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F1 debate: is Fernando Alonso right to hail the 2000s as the sport’s most popular era?
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Posted By: Editor   |  09 Jan 2017   |  4:22 pm GMT  |  216 comments

Double Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso has triggered an interesting debate by asserting that the 2000s era of the sport was its most popular and – effectively – the peak.

In a recent interview, the McLaren driver outlined his thoughts on why he ranks that period – during which he won back-to-back titles for Renault in 2005 and 2006 – above the era of the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, another period that many consider to be a golden age for F1.

Giving his thoughts on the earlier era, when the likes of Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell fought for the championship, Alonso said: “Formula 1 at that time, it was very boring. If you see a race now from ’85, ’88 or ’92, you will sleep through the race because it was two McLarens, the fourth guy was lapped and there was 25 seconds between each car.

Ayrton Senna Monaco Grand Prix

“There were 10 cars DNF because the reliability was so-so. Television figures, spectators are going down [in 2016], like it was in these boring years in the ’80s where Senna, Prost and these people were saving fuel, saving tyres and things like that, so it’s exactly the same boring as it was at that time.”

But when talking about the 2000s period, Alonso highlighted the interest in F1 through high TV figures and new races joining the calendar.

He said: “I think Formula 1 grew up a lot. A lot of manufacturers came into Formula 1 in the 2000s – BMW, Toyota, and there were many people coming. Television figures and the spectators were at the maximum.

Fernando Alonso

“We opened Formula 1 to new countries – we raced in Korea, we raced in India, we raced in Singapore, two races in Spain – and that was the maximum. And we didn’t understand that situation, probably. The costs were very high, technology was very high, some manufacturers pulled out.”

During the 2000s era, a several major manufacturers entered the sport as team owners or engine partners and many of the lap records at tracks that have remained on the calendar since 2004 were clinched that season.

Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, who swept the board between 2000 and 2004, dominated the first five seasons of that decade. Then Alonso and Renault won their titles before Ferrari and McLaren fought over the 2007 and 2008 campaigns.

Fernando Alonso 2006

The final season of the 2000s era, 2009, featured a significant regulation change as F1 moved away from high downforce cars and reintroduced slick tyres. It followed the global financial crisis, which caused a number of manufacturers to pull out of the sport.

In the years that followed mid-race refuelling was banned and Pirelli’s high degradation tyres became the control rubber from the start of 2011.

In 2017, and for the first time in a generation, F1 is changing its rules to make the cars faster, not slower for safety reasons. The aim is to improve the show via aggressive-looking cars, lower laptimes and testing conditions for the drivers.

Esteban Gutierrez 2017 tyres

So we’re handing the discussion over to you. What do you think of Alonso’s comments? Was the 2000s the most peak era in F1? Or was the Senna-Prost-Mansell period better supported? And why? Or, conversely, do you think the upcoming season could herald a new shift in popularity for F1?



Please complete the polls above and then leave an explanation of your choice in the comment section below. We’ll collate your comments later in the week and pick out the highlights in an analysis of the discussion.

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1

I agree wholeheartedly with Alonso, and that’s not something I say often. I’d say the 2000’s just edge it over the late 90’s, Schumacher vs Hakkinen.

2
Cédric Baumgartner

I really enjoyed the late 90’s- early 2000 and in particular the rivalry between Michael and Mika. It was before Ferraris dominance era and both Ferrari and McLaren we’re both very close performance wise. And who remembers Schumi’s controversial team mate Eddie Irvine who despite being a nr2 wouldn’t have a bar of it!

3

It’s subjective. Given that most readers of JA’s blog are in their 20’s / 30’s, most don’t remember, or have looked at the earlier years. The early Turbo years (BMW ‘grenade’ engines), The DFV years that gave a fairly level playing field, the ground effect years that produces blistering cornering speeds, the pre-aero years where slipstreaming produced incredibly close racing (Monza ’71)… I could go on. Alonso is referring to what he knows, but to make a general comparison is like comparing apples with pineapples.

4
Im not in the habit.

It’s always come down to rivalry of two greats; Senna Prost, Senna Schumacher, Schumacher Hakkinen followed by Montoya and then Alonso.
Personally I reckon Montoya Schumacher was pure popcorn munching stuff.

5

When i was a young boy we were hungry about sport, didn’t matter what sport. Races where not live and only 5 minutes at evening in TV. But we listened live to the radio. A good speaker could comment a boring race into the greatest of all times.
Sport in TV was around 7-8 hours a week. Now you can watch sport 24-7 on 20 different channels. Kids are not hungry any more, they are satiated. And nothing can change that.
Even if it is not on TV, its on a play station, xbox…

Visiting a race track with your dad is no longer the only way to watch a whole race.

6
Clarks4WheelDrift

For me, era nostalgia aside, it still boils less down to what eras are better and more down to what tracks are better.

Spa, Suzuka, Brazil, Silverstone, Monza etc!!

The only other thing that adds to classic memories is variable weather on a wet-dry-wet race, as at so many Spas, Brazil, Canada 11 etc.

Of course it still helps if there isn’t massive domination such as the specialist tyred dominant Ferrari 04 or miles better hybrid packages on Merc 14,15,16 more recently.

7

In reality, it is down to the broadcasting. Stop putting it behind a paywall and allow people to get hooked into the full show of the season.

8

I just feel that for some reason the TV broadcast makes all the new cars seem so slow, even in cases when they are faster than the old 2000s cars.

9

I think Alonso is correct. For me the 2000’s were the epitome of F1 racing. What originally attracted me to F1 was seeing the limits pushed, seeing cars just having the necks wringed every weekend. In the 2000’s we were watching the drivers pushing over powered and extremely technical engines over 22,000RPM (sounding AMAZING as they did so), quick dash refueling, we had the Max/Bernie soap opera just putting things over the teams time and time again just to give you something to read about during the week, Renault Vs. Ferrari, Schuie Vs. Fernando, Michelin Vs. Brigestone – it just all worked so well.

I have lost alot of interest in the last few years as i dont like the idea of just saving this, saving that, let them go hard and give them the tools to do so and make them sound ‘next world’ by doing so. The turbos just sound pathetic compared to what we had and the whole hybrid thing was a bit of a misstep.

10

I always felt that after growing up watching the 2000s that I have some bias looking back with rose tinted glasses. So I decided to watch the entire 2005 season again (Qualifying and Race) all races every lap that was broadcasted to test this theory: And Fernando is right in respect to it being better to watch than now. A few things that really stood to me are these:
1. The sound: No doubt there were some boring races in 2005 but the V10 engines were a joy to listen to and is a real reminder of just how bad the V6s sound. I could never tire of listening to them.
2. The Cars: Visually they were stunning. Their liveries were superb and very diverse. The Mild seven Renault livery is possibly the greatest thing I’ve seen in F1. Not only that but the McLaren MP4-20 was gorgeous and one of my all time best looking F1 cars. They were sleek and looked “fast”.
3. Gravel: the gravel and lack of run off catches a lot of the inexperienced drivers out and makes you take for granted how easy the tarmac run offs have made it nowadays.

Now I haven’t mentioned any of the things the top dogs think is wrong with F1. E.g overtaking, Action, entertainment. 2005 didn’t have much overtaking but the single lap qualifying did provide some epic moments. Especially at Monaco with Alonso vs Raikkonen. The single tyre rule was abysmal in a way similar to the Pirelli tyres and the downforce rules brought in started the “dirty air” issue, and Indianapolis was an absolute shambles. But I don’t care because the look and sound was and still is enough for me to sit and watch 2 hours of it again and again.

So what that tells me is that Formula 1 needs to get its looks and sounds right. The base instincts that draw us fans before worrying about action. You can’t guarantee action or a spectacular race every time but you can guarantee sleek, loud, screaming machines. That’s my two cents, take it as you please…

11

As usual the man knows what he’s talking about

12

No! He’s just desperate. That’s all.

13

For me it was the late 70s to the 80s. Huge power. Blow ups. Villeneuve, hunt, lauda, Arneaux……..

14

What the sport is missing is another epic intra-team battle between to established world champions.
Even though what Fernando says it’s absolutely true, the 80’s era marked an entire generation (despite boring racing) because of one of the most iconic team mate battle ever witnessed in Motorsport.
If Vettel, Alonso or Ricciardo were alongside Hamilton in the past three years at the all conquering Mercedes, no one would have deemed the last three seasons boring.

15

Okay, so let’s take Alonso’s comments at face value, rather than trying to twist his words to mean it was better when he was winning.

In terms of popularity, that is defined by race attendance and viewing figures, right? Both of which have dropped off at least in part because of the ridiculous cost of both. So there’s more to the stats than just the racing. So the statement is meaningless, although not wrong.

Interestingly, now Sky has lost Premiership rugby and football to BT Sport, its overall value proposition has fallen. Its cost, so far, hasn’t. But surely the football junkies must be deserting Sky? So they won’t be watching F1 any more either. Viewing figures will continue to fall, just due to the loss of incidental viewers.

So will Sky compensate by increasing their costs further, or by dropping them? Fewer people paying more. or more people paying less?

Answers on a postcard.

16

Interesting comments from Lewis and Fernando about today’s cars…..

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=e5yoldSte64

17

It can be argued that nothing is by 100% true, and you can find an opposite option but in some part, Alonso is right in his statement.

in 2000s cars looked very nice, especially MP4-20 would be my favorite. Engine sound accompaniment was just awesome (V10s), in this regard particularly I’d like to emphasize – Ferrari 2001 year. Not the sound but a pure symphony.

18

With the exception of 2002 and 2004 the 2000’s was a fantastic era for the sport. It certainly felt more successful commercially than it has done in recent years.
I fail to see how anyone thinks anything from 2013 to now even comes close to some of the fantastic seasons prior. 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2008 all spring to mind to me.

If Mercedes still hold the same advantage as they have since 2014 this coming season I can see myself stop watching F1 live and I will likely just record then fast forward a lot of the qualifying sessions and races.

I would just like to see different teams get pole and win again. instead of Mercedes every weekend unless they crash or retire. That’s what F1 needs in my opinion.

19

I still fail to see how giving the best drivers in the world better tyres and a lot more grip will improve the overall show. It just means the drivers will make no errors and that Saturdays will become even more important again

20

I completely agree with Fernando. For me the best period of F1 was 2005 – 2009, the 2005 season I mark as the most exciting, still to this day I cannot believe Kimi didn’t win that championship, and the tyre & suspension failure at the end of the race at the Nurburging still lives long in the memory. For me it ranks up there as one of the most exciting ends to a Grand Prix alongside Brazil 2008 and Canada 2011.

For me though the season that really summed up how Formula 1 should be is the 2008 season. 7 different drivers winning in 5 different teams – nearly half of the F1 teams that season won a Grand Prix, and that variability of multiple teams being able to turn up on a certain weekend and in be in with a shout of victory if the conditions played to their favour is where motorsport should be.

In F1 2016 we had 4 different winners from 2 different teams. In the 2016 World Rallycross Championship there were 7 different winners from 6 different teams over just 12 rounds! That is what motorsport should be and highlights where Formula 1 is failing.

21

Yes and no. 2002 and 2004 had to be the most boring seasons of all time for the spectators, although you have to admire the accomplishments of Schumacher, Brawn, and Byrne with Ferrari.

Notable 2000s seasons for me, which provided great racing:
2000, Mika vs Schumacher. Who could forget Spa!
2005, Kimi vs Alonso, forgetting the disaster that was the US GP (6 car start).
2006, Alonso vs Schumacher.
2007, 4-way battle between Lewis, Alonso, Kimi, and Massa + Spygate!
2008, Lewis vs Massa & Vettel’s and STR’s first win + Crashgate, which didn’t emerge for nearly 12 months.
2009, JB’s WDC and Webber’s first win.

However, outside of the 2000s, for me, 1976 was a cracker with the Hunt-Lauda battle very well depicted in the ‘Rush’ film. As well, many good memories of the turbo years of the 1980s, and the Mansell, Piquet, Prost, Senna battles of the 1980s and 1990s. 1994 was another great season (leaving aside the disastrous Imola weekend) Hill vs Schumacher. Plus the mid to late 90s with the emergence of Mika, DC, and JV.

As a spectator, the 1970s were fun when you still had relatively easy access to the paddock, such as at Mosport Park near Toronto. Wondering how on earth Niki Lauda could even contemplate driving in state he was in after his near death at the Nurburgring. He looked in dreadful shape. Overhearing Colin Chapman giving Gunnar Nilson a bollocking for crashing the Lotus 77 at the 1976 meeting. Seeing James Hunt chain smoking before the 1977 race. Meeting Alan Jones in the greasy spoon concession grabbing a hamburger and fries. All great memories!

22

Massa? 2007? I don’t recall that the cheerful Brazilian figured much in 2007. Possibly a year later?
Sorry if that was a touch pedantic……..

23

Hi Phil,
You’re probably right about 2007 points wise, but until Kimi took his two wins at the end of the season to increase his win total from 4 to 6, Lewis, Alonso, Kimi, and Massa were on 4 wins apiece. So I included him on that basis. Of course, Massa was much closer in 2008 to the point of nearly becoming WDC as we all know!

24

Just saw this picture from F-1 in the mid 70’s in Interlagos:
http://flaviogomes.grandepremio.uol.com.br/2017/01/foto-do-dia-651/
So hard to compare eras as they simply feel like completely different sports… Take a look at those guard-rails… lol

25

Strange comments and I think he is just trying to cement his legacy. What makes it worse is that the season reviews are easily available and the evidence is out there. Whilst I enjoyed the early 2000s in terms of seeing an absolute great driver perform with the absolute best machinery, there can be no doubt that the races were utterly boring processions.

Interesting too that Alonso cites reliability as a factor ruining the 80s for him when both his titles were won in large part due to the reliability.

The 1980s had amazing cars to look at and listen to, incredible and iconic liveries, amazing characters, absolute classic circuits, and some of the most phenomenal races you can imagine.

26

I don’t really think it’s really the noise, or the actual speed that’s missing when we watch the races on TV at the moment. It’s the *perception* of speed and a sense of it being spectacular. Some of this might be down to how the races are shot. Perhaps controversial, but I think the production values for F1 on TV are too good. The sound levels are really well engineered (no crazy peaks/sudden changes, nothing that could seem unpleasant or give you a fright) so don’t ‘feel’ loud (otherwise you could just turn up your volume and bingo, it’s loud enough!) and the visuals are made to look smooth (super stabilised on-board footage, loooong telephoto zoom shots of the cards travelling down the straights) so basically makes everything appear slower than it really is. They even do lots and lots of slo-mo. Why on earth are we slowing down footage of a sport that’s all about speed? It is (figuratively and literally) not cricket.

Case in point – if you watch footage of someone riding a bicycle at Redbull Rampage or at a UCI downhill race (especially the on-board/helmet cam footage) on Redbull/Apple TV, it can be breathtaking and is usually more exciting to watch than an F1 pole lap. And it ‘feels’ really fast. But why? Downhill bikes don’t even have an engine, so make barely any noise. They’re also going a lot slower in terms of absolute speed. I wonder whether the lower production values of ‘extreme sports’ stuff (think of all the GoPro vids you’ve watched over the last couple of years) and from older F1 coverage (all those shaky, not-wide-angle-enough onboards!) might actually be a bit more to peoples’ taste.

What do you think?

27

Very hard to cast a vote for me : I really started to watch consistently GPs in the late 90s(97/98)…and I remember the prost vs senna mosty because , as a Frenchman, we had a lot of exposure and TV time about ” finally a sport where a French dude is winning”.

Concerning Fernando’s point of view, I think he does miss mostly the 2000’s because it was good for him, that when he was “rising” whereas the 2010’s have been mostly desapointing.
I will accept that as a driver, maybe it was more fun to drive the cars in the 2000’s (i don’t know, I am sick after 1 lap in a junior cart…..)
As a TV spectator, My feeling is that it is mostly dependant on competition rather than “era” : 2002, 2004 , 2011 and 2013 and 2015 were boring because there was (almost) no competition for WDC
What makes F1 interesting is also the popularity of its starz…in taht respect, I think Senna is still way more of an icon than Schumi or Hamilton….Vettel RBR was not a star and that showed (audience falling in Germany ? )
2017 will be good if no one is too far ahead at barcelona. and will be great if there is a real battle for the WDC until brazil between VES/RIC/HAM/ ???

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