Formula 1 2012: The Story So Far

With the 2011 F1 season having come to a close I’m in a very depressed state.  I’m no longer receiving a near bi-weekly fix of fast paced top-tier automotive action that my body requires to survive.  The one consoling fact is that the three months between seasons (December through February) are known as the “Silly Season”.  If you are an F1 anorak like myself then you know what this means, but for those of you new to F1 the Silly Season is the time when drivers and teams change, and rumors swirl like a tornado.   A lot of driver changes have been announced so far, and 2012 looks like a banner year.

Let me start by stating that the 2012 Formula 1 World Champion will be Sebastian Vettel.  I’m not just saying that because I’m a huge fan of the young driver, or because I’m wearing his 2011 champion T-shirt as I write this.  My belief in his successful defense of the World Champion title is based on his past two years of performance, and his past two consecutive World Championships. 

In 2010 the Red Bull RB6 suffered from a few reliability issues and Vettel’s performance was marred by mistakes.  Anyone who saw the Turkish Grand Prix knows what I mean:  Webber and Vettel, who are teammates by the way, crashed into each other while they were running first and second respectively.  Blame can be put on both drivers, but in looking at the mistakes that Vettel made in 2010 compared to 2011 it is quite clear that he is growing into an incredibly mature driver.  2010 was a hard fought battle, while 2011 was a comparative walk in the park.  With Red Bull designer Adrian Newey creating the fastest cars, and Vettel proving himself to be a driver who grows and learns from past mistakes, it is a shoe-in bet to see Vettel successfully claim a third World Championship.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way we can talk about some of the cool developments that are happening in the F1 universe.  First and foremost there are a boatload of driver changes for next year.  As usual the top four teams are keeping their line-ups intact. 

Red Bull have retained both Vettel and Webber which is a great choice as it’s been working for them for 2 years running with back-to-back Constructors Championships.  Webber has to be on his last legs as he just can’t seem to be able to bring the fight to his teammate, so a change there might have been nice. 

McLaren have what I think is the best line-up of the 2012 grid in Button and Hamilton.  Button has been putting in very consistent results (and just seems like an awfully nice bloke) and Hamilton is a former World Champion with something to prove as by all accounts he has had two abysmal seasons for a man of such skill.  McLaren fields two World Champions which is something no other team can say. 

Ferrari is keeping Alonso and Massa, and it must be said in that order.  Alonso is the “bad guy” of F1.  He doesn’t talk much and he races to win each and every time.  Some of my favorite races are where Alonso gets cut off or has some calamity befall him because you can literally sense the anger emanating from his blue and yellow helmet.  When he starts raising his hand and gesticulating at other drivers you just know that he is cursing them in espaňol.  But Alonso and Ferrari are a perfect fit.  The dastardly Spaniard with the great Red Horse.  Truth be told, if Ferrari fields a competitive car Alonso will give Vettel a run for his money.  He didn’t become a double World Champion by sitting back and being friendly.  Massa, on the other hand, is a conundrum.  I have no idea why Ferrari are keeping him around when they could be retaining an up-and-coming young driver.  Do they feel compelled to keep paying Massa out of pity due to the coma he suffered in their car at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2009?  Has Alonso put his foot down and said, “I only want a number 2 driver on my team”?   Whatever the reason, his seat could be given to a more competitive driver and Ferrari clearly doesn’t want to do that. 

Finally, Mercedes remains the same with the line-up of Rosberg and Schumacher.  If Rosberg had a more competitive car I think we would see some great things from him, but as it stands Mercedes hasn’t been able to convert their success as Brawn GP in 2009 into a consistently winning team.  Having Schumacher as their other driver is a great PR opportunity, but it’s time for him to actually retire.  He is the greatest F1 driver to have ever raced, but it’s starting to look sad.  His lack of results is affecting his image, especially amongst younger F1 fans.  His contract expires at the end of the 2012 season, and for his sake I hope they don’t renew it.

The middle pack teams are where some very interesting changes are taking place.  First off, Renault Lotus announced that their ongoing row with Team Lotus has finally been settled and next year they will be the only Louts F1 team on the grid.  Lotus (formerly Renault) has suffered over the past year with their drivers.  Going into 2011 they had a solid line-up with rising star Robert Kubica and young Russian Vitaly Petrov.  Unfortunately Kubica suffered a horrific rallying accident before the season and had to be replaced by Nick Heidfeld.  “Quick Nick” underperformed until half-way through the season when he too was replaced by Bruno Senna (nephew of the great Ayrton Senna) who did a fairly good job for someone coming into a struggling team.  Petrov also didn’t stay out of the headlines, and was quoted as blasting his team for not providing a competitive car.  Suffice it to say that didn’t go over well with his bosses.  For 2012 I was really hoping that Senna would retain his seat, and I thought Petrov’s explosion would be forgiven due to the Russian sponsorship and influence that he brings to the team, but I was wrong on both counts and Lotus F1 has sacked both of them.   

For next year they have lured Kimi Raikkonen (a former World Champion with Ferrari) back into the sport after two years away.  This means that next year there will be six World Champions on the grid, which is an unprecedented number.  Kimi is known for his horrible interview responses, with his best having been when he arrived late to a team announcement because he had to “take a shit”.  He is an asshole, but a fast asshole, so overall a great coup for Lotus.  Their second spot has been filled by a former driver for the team, Romain Grosjean.  Grosjean raced for over half of the 2009 season with the team, and did an absolutely horrible job.  So why have they re-hired him?  It doesn’t hurt that the team principal for Lotus is also Grosjean’s manager.  Nepotism much?  His seat should have been given to Senna who has real promise as a young driver.

My second favorite team (after Red Bull of course), Force India, recently revealed that for the new season they will be keeping their rookie Paul Di Resta and dropping Adrian Sutil in favour of their reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg.  Di Resta did a great job in his rookie 2011 season in F1 and is one of my favorite drivers so it’s very good to see him keeping a seat that he so richly deserves.  Sutil has been with the team for many years, and has put in solid efforts, but is no longer exciting.  “The Hulk”, on the other hand not only has a cool nickname, but also scored an electrifying pole for Williams back in 2010 and it was a travesty that he didn’t have a seat for 2011.  This team, with these two young drivers, is definitely one to watch.

Sauber F1, the forgotten F1 team.  Yes they did better in ’11 than Toro Rosso, but I don’t remember anything memorable that this team has done.  Which is sad as they have one of the best drivers currently on the grid in Kamui Kobayashi.  Kobayashi is one hell of a determined guy, and even though the Sauber C30 wasn’t really a competitive chariot, he was still a driver who you didn’t want to find in your mirrors as he is one of the most aggressive racers on the grid.  He just needs a better ride.  His teammate is Sergio Perez, the sole Mexican driver in Formula 1.  Perez gained his seat along with Sauber announcing a sponsorship deal with Perez’s sponsor Telmex, so you may read into that what you will.

The Red Bull junior team, Toro Rosso, has also completely overhauled their driver line-up for the new season.  Their former drivers, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, were with the team for the past three seasons, and it was rumored that one of them was getting canned at the end of 2011.  In fact both of them were, with the team principal saying that Toro Rosso was a team for young rookie drivers and both Buemi and Alguersuari could no longer be described as rookies.  As the junior Red Bull F1 team, only Red Bull sponsored young drivers would fill their seats, and it is very nice to see Daniel Ricciardo getting a seat in a proper team.  Last year Ricciardo was loaned out to the HRT team halfway through the season to develop his F1 skills.  He performed well in the horrible cars that HRT fielded and consistently beat his team-mate.  For 2012 he will be joined by Jean-Eric Vergne, another up-and-coming Red Bull driver.   In 2011 he raced during a few Friday practices for Toro Rosso, and also set the fastest lap times at the 2011 Young Drivers test for all three days of testing.  Giving these two young guys a chance is exactly what Toro Rosso needs, and it’s nice to see a turn-over at a team that has been the same for too long.

The final team in the mid-field is Williams, which is quite sad as they have won the Constructor’s Trophy many times.  In recent years Williams has been on a downward spiral and it seems nothing they develop ever improves their performance.  This is another team that I am not really a fan of.  For 2012 they currently only have one driver lined up, Pastor Maldonado, who is a stay-over from the previous year.  Maldonado won the F1 feeder series GP2 in 2010, and as happens most years with the winner of GP2, received a place in F1 as a reward.  He had one top-ten finish last season, and I’m surprised he has kept his seat.  The other seat at Williams is currently empty and it is hinted that Rubens Barrichello (who has been with the team for the past two years) has not been asked back for another season.  Rubens has been in F1 for almost 20 years, and has always been a bridesmaid and never a bride.  He was the number 2 at Ferrari when Schumacher was on his crazy World Champion winning streak, and he was also the number 2 at Brawn the year Jenson Button won.  His seat remains vacant and it will be interesting to see who gets it.

The bottom three teams of the past two seasons had initially been laughed at when they joined in 2010.  These teams haven’t gotten any points as yet, but they have all made big improvements since their inaugural season, and 2012 will hopefully see at least one of them move up into the mid-pack to challenge the likes of Williams and Toro Rosso.  The team with the best possibility of this would be Caterham F1 (formerly Lotus) as they have been the best of the worst for the past two years.  Their driver Heikki Kovalainen has been consistently leading his teammate Jarno Trulli in every race, and they are a team with enough financial backing and technical knowhow to actually get into the mid-pack. 

Team Virgin (who will adopt their title sponsor name Marussia for the ’12 season) will keep Timo Glock on the grid but have dropped Jerome D’Ambrosio in favour of the third French driver to race in 2012, Charles Pic.  Little improvement is expected from this team, but at least they are better than HRT. 

The HRT squad is by far the worst in Formula 1, and in a recent statement the team principal said that he didn’t expect to bring the fight to the other teams until 2014 when the rules for the sport are due to change.  Why are they even bothering you might ask?  I have no idea.  Every year they trade their drivers out as frequently as a stick of gum, and for the coming season they have only signed Pedro de la Rosa.  He has been a great test driver for many years at McLaren, but has had an abysmal F1 career.  They will finish dead last next season, and the sad thing is that they admit it.

That’s the round up for what’s happening in the 2012 F1 season.  It’s really nice to see a lot of bright young drivers getting chances to race one another, and this means that there will be a lot of rookie mistakes, which are always epic! 

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~ by ubercar on December 18, 2011.

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