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|Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher celebrated in October 2002 at Suzuka, Japan. Schumacher won a then-record 11 races that year and clinched the title with six races left.|
During Formula One's dormant season, it's anyone's guess as to how the upcoming year will play out. But if history has any influence, it will be a memorable year, for better or worse. The years 1982, 1992 and 2002 all delivered notable performances, which begs the question, will 2012 follow suit?
Ten years ago, Michael Schumacher clinched the championship with a remarkable six races left on the schedule, capping one of the most dominant seasons the sport has ever known. He never finished off the podium and won a then-record 11 races. There was also significant controversy in Austria, as Schumacher overtook Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello in the final seconds to claim the victory. Team orders were clearly visible as Barrichello slowed to allow his teammate to overtake, but the resulting $1 million fine by the FIA was attributed to the violation of podium procedures after the event. Nevertheless, it cast a dark shadow on the sport.
The 1992 season saw Nigel Mansell and Williams display a similar level of dominance. Mansell cruised to his first world championship thanks to a combination of great skill and superior equipment, earning nearly double the points of runner-up and teammate Riccardo Patrese. It was also the season in which Schumacher scored the first of his record 91 wins.
Although 1982 was very different from the previous seasons mentioned, it is still very much a highlight in the history books, statistically speaking. There arguably never was a more even playing field, as a record 11 drivers claimed victory. That season also saw a chaotic Monaco: Alain Prost crashed while leading with only a few laps remaining, allowing Patrese to inherit the lead. Patrese then spun, as well, allowing Didier Pironi to take over first. But Pironi quickly came to a stop in the tunnel, meaning Andrea de Cesaris was due to overtake. However, de Cesaris suffered a similar fate, and, in the end, Patrese crossed the line first despite that late spin.
Keke Rosberg wound up as the world champion by a slim margin, his only title.
The promise of a new season brings with it significant uncertainty, and 2012 certainly could reflect the seasons of 10, 20 or 30 years prior. Last year saw incredible dominance, but the year before witnessed great balance. Much depends on innovations made by each team, as well as the ability of drivers to become comfortable with a challenging mix of tire compounds.
Ferrari is one of those teams that must adapt quickly this season or risk falling far behind. Felipe Massa is suffering from a 47-race winless streak, by far the longest of his career with the team. Fernando Alonso is also struggling, relatively speaking, as his 10-race winless streak is tied for his longest since joining Ferrari in 2010.
Both undoubtedly are skilled drivers, but, without truly competitive equipment, neither can hope for more than the occasional victory. Ferrari has suffered through a one-win season in two of the past three years, a phenomenon that had occurred just once in the 13 previous seasons, and it will be very interesting to see whether the squad can rebound in the coming year and compete consistently with the likes of Red Bull and McLaren.