Second Season Syndrome


Valued Member
It has escaped no-one's attention that Mercedes had a good year in 2014. Their domination was such that they won 16 out of the 19 available races, with 18 pole positions, and frankly that probably understates how much it felt like they dominated. But how have the other constructors who scored 70% of the race wins in a year (or better) fared the next year?

70% is the exact figure enjoyed by Lotus back in 1963, as Jim Clark took the title in the Lotus 25. And it is to no-one's surprise that the Lotus/Clark combination remained the fastest into 1964, where Clark did win every race that he finished (although he was classified a lapped 4th and 5th in the first and last races respectively, and 7th in a shared drive in the USA). After the usual win in Britain, Clark lead the championship with 30 points, but after this the Lotus 25 of 1963's glory was replaced by the 33. The 33 did not finish once, although Clark was on course before the last lap of the Mexican GP to win the title off the back of just four finishes, and it was ready to lead Jim to the 1965 title. If there's a lesson to Mercedes, it is not to change chassis halfway through the season!

McLaren's Prost/Lauda combination had won three-quarters of the races in 1984, and were still the car to beat the following season. Lauda's car scarcely completed a Grand Prix with a myriad of problems, but Le Professeur had fewer such dramas. There would only be four wins for the Frenchman, with a renewed threat from Michele Alboreto's Ferrari team and the Williamses of Mansell and Rosberg, and Ayrton Senna's Lotus winning if it rained. Alboreto's failure to win in the final five races meant Prost and McLaren could cruise to titles.

Similarly, Williams were to win 12 of their 16 entries in 1996, with Damon Hill taking the title. Hill's acrimonious departure for 1997 meant the fight was to be carried instead by Jacques Villeneuve. The Quebecois driver was challenged all the way by the single flying Ferrari of Michael Schumacher, while McLaren and Benetton would also get onto the top step. And notwithstanding the manner of Villeneuve's victory at Jerez, Williams had actually secured the Constructors' Crown at the previous race in Japan, where Heinz-Harald Frentzen's podium was enough to offset Villeneuves disqualification and secure the crown.

The follow up to Ferrari's successful 2004 was less successful. While Schumacher and Barrichello had secured 15 wins from 18, a raft of regulations designed to slow the cars down would be the Scuderia's undoing in 2005. In particular, the one tyre per race rule had taken the advantage of Ferrari's almost in-house provider Bridgestone and handed the rest of the teams on the more durable Michelins the mantle. Indeed, Michelin would win every race bar the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, where safety fears left six cars running alone, and the easiest one-two in Ferrari's long history.

It was in the early years of F1 that Ferrari set the benchmark. Having won the lot in 1952 (with the exception of the incongrouous Indianapolis 500, which admittedly they entered) they returned in 1953 with enough dominance to beat our 70% cut off again. A renewed threat from the Maserati of the returned Juan Manuel Fangio brought only two wins for the Maestro. Alberto Ascari, winner of 6 of the 7 in 1952, would still win 5 of an effective 8 races in 1953. In 1954, Ferrari were still able to win 2 races, but the departure of Ascari had left them vulnerable. Fangio was capable of winning for Maserati, but when he was given the Mercedes W196, the Argentinian great was nigh unstoppable.

The second best percentage of wins in a season belongs again to Ferrari, this time when Schumacher and Barrichello shared the honours 15 times of 2002's 17 events. 2003 was a much harder challenge to Ferrari. The first three races saw a surprise challenge from McLaren's MP4-17D - an update of the shonky car that had failed so badly the previous year. Despite this, it would be BMW-Williams who would challenge the most. A combination of the powerful BMW engine and the sweltering, Michelin-favouring European summer threatened to end Ferrari's run, but the cool and (allegedly) the FIA intervened in Bridgestone's favour by Monza. Ferrari were thus able to secure the title in Suzuka.

Of course, the top dog in terms of winning the highest percentage of wins in a season was McLaren-Honda's 15/16 in 1988. The opening race of 1989 saw a driver take a debut win for Ferrari (watch out there), but the season took a familiar pattern of Senna generally either winning or retiring, and his circumspect French team-mate winning or finishing second. Although the door was open for Ferraris and Thierry Boutsen to take victories, McLaren had the Constructors' title sewn up by Monza. Of course, the Drivers' Championship was still obtainable for either of their drivers by Suzuka; the quarrell that ensued is documented more fully elsewhere.

So, good news for Mercedes is that the only team to ever win more than 7 tenths of the races in a season are Ferrari, who've done it twice. But it is worthy of note that nobody ever managed to match the initial season of dominance in a second year. Jerez suggests the test for Mercedes may come from Ferrari, experience suggests that it may well be Red Bull, hope springs eternal that it could be Williams and history indicates a McLaren-Honda partnership could be conjunctive to success. There will, at some juncture, be a challenge - lets hope it comes soon enough to make a title fight in 2015!
Just going by the number of wins underestimates the level of Mercedes dominance last season. Look at the number of times they had one0two finishes! That is what really shows that the other teams had no chance last year.

In previous decades, reliability issues were far more of an influence than they are in this era where the cars seem as reliable as sunrise. Today, if a team starts a season with a big advantage, it is more likely than not that they will retain that advantage all the way through the season. Not a formula for exciting races.
when you set the bar so high it was always difficult to follow it up the next season because you would expect the opposition to catch up and you would turn away fans if it became a one sided affair unless there is competition between the driver's themselves

Usually you find other teams would have either mastered the rules and got a better grip to make their cars go faster such as Honda when they mastered the turbos in the 1980s

Or some new regulations catches the dominant team because they did not divert enough resources into it like Red Bull last season
Interesting development in Malaysia today - a little 1989. They're still clearly the best, but that doesn't mean that they'll win every race by just buggering off off the front.
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