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When Was the Best Era of Formula 1 Racing?

Formula 1 has been at the pinnacle of motorsport since the championship began in 1950. Today, it attracts around two billion fans each year, all of whom tune in to watch Grands Prix on their TVs, with millions more turning up to the race tracks to see the action in person. Exciting seasons like we saw in 2021 often help to boost these numbers even more, as petrolheads around the world watch from the edges of their seats to see which driver and team will come out on top. Most bookmakers also see an increase in the volume of wagers placed on F1 during these exciting title battles, something which is helped further by the fact that they promote their free bet offers in the run-up to races.

Although Formula 1 has always been exciting, the series today is unrecognisable from 70 years ago, as just about everything from the design of the cars to the approach taken by drivers is radically different.

Ask any F1 fan and they’ll tell you when the “golden era” of the sport was, but none of them can actually agree as to when that was. Some will argue the early days of the championship were when we saw the bravest and most talented drivers fighting their machines to achieve victories.

Others will say the 1970s cars were the best, with plenty of close racing and some great personalities behind the wheels. This era was also when we began to see Formula 1 cars evolve into the pointy arrows with wings that we know today, with team owners like Colin Chapman experimenting with aerodynamics and ground effect.

Others still will argue passionately that the turbo cars of the 1980s helped to create some of the best F1 racing we’ve ever seen, but millennial fans are more likely to say the 1990s and early 2000s V10 cars were the ultimate F1 machines thanks to their screaming engines.

Although it is, of course, a very subjective matter, most fans will all argue that their preferred era of Formula 1 was a time when we saw the closest racing and the most overtakes. Yet at the same time, we agree that the cars used in recent years actively impede drivers’ ability to follow closely and pass, yet it delivered the 2021 season with its last lap battle.

The reality is that everyone looks at F1’s past with rose-tinted glasses, though each pair of spectacles have a unique prescription that’s defined mostly by when they started watching the sport.

An Objective Answer?

If we really want to define which era of F1 was the best and we can agree that exciting racing is created by lots of on-track battles, then we can count the number of overtakes in a season or a race to see when the sport really was at its best.

The Worst Races

Boring F1 races are ones that get described as “processional”, where few cars manage to pass each other, and nothing really happens aside from 20ish drivers doing 50 or so laps for 90 minutes.

The 2003 Monaco Grand Prix, 2009 European Grand Prix, and 2021 Monaco and Belgian Grands Prix all delivered no overtakes at all. As did the 2005 US Grand Prix, but it most certainly qualifies for the worst race ever since it only involved six cars after the Michelin-running teams withdrew on safety grounds.

The Best Races and Seasons

On the other end of the spectrum, the 1965 Italian Grand Prix was packed with so much action that fans didn’t know where to look. Three teams and four drivers battled for the lead in that race, overtaking each other 41 times over the 76 laps. No aerodynamics meant these cars could slipstream down the long straights.

But few fans would predict when the most overtakes took place in a full season. It was only in 2012 that we saw an overtaking-packed championship with 870 passes, followed by the 2016 season which managed 866.

2012 had fewer races, so it had a higher rate of overtakes per race, averaging 43.5. That’s much higher than the 2000s, which saw that drop to the low teens, and the early 90s when there were around 24 per race.

Based on numbers alone, the current era of F1 is delivering a lot of excitement. So while there may be just a couple of guys out at the front that hog the limelight, there’s plenty going on elsewhere in the pack, creating plenty of exciting racing.

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