Lewis Hamilton gave another dominant performance at Sochi on Sunday. Whether or not he’s the best driver on the grid, he’s certainly one of the top three, and he’s in the quickest car. It stands to reason, reliability aside, that he should win every race. As it stands, he’s won nine out of 15. His personal best, in 2014, was 11 wins in a season. The record is 13, held by both Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. With 19 races on the schedule this year, Hammy has a chance to tie the two German aces, but not beat them.
In years past, when one driver or one team has become utterly dominant, the FIA has often tweaked the rules to create artificial handicaps. When Schumacher and Ferrari seemed to be winning everything in sight, the points system was changed, to prolong the title decision. However, the change actually damaged the show more than it helped, and the current points system was wisely created as a remedy.
Likewise, when the Brawn team (forerunner to the current Merc squad) stole the title during its only year of existence, relying largely on the double diffuser loophole for find a performance edge, that loophole was swiftly closed. Ditto for many of the marginal advantages that Adrian Newey’s group was able to devise at Red Bull during their reign.
So is it a foregone conclusion that, should the Mercedes juggernaut roll on in 2016, the rules makers in the FIA’s smoke-filled room will devise some tweaks in the technical or sporting regs to hobble the Silver Arrows? Changes for the 2017 season are currently being discussed. The talks are focused on improving the show. Wider, louder and faster seem to be the watchwords. I’m wondering, however, if an equalizer will be embedded in the new specs, a secret MA (Mercedes antidote) clause.
Bernie Eccelestone is now presiding over a declining audience. Smaller viewership results in smaller commercial revenues. Most of F1’s money comes from television. If fewer people watch the show, local broadcasters can’t charge as much for commercial slots; the teams’ sponsors won’t pay as much for the privilege of having their logos plastered on the cars’ sidepods; and Bernie won’t be able to charge as much for the franchise rights of the racing venues. You can guarantee, Bernie’s vote will be for whatever spices up the show, even if it means replacing the current pit crews with strippers.
As for Hamilton, only a freakish turn of events, such as being sidelined with an injury, or suffering a bizarre string of retirements, could deprive him of a third title at this point. Fans eventually tired of watching Michael Schumacher win everything. And eventually, Vettel’s success was met with a similar ennui. Will Hamilton’s legacy be dependent on a similar ho-hum effect? Must we consider a driver’s repeated success to be a forgone conclusion before we accord him the mantle of greatness?