each team was? Does the fight being close negates the fact that one team dominated the years mentioned?

      • Now, Now. It is all about perceived knowledge. The student seeks the knowledge at hand and then professes to “know”, but was that all to be known, and interpreted as the proven, final conclusion? Do you have some insight that translates the author’s written word to it’s true meaning? I can form an opinion on one fact, then another on the second fact. Our opinions are based on our perceived facts, they aren’t wrong. AND, like some of the articles here in TJ13, which I personally like (TJ13’s all ), some facts may or may not be included, sparking a debate.
        Now here is my point. 0+0=0, 1+0=1, 1+1=2? or 10? …. When did you learn to count in decimal format and then when did you discover binary?

  6. Thanks for the question.
    Clearly, there was a McL dominance in 88-89 BUT there was a fantastic fight between the two McL drivers so these seasons were very fascinating. Since 2014, no real fight, just an annoying dominance. This article tries to demonstrate Vettel is wrong when he talks about lost of interest since Merzeïdiz dominance AND uses bad arguments to do this. F1 become more and more annoying because no fight AND one team dominance. In the Red Bull era, there is one annoying season : 2013. Only this one can be compared to 2014-2015-? Merzeïdiz dominance.

  7. @fortis96. I see myself in pole position at the moment. I hope you (and all viewers) understand that I bring very little wisdom, accompanied by levity, in my posts. I enjoy TJ13 for all it has to offer (it’s just my opinion). I have been following F1 since 1968, yah, before GOOGLE was a verb, and now I enjoy the forums like these. I like to, like you, like to get a good feel for the fans of F1 through sharing what we think. My approach has always been tongue-in-cheek … others call it sarcasm. Sometimes smiles bring on real, deeper thoughts. Reading between the lines is a for philosophers, and nobody bets heavy on them. AND , thanks to all of TJ13 for keeping the off-season interesting.
    Now, is that sucking-up enough? If I bring in more sponsorship can I drive, I mean write for you? Maybe a third commenter? a development commenter?

  8. I don’t think all the blame and crtiticism about Formula 1 should be levelled at the drivers, teams or manufacturers. A lot more should be directed elsewhere. What about the boring Tilke tracks, where overtaking is difficult? What about the complicated rules and regulations that most non-insiders don’t understand? The new tyre rules being one of them. But I think a lot of it is due to the way some rich people are just in the sport to milk it dry. Bernie and cronies and CVC. People, I think, dont like to support a corrupt/unfair system that is in place now, which keeps the smaller teams always at the back with little money coming back from the sport for them.
    Motor racing is an expensive sport for all concerned. The fans too. Bernie will kill the goose that lays the golden egg if he continues milking circuits and tv stations and the fans.

    • I think I agree with you. I put the blame on us, the die-hard fans. Bernie has executed the best, capitalistic, convoluted Ponzi scheme, legally, and we are all in. If you think about it, Bernie is only worth what he can sell. If we ignore F1, as it is, Bernie loses billions. We create a new league and let Bernie take his ball and go home.

  9. What’s the matter Bill, don’t like when anyone criticises Vettel? You’re starting to sound like the Hamfosi’s when the judge criticises Lewis.

  10. I believe there is a difference between a dominant car (like the Merc) and a dominant driver (Vettel 2010-13).
    Just look at who came second in a given championship. In Schumacher’s 6 year (sic) reign between 00 and 04 Rubins managed twice to get second. In Vettels 4 years, Webber was never second. Contrast that with Merc’s 2 years. Runaway #1 and #2 in the championship.
    With a dominant driver there is still interest, with a dominant car, that interest wanes considerably.
    Last year we had a dominant driver in a dominant car. The only good side to that is that the also-rans become a bit more interesting. I doubt things will be different this year. 2017? Maybe… just maybe.

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