After observing four days of testing at Jerez, Michael Schumacher believes that the 2010 Formula 1 season will probably be dominated by the Big Four, i.e. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren. It’s a scenario that recalls the highly competitive era of the late eighties, and early nineties, which saw domination by an earlier version of the Big Four, namely Ferrari, McLaren Benetton and Williams. That era also featured a deep level of competition among drivers, with world champions suchh as Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Niki Lauda, all racing either concurrently, or in overlapping time frames.
While critics of Michael Schumacher like to point out that during much of his career Formula 1 didn’t have the depth of competition that is currently on offer, they forget that when the German ace first joined the F1 fray, in the middle of the 1991 season, he became the team mate of three-time champ Nelson Piquet, and frequently outperformed the Brazilian. Moreover, during Schumacher’s years at Benetton, he raced against Senna, Prost, Mansell and Piquet, world champs all, and began racking up podiums almost from the very start in a car that was slower than both the McLaren and the Williams.
Even before Schumacher won his first title, paddock pundits began pointing to him as the most likely challenge to Ayrton Senna’s supremacy. And during the 1994 season, Schumacher out-qualified Senna in the first three races, all of which the German handily won. Tragically, Senna was killed in the third race meeting in 1994, at Imola, so the rivalry that was evolving between the two great drivers never matured. Even so, at an early stage of his career, when the grid seemed to be littered with multi-year title holders, it seemed clear that Schumacher was destined to be ranked with the best of the best.
To return to 2010, however, it seems that we might have a renaissance of both driving talent and top tier cars. This should make for an exciting season. Ideally, a rough parity will persist amongst the Big Four throughout the season, making for an exciting title chase. Historically, of course, we’ve seen that even when the season begins with a close match at front of the grid, as the season progresses one or two teams come to the fore and become more dominant in the points.
Just how the running order will evolve this year is still up in the air. As reported on ESPNF1, Schumacher acknowledged as much, saying, “It’s very tough for all of us to understand what is the order of teams. We have four, and the others look very interesting, such as Sauber – the car is quite quick – and the Renault … there is a question mark how quick it is. The good teams sort of stay all in the same window. But we are not able to be precise because you can play so much with the fuel load, and even with the ballast if you want to. So there’s a lot of speculation going on, even for us. But it’s very interesting.”
Certainly, we’ll know more on Saturday, March 13, when the cars qualify for the season-opener in Bahrain.