It's more than 30 years since the late James Hunt, a world champion of panache but also considerable powers of reflection, speculated bleakly on the ever dwindling contribution of the driver to Formula One success.
"Of all the factors, I reckon it's down to about 10 per cent and inevitably it's going to get a lot lower than that," he said shortly before taking the title from the brilliant but battle-scarred Niki Lauda in a Japanese rainstorm.
Many years later Sir Frank Williams, immersed in a driver controversy involving the national hero Damon Hill, offered the theory that selecting your top pilot was a bit like pinning the tail on a stage donkey. "You wonder," he said, "how much of his success is down to him – how much to the car he has been given."
In Valencia this last weekend Lewis Hamilton, a driver of exceptional ability everyone agrees, brought us pretty much full circle. With so much of the season still unraced, the former world champion said that he was just spinning his wheels.
Sebastian Vettel, of the scorching Red Bull, has certainly flown away over the horizon but does this begin to justify the defeatism of a Hamilton who not so long ago was fast-tracked into the sport's then most competitive car? Not on any terms – and certainly not under the charge that he is anxious to defect from the McLaren team that did so much to facilitate his enviable place in the world.
After the mind-numbing procession in Valencia, Formula One is under heavy pressure to fashion a sport which gives its stars some greater challenge than being with the right team at the right time – or, as Frank Williams was saying, a role more significant than that of a donkey's tail.