Come on Lewis, everyone can be a winner! Thrills and spills expected at Spanish Grand Prix
21:00 GMT, 11 May 2012
The last time grand prix racing was this tightly contested Liverpool had wrapped up the title while Manchester City were facing up to life in the second tier.
You have to go back 29 years to find a time in Formula One when five different drivers driving five different cars won the opening five races of the season. But at the Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday there is every chance that statistic will be matched.
One driver who had a share of the spoils back in 1983 was John Watson, the Ulsterman having scythed through the field from 22nd on the grid in his McLaren to take the win at the United States Grand Prix West.
Taking it easy: Lewis Hamilton hopes to get off the mark in Barcelona this weekend
Watson pointed to the rule changes ahead of that season as the major factor why success was shared so evenly, notably the banning of ‘ground effect’ cars and consequently the need for new aerodynamic packages.
‘That was a massive change and nobody knew what was going to be good, bad or indifferent,’ conceded Watson.
It was also an era when teams and drivers were coming to terms with the benefit of pit stops for fresh tyres and fuel. Notably Brabham — then owned by Bernie Ecclestone — and Williams.
There are certainly parallels to be drawn with the current campaign, the complexities of getting the best from Pirelli’s latest brand of fast-degrading tyre and the banning of the exhaust-blown diffuser having seriously levelled the playing field.
‘That rule change was almost singularly directed towards Red Bull,’ claimed Watson. ‘They have been the most penalised because they had done a good job compared to everyone who hadn’t quite got to grips with it.’
Spanish sizzler: Hamilton during practice for Sunday's race in Barcelona
Even so, Sebastian Vettel’s trademark crooked finger victory salute was back in evidence last time out as he and Red Bull took their first win of the season in Bahrain. Will that combination be back to the dominance of last season from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards
Recalling how matters started to shift in favour of Alain Prost and Renault in 1983, Watson said: ‘If I had to put my money on who would win the championship, I would have put it on Prost.
‘The Renault was fundamentally a good car in both qualifying and in the race.’
But the name on the drivers’ championship trophy that year was that of Brazilian Nelson Piquet, the Brabham driver pinching the title from Prost in the last race in South Africa despite winning just three grands prix.
‘In the last 10 or 12 years, we have seen McLaren, Williams, Benetton/Renault, Ferrari and, most recently, Red Bull dominate a championship to such an extent that it became, frankly, uninteresting,’ said Watson.
In the running: Mark Webber could also be the fifth different winner
‘In my generation if a driver won three or four grands prix in the season there was a very good chance he would be a world champion.’
Should the 2012 season continue to be so tightly fought, a similar tally may well be enough to see a driver crowned. Such a scenario would certainly be a welcome departure from Vettel’s procession of last season in which he took the title with four races remaining by winning 11 of them.
Yet another different driver on the top step of the podium tomorrow will go a long way to ensuring there are no such foregone conclusions and that the title battle goes all the way to the wire in Brazil in November.
Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen are all potential candidates to keep the unpredictable run going in Spain.
Formula One, as Watson would dearly love, may yet wind back the clock to 1983 — even if Manchester City are crowned champions and Liverpool end up ninth not long after the champagne corks have popped in Spain.