Lewis Hamilton won the 34th race of his career in a race that became a farce before it even started.
The season’s first Grand Prix at Melbourne was not an affair to remember, not for the 13 cars that finished the race, the 15 cars that started the race, or the few hundred spectators that stayed awake and convinced themselves that F1 is still alive and kicking.
The criticism isn’t entirely unjustified.
Another Mercedes one-two wouldn’t have mattered if it was 2014, but the fact that the 2015 season has begun on the exact same note is a bit worrying. For years, Ferrari and Michael Schumacher dominated the sport too, but every now and then, he had worthy challengers intent on establishing themselves as his archrival. Hill, Hakkinen, Montoya, Coulthard, Raikkonen and finally Alonso…they were racing for second place, but they also raced in cars that could have piped Ferrari to the finish line.
Every alternate season was record-breaking, but Schumacher’s ruthlessness was actually a refreshing change from the closely-fought and open-for-all 90s, where everyone craved for the next big F1 hero after Senna.
That era is over though.
Ferrari is no longer at the top, neither are their ex-main-rivals McLaren and Williams. It is the era of Mercedes and Red Bull, out of which one is threatening to pull out because the other is dominating the sport to the extent of full damage.
Nobody can blame Vettel and his Ferrari either. His third place wasn’t exactly third—it was first of the rest. If points were a true indicator of performances, both the Mercedes cars would earn 25 points, and his Ferrari would earn 5.
Many may have complained about his own domination with Red Bull for four long years, but there was still an aura of young and raw invincibility about him—a feeling that the next big thing after Senna and Schumacher had finally arrived. Many failed to understand that perhaps Vettel’s greatness was a product of his car’s superior engineering, but many also estimated his driving skills—and rightfully so—to be above his contemporaries. He had proven himself with lesser cars too, and his dominance over experienced teammate Mark Webber was proof of his own inexhaustible talent. At an age of less than 25, he had won more titles than most greats had won in their whole career. Hamilton was looked at with the same dewy-eyed wonder back in 2007 when he hit the scene running as a brash-talking, aggressive 21-year old McLaren upstart. He won his first title, almost inevitably, becoming the youngest to do so…until Vettel, another German, took F1 by storm. More so, his first title was last-gasp Abu Dhabi robbery, where he stole a title from under the noses of Alonso, Webber and Hamilton in the final race. There was a daring romance to it all.
There is certainly no romance to Mercedes’ domination right now. They won 16 races in the 2014 season, made it a two-horse race from the beginning, and left little to anyone’s imagination. The only excitement came from within their stable, where a teammate rivalry had to be manufactured to make the sport more viable to watch.
It isn’t about the number of cars that finished at Melbourne. It is more about the number of cars that were actually competing.
A 34-second gap is one hell of a statement—one that is perhaps not needed at this stage in the sport’s lifecycle. You could be sure that if this was tennis, the courts would have been made slower to end Federer’s reign. If this was cricket, the field restriction rule could have been changed to make it a more level playing field. If this was football, a few silly transfers could be concocted out of nothing in order to disturb the balance of great teams. But this is F1; either the engines can be tampered with or banned for being too good, because Mercedes have discovered a magic potion, a cheat code of sorts, that they had first discovered as Brawn GP back in 2009.
That was a dreary season, and if not for a veteran like Button managing to win his first and only title, there would have been no magic to it.
2015, I hoped, would signal a shift in eras. But Melbourne is a startling reminder of why the sport is dying. And why it may never be resurrected.