FORMULA 1® 2012 SEASON REVIEW
F1®’s 63rd season was a belter: eight drivers won races, from six different teams, and once again the Championship chase went right down to the wire with that heart-stopping finale at Interlagos. Now we need to fill in the gap till they arrive back in Melbourne in mid-March, so let’s start with a look back at another super season.
DRIVER OF THE YEAR
Yes, we know Seb won the title again, and it was his third in a row, and he’s the youngest driver to achieve that feat. But for once it wasn’t all about Vettel.
Take a close look at Fernando Alonso next time you see him: notice that slight hunch of the shoulders? That’s because the lion-hearted Spaniard spent the entire season with a burden on his back.
It was called the Ferrari F2012, and Alonso carried it from day one in Melbourne until day whatever-it-was in Brazil. Alonso himself thought it was his best season ever, two titles notwithstanding, and who are we to differ?
A word, too, for Lewis Hamilton, who was brilliant when he had the car (see below) and almost single-handedly responsible for making F1’s return to America such a brilliant success.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
Has to be Red Bull, pocketing a third successive Constructors’ title thanks to the joint efforts of Messrs Vettel and Webber, who won seven of the 20 races between them.
But McLaren pushed them close, with a couple of brilliant streaks of form – mid-season, Hungary through Italy, and end of season, Abu Dhabi through Brazil – that were punctuated by frustrating and uncharacteristic reliability problems.
The other candidates would be Lotus, for whom the returning Raikkonen was quite simply a revelation. While the French fellow in the other car may have been a little hot-headed at times, the E20 was one of the stunners of the season.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
There are a few candidates here, though Pastor Maldonado’s victory in Barcelona must surely win the vote. Williams had just come off their worst-ever season, there had been shake-ups behind the scenes – and yet here was Sir Frank’s first victory since the last race of 2004, a marvellous 70th birthday present for the long-suffering team principal.
Should Sergio Perez be the other? The young Mexican found blinding speed in one of the other cars of the year, Sauber’s C31, taking brilliant second places in both Malaysia and Monza. And yet... his last six races were pointless, he seemed to lose interest after announcing his move to McLaren, and the sight of him gesticulating at other (usually innocent) drivers had grown quite tiresome by season’s end.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
One name leaps out immediately: that of Mercedes. When Nico Rosberg finally broke his GP duck with victory in round three in Shanghai, many F1 insiders nodded sagely and said “Here we go”.
But the Silver Arrows claimed just two more podium results, one for Rosberg in Monaco and one – the last of his glittering career – for Michael Schumacher in a surprisingly entertaining Valencia race in round eight.
Two events conspire to make us say things have to get better in 2013: Michael’s second departure, this time for good, and the gap that has opened up for Lewis Hamilton to work with Ross Brawn. Will it be a Mercedes marriage made in heaven? Only time will tell...
RACE OF THE YEAR
It’s a pleasure to recall so many of them!
Naturally Albert Park springs straight to mind: Grosjean shocked us with third on the grid ahead of Michael, McLaren locked out the front row (something they would do for a record 62nd time before season’s end) and Red Bull were back on row three.
Mark Webber achieved his best home result of fourth, but it was a brilliant Jenson Button who won the race ahead of Vettel and Hamilton. Alonso’s fifth place suggested Ferrari were off the pace, Kimi came seventh on comeback and the Ricciardo factor was immeasurable.
The young West Australian wore a permanent grin, was a huge hit with the young people in the grandstands on race day, and pulled off the perfect weekend with a last-lap sprint into the points with ninth place on his Toro Rosso debut.
Two places notorious for the difficulty of passing provided two of the other highlights, namely Valencia and Singapore – and yet Valencia disappears next season.
Our top choices are, in fact, the last three races of an absorbing year. Abu Dhabi started the run with a blinder, won by Raikkonen in his comeback season.
Then Austin, Texas, exploded on to the F1 scene with a stunning facility, a can-do attitude, and a race lit up by the high-speed brilliance of Hamilton in pursuit of Vettel.
And last but by no means least, Brazil brought the season to a breath-taking conclusion: the champion-elect spun round and dead-set last on lap one, the other contender again dragging a recalcitrant red car into areas it had no right to occupy, and the outcome in doubt right up to the end.
A three-point margin at the end of 20 rounds – a total of 1192 racing laps – speaks volumes for the qualities of the racing we saw in 2012.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Is GP2 no longer the ideal finishing school for F1 hopefuls? The last three graduates – Grosjean, Perez and Maldonado – are the three hot-heads who incurred the wrath of both race stewards and other drivers most often in 2012...
What’s going on at the back of the grid? The three ‘new’ teams are now three seasons old – and yet to score a single World Championship point among them. What must life be like for drivers such as Kovalainen and Glock, and will any of the three make a forward step in 2013?
Who’s likeliest to spring the big surprise of 2013: Mercedes with the fresh impetus of Hamilton... Ferrari with a car worthy of Fernando... Valtteri Bottas in a Williams that clearly has some grunt... or even Perez in a McLaren alongside super-stylist Button?
And the $64,000 question: does Mark have another assault on the title in him, or is Seb’s grip on that Red Bull team too tight even for Aussie Grit to break?