Should Vettel prevail in China – the first time that this country has hosted the second round of the world championship – the odds on his being this year’s champion will shorten dramatically. For only four of the men to have won the opening two rounds have failed to top the points at the season’s end: Emerson Fittpaldi (1973), Niki Lauda (1976), Jacques Laffite (1979) and Alain Prost (1982). And today’s digitised era is much more predictable than the Bernie-v-Balestre, FISA-v-FOCA, grandees-v-garagistes analogue age of giant-leap technology and leap-of-faith safety. The 30-year period from 1960 was indeed F1’s Wild West.
The decade prior to that had been relatively calm, with thirtysomething-plus talents driving proven and sturdy front-engined machinery. Twice Juan Fangio won the first two rounds and the corresponding titles – in 1954 and 1957 – a feat already achieved in 1953 by Alberto Ascari. And only once during the 1950s did neither the winner of the first nor second round become champion, Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant – the dappy Frenchman was a springer of early-season surprises – eventually losing out to Mike Hawthorn in 1958.
In stark contrast 16 of the next 30 seasons were so composed: 1960, 1961, 1964 and 1966; 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1979; and 1981, 1982, 1986, 1987 and 1989. The only man to equal Ascari and Fangio during this period was Jackie Stewart, whose Ken Tyrrell-run Matra of 1969 provided a hard-won combination of sufficient speed and necessary reliability.