I’m getting a little tired of this.
It’s hard enough to escape it on twitter, but then it starts to permeate one’s facebook feed, posted and pushed by those you’d considered might have a slightly better handle on reality.
Another week, another witty article, hilarious meme, wistful video of halcyon days past. Oh it was so much better in the 80s. The 90s too. Don’t forget 2004. That was the best. Scary fast cars. Scary sounding cars. Not like today. Today’s crap.
The latest video to do the rounds hit social media and the nadir of reasoned debate on Friday afternoon and soon after had permeated almost every stream of online motorsport-based consciousness. If you haven’t seen it already, and I doubt very much that if you’re reading this you haven’t, it was a side by side “comparison” video of Juan Pablo Montoya lapping Monza in 2004 in the Williams BMW FW26, and Lewis Hamilton taking to the same track in his Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid this very year.
Oh how people sneered. Montoya had long since passed the line to close his lap by the time Hamilton exited Parabolica to complete his own tour. “What is happening to our beloved sport?”, people asked. Where did we go so wrong? Won’t somebody think of the children!!???
Let’s start with a dose of reality. The lap chosen to highlight those apparently flawless days of the mid 2000s was, of course, the fastest lap recorded in Formula 1 history. Set in pre-qualifying and averaging almost 163mph, it remains one of the most viscerally staggering sights in Formula 1 history.
The lap chosen for the “comparison” was from this season’s Free Practice 2. Lewis Hamilton was bedding in a brand new development of his Mercedes power unit in a session regularly used to conduct race runs on heavy fuel. The majority of drivers improved their FP1 to FP2 best laptimes by over a second in Monza this year. Hamilton, under half a second. We commented at the time on the NBCSN broadcast, Mercedes never looked as though they were pushing.
So we’ve got a car bedding in a new engine, with brand new tyre camber and pressure parameters meaning the teams are still trying to get a handle on changed grip levels, on heavy fuel, in a session where they’re not pushing. And this is the lap chosen as a fair comparison with the fastest lap in the history of Formula 1?
It’s very difficult to paint an accurate picture when you’re working with a pallet of limited colours.
How about we take the 2004 pole lap at Interlagos set by Rubens Barrichello, riding high on the emotion of the adoring crowd and at the wheel of the all-conquering Ferrari F2004, the car seemingly of choice in many people’s “Dream Team” as per Formula1.com’s recent poll. Widely regarded, along with the McLaren MP4-4, as the greatest F1 car of all time, it still holds the track and pole position record at the majority of circuits raced in that season.
Barrichello was on pole by 0.204 from Montoya, with the Brazilian setting an unbeatable lap of 1:10.646. Unbeatable in 2004. And a record that stood for a decade.
Finally beaten last season by Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid with a time, over half a second faster. 1:10.023.
Where’s that comparison video? It doesn’t exist. Because it doesn’t fit the lazy narrative that the sport is a woeful shadow of its former self.
I’ve got no issue with a debate over whether the current regulations are the right path for the sport. I think it is fairly obvious that some changes need to be made. But the overwhelming negativity towards today’s cars and the narrative that things were so much better in past eras is growing tired and dull. Particularly when the examples used to highlight the apparent disparity between what was and what is, are drawn from such selective grounds as to make them pointless and risible.
You want a direct comparison between the early 2000s and 2015? In 2002 Michael Schumacher had sewn up the title two calendar months ago. In July. At Magny Cours.
Montoya’s 2004 Monza lap was good, but it meant nothing. Barrichello still took pole and won the race. Trotting the lap out as an example of how great the sport used to be, merely highlights that even in a car that fast over one lap, he had no means of competing. Faster lap times don’t necessarily equate to better racing. Formula 1 back then had far more competitive issues than it does today.
But hey, let’s just keep on banging that old tired drum shall we?