Formula 1 2012 review: in talking points

More than anything the 2012 Formula 1 season will be remembered for being the third straight season in the sport where it wasn’t engulfed by a major off-track controversy. Sure there was Bahrain’s contentious return, talk of an F1 floatation, speculation galore about Bernie Ecclestone’s and indeed F1’s future. However, nothing that made bigger news than the racing itself. Think of this running counter as the notice board in some workshops that list the number of days that have passed without an accident!

Hopefully F1’s counter will run long beyond the three that it is at now. In the meantime, here are some on-track stories that were worth remembering.

1) Sebastian Vettel: It’s true; statistics don’t tell the full story. Even so, Sebastian Vettel’s F1 career stats make for incredible reading. 101 races, 26 wins, 46 podiums, 36 pole positions and three successive world championships. By all means, laud Fernando Alonso’s incredible determination and acknowledge Lewis Hamilton’s bad fortune but take nothing away from the 25-year-old German’s speed, consistency and ability to make the most out of being at one of the best run (and most well-funded) team on the grid.

2) Adrian Newey: During the Indian Grand Prix, seasoned F1 journalists acknowledged that should Red Bull take both titles again, it would be Newey’s greatest triumph as it was achieved after he “had his toys taken away from him.” They were referring to the FIA banning off-throttle blown diffusers and re-position the exhaust outlets on cars for 2012 following the team’s complete domination of the 2011 season. The fact that Red Bull were able to out-develop their rivals in the second half of the season yet again was as much down to their ballooning budget as Newey’s skill as an F1 designer that was evident during his stints at Williams and McLaren too.

3) Fernando Alonso: The Spaniard’s ability to drive well-beyond his car’s capabilities had been on display since his 2008 return to Renault. And yet the double world champion still left fans and journalists shaking their heads in disbelief. Especially after his wins at Sepang and Valencia. His pearls of ‘samurai wisdom’ on Twitter added another layer in Alonso’s gritty championship campaign. Even if you’re not registered on the micro-blogging site, this is a Twitter handle worth keeping an eye on.

4) McLaren ‘falling apart’: The team isn’t undergoing a crisis but reliability issues and pit-stop gaffes hampered the championship campaigns of Jenson Button, and in particular, Lewis Hamilton who at many points of the season looked the man to beat for 2012. It’s been a series of ‘what-ifs’ after Hamilton’s title win in 2008 as he sets off to try and breathe some life into Mercedes AMG. After being outscored 672 points to 657 by Button in their three seasons as teammates (10 wins to Hamilton, 8 to Button) Hamilton may think he’ll have a teammate to assert his authority on in Nico Rosberg. However, renowned racing driver coach Rob Wilson has warned people against writing off the 2005 GP2 champion’s chances against the man he competed against in F3 Euroseries with some success.

5) Resurgent Massa: The man who lost the 2008 drivers’ title at the last corner of the last lap of the season seemed to finally wake up from the after-effects of his near career-ending accident in Hungary in 2009. Massa was a lightning rod for criticism before the summer break, after which he scored 97 of his season tally 122 points over the final nine races of the year. It went a long way in helping Ferrari beat McLaren to second place in the constructors’ standings. May sound like fighting over scraps but the difference between the amount of money awarded from the annual prize fund is in excess of $10 million. Every small fortune counts in F1.

6) Lotus blooms: It says something about how unexpected the success of Lotus through Kimi Raikkonen’s superb comeback was when the team couldn’t pay the Finn his bonus on time. The team formerly known as Renault (formerly known as Benetton, formerly known as Toleman) publicly admitted that it didn’t expect Raikkonen to score as many points as he did, let alone win the Abu Dhabi GP while dropping one of the best bits of driver to team interactions of all time. Lotus must be breathing a sigh of relief at having secured the services of a bonafide F1 superstar to carry them forward in the wake of Robert Kubica’s horrific rallying crash. Even if it is only for 2013 as of now.

7) Mercedes’ disappearing act: Michael Schumacher’s qualifying performances in the first third of the season and Nico Rosberg’s win in China and strong second place at Monaco must have had the team thinking that third place in the constructors’ standings was a distinct possibility. However, Schumacher became a magnet for not only mistakes by the team but also unreliability that saw the team lose out on anywhere from 50 to 60 points, by team principal Ross Brawn’s own admission. Rosberg admitted that the team hit a wall in terms of competitiveness after Valencia where both he and Schumacher were the fast enough to overcome the W03’s consistent tyre wear issues in the final segment of a thrilling race. Whether this was because the focus shifted to 2013 (and more importantly 2014) or because the team fell behind is immaterial at this point. And perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise that Norbert Haug announced that he was stepping down as Mercedes’ motorsport chief after 22 years.

8) Seven different flavours: Would you have believed it if someone told you that seven drivers from five teams would win the first seven races of the season while watching Vettel pound the field into submission in 2011? The banning of off-throttle blown diffusers and the tweaking of Pirelli’s tyre compounds meshed perfectly with a field of extremely talented drivers at varying stages of their careers. Raikkonen’s win pushed the season tally of different podium toppers to eight but Sergio Perez and Schumacher could have easily pushed it to ten. Hopefully F1’s powers that be will further push aerodynamic equalization and budget capping.

9) Midfield might: It was a year when Sauber and Force India were on the verge of winning a race on merit and when Williams recovered from the rubble of the 2011 season to perform strong (depending on which Pastor Maldonado turned up at a race weekend). Not to mention that both those teams featured renowned drivers with excellent records in F1’s ladder series, as shown by Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg. Sauber and Force India have also been successful in building loyal fan bases, which bodes well for them in the future, especially if making a profit out of involvement in F1 can be made easier than it is at the moment.

10) Austintatious: There are some countries that deserve an F1 round and others that the sport’s powers-that-be feel need to be a part of the calendar. The United States of America is a country that falls in both categories. The on-track and off-track success of the US Grand Prix in Austin could lead to American fans needing F1 to be a part of the country’s diverse and vibrant motorsport scene. It’s well down the line, of course, especially since races like the 1991 and 2005 edition are still fresh in people’s memories. However, the natural growth of F1’s popularity paired with further steps to make the racing closer and cars more environmentally advanced could lead to a purple in the sport’s history.

On that hopeful note, here’s wishing all motorsport fans a Happy New Year.

Happy trails everybody (even though it’s non-F1)!

About Vinayak Pande

Motorsport journalist.
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