Remember the MyEarthDream nonsense, the vast empty trophy cabinet, the “Tradition of Excellence” and even talk that the facility was cursed?
Then, as Honda finally threw in the towel, Ross Brawn stepped in and, having taken a 54% controlling stake in the management buy-out of the Japanese team was able to reap the rewards of its work over the previous fifteen months, not least the infamous double diffuser.
Though Red Bull made up ground in the second half of the season, Jenson Button had already done enough to secure the drivers’ title, while along with teammate Rubens Barrichello he helped Brawn secure the constructors’ crown at its first and only attempt.
At season end Brawn sold much of his shareholding in the team to Mercedes and though retained as team principal eventually left at the end of 2013, he and Nick Fry having sold their remaining stake in the team in early 2011.
For the most part, those seasons 2010 – 2012 were a learning curve, the foundations on which Mercedes – as we now know it – firmly stands.
To partner Nico Rosberg, Brawn coaxed Michael Schumacher out of retirement, and though the media gave the seven-time world champion a hard time, along with Rosberg and Brawn he helped put most of the vital pieces of the jigsaw in place.
In January 2013, Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda arrived, and it was obvious that Brawn would soon become ‘surplus to requirements’, the Briton, on leaving later that year claiming that the team had “too many chiefs”.
However, if Ross Brawn had achieved a coup in bringing Michael Schumacher out of retirement, Wolff and Lauda were to go one better, convincing Lewis Hamilton to leave the mighty McLaren for a team that had scored just one win in the three seasons since its return to F1 as a constructor.
Everyone (guilty as charged) thought Hamilton had taken leave of his senses when he announced his move to Mercedes, predicting that the Briton had thrown his hopes of future titles away, together with his hopes of securing the F1 LM XP1 promised to him by Ron Dennis should he win three titles with the Woking outfit.
Though 2013 wasn’t a bad season for Hamilton and Mercedes, the German team finishing runner-up to Red Bull, Wolff and his British driver had clearly been looking at the long game for in 2014 came an overhaul of the engine regulations and it’s fair to say that ever since, neither Mercedes or Hamilton have looked back.
Of the 96 Grands Prix held under the new formula, Mercedes has won 72 (72.9%), Hamilton winning three titles and teammate Nico Rosberg one. Coming off the back of six wins in the last seven races, it’s fair to say that both Hamilton and Mercedes are well on their way to their fifth titles.
Meanwhile, as Charles Leclerc looks to partner Sebastian Vettel next season, it’s worth remembering that the man he is replacing, Kimi Raikkonen, is Ferrari‘s most recent world champion, and that was back in 2007.
Since then, Fernando Alonso has tried, as has Sebastian Vettel, and while the Spaniard finished runner-up three times, the German looks set to be heading for his second runner-up spot with the Italian team.
Recalling those long lean years for British American Racing, BAR and Honda, it’s easy to forget that long, long period between 1979 and 2000 when Ferrari was effectively in the wilderness. There were a couple of constructor titles in the early 80s, but for the most part the drivers’ title was a distant dream.
And we’re not talking about a lack of driver talent, we’re talking the likes of Mansell and Prost, the Frenchman – arguably one of the finest talents to grace the sport – fired for criticising the team.
Even with Schumacher on board, it took four seasons before it all came together, the Maranello outfit continually doing what it does best, shooting itself in the foot and thwarting the best efforts of the German genius.
Let’s face it, it’s not as if Ferrari doesn’t have the financial resources, though, if Liberty gets its way and the historic bonus is scrapped or even halved, might the Maranello outfit find itself scrapping alongside McLaren and Williams, pleading for a budget cap.
Sadly, there appears to be a sense of entitlement at Maranello, a belief that it is the Italian team’s right to be at the top.
Fact is however, one has to fight for that right, and one has to continue fighting for that right.
Ignoring some of Sebastian Vettel‘s recent performances, Ferrari has bordered on the embarrassing, and when challenged on whether its recent loss of form is about an additional sensor is more concerned about how the information got into the public domain.
Mercedes has got on with the task in hand and done a masterful job. It publicly acknowledges its mistakes and while striving for excellence (a tradition at Brackley after all) is engaging with both fans and the media.
On the other hand, Ferrari has become increasingly insular and wary of the media, then appears aggrieved when the reaction towards it is negative.
Mercedes has put together a first-class team that is more than capable of continuing winning for the foreseeable future, while Ferrari is its own worst enemy floundering from one disaster to the next.
Whether one supports Ferrari or not, it is always good to see the team doing well, simply because it drives such passion in its fans and… yes, there’s the history.
But Ferrari does not have a god given right to be champion, it must fight for success and then it must maintain the fight.
If nothing else, Ferrari needs a little less (Italian) passion and a bit more (German) efficiency… otherwise, the 21-year gap between 1979 and 2000 will pale into insignificance compared to the gap between 2007 and whenever the Maranello outfit does get its act together again.