Confused by a Season of Contradictions

Nico Rosberg had a good race for Mercedes, fin...

Michael Schumacher – 2012 success and failure Photographer: Adrian Hoskins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The run-up to the British GP, usually close to the mid-point of the F1 season, is traditionally a time for reviewing the lessons of the year so far and the implications for the remaining races.  However, the messages of the 2012 season to date are more confusing than a game of Chinese whispers involving Bane from the new Batman movie.  Here are some of the “push-me-pull-you” stories of the first half of F1 2012:

William’s Pastor Maldonado has matured into a GP winner, genuine front-runner and even, possibly, a potential championship challenger.  He has also taken over the mantle from Lewis Hamilton as F1’s bad boy, with multiple crashes and clashes and more trips to the race control than a man with his y-front elastic trapped on the stewards’ door handle.

The combination of Pirelli tyres, DRS and KERS are making for one of the most exciting ever seasons, with closely fought grids and races and unpredictable results.  Pirelli, DRS and KERS are also ruining F1 2012 with artificial factors and uncontrollable drop off in tyre performance undermining genuine competition and forcing drivers to drive to lap times rather than their true potential.

After 3 years away doing reconnaissance work for the Finnish forestry commission, Kimi Raikkonen’s F1 return has gone better than anyone could have expected, with podium finishes secured and a win surely not far off.  The Finn’s F1 return is also turning sour after being shown the way by almost rookie Romain Grosjean, a Monaco practice sulk and too many failures to capitalise on race winning opportunities.

The Ferrari F2012 is the least effective of the cars produced by the font-running teams, often struggling to make it into Q3.  The Ferrari is also powering Fernando Alonso to a healthy lead in the drivers’ championship.

Michael Schumacher is past it, making rookie errors such as running into the back of Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix and dropping over 50 championship points behind teammate Nico Rosberg after just 8 races this season.  Schumacher’s F1 comeback has also, finally, come to life, with the German securing his first pole and podium since Justin Bieber was a foetus, and having his Championship challenge only undermined by mechanical misfortunes.

Despite some pit-stop mishaps, the McLaren MP4-27 is, overall, both the best looking and the most effective of the 2012 machines, locking out the front row in the first two races of the season and qualifying at or near the sharp end of the grid for the remaining races.  The McLaren also struggles for speed in races, not only against the Red Bull and Ferrari, but has also now fallen behind the Lotus and, on occasion, the Mercedes.

Jenson Button is famously gentle on his tyres.  He is also one of the more cerebral drivers, demonstrating during his time at McLaren how race craft and general awareness can triumph over outright pace.  More than any other driver Button has struggled to cope with the 2012 Pirellis, requiring 3 pit stops in Canada, whist others made it home on just one.  The Brit has also confessed to being “lost and confused” about his race performances.

Jean-Eric Vergne is a prodigious talent and future GP winner, who has been marked for racing success since his father bought him his first kart when he was aged just 4, and who scored points in only his second F1 race.  Vergne has also been a huge disappointment, being the most likely driver to join the 3 F1-B class teams in Q1 failure and committing unprovoked GBH on Heikki Kovalainen’s Catterham at the European GP.

Sebastian Vettel has almost certainly signed a pre-contract agreement to drive for Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso in 2014 and has also almost certainly not signed to drive for Ferrari in 2014. A future London city-centre Grand Prix is a definite possibility and definitely impossible.  All the F1 teams have signed the new Concorde Agreement, apart from those that haven’t, and Mercedes are and are not pulling out of F1 at the end of the season.

Based on the season so far, one thing I can predict about F1 2012 is that I definitely won’t be making any predictions.

FORMULA ONE MUM

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Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton – Ultimately, Class Wins Through

Formula One 2010 Rd.8 Canadian GP: Lewis Hamil...

Formula One 2010 Rd.8 Canadian GP: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing), and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) on opening lap of the race. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a different post to the one I thought I might write.  I was going to comment that, for all the excitement of this season, the variability of tyres, team performance and occasional mishaps were making it difficult to assess the contribution being made by the drivers.  Which drivers are really performing and which are being either flattered or frustrated by circumstances beyond their control?

However, I then took a look at the top of the Championship leader board:  Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton.  That looked about right.  You might debate the order, but few would disagree that the three champions have been the most impressive performers of the year.  Raikkonen is just a step further behind, as he has been in the last couple of races, with Webber and Button bubbling under.  It is reassuring that, even in a season of total unpredictability, the cream, ultimately rises to the top.  This was well illustrated at last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.  Alonso took his previously wayward Ferrari to third, then second, on the grid and within a sniff of victory.  Vettel recovered well from a drive through penalty and Red Bull rhinoplasty.  Hamilton responded with maturity to the loss of pole and demotion to the back of the grid, for which he was blameless, and drove a race of beautifully balanced aggression with tyre and pit stop austerity.

The same was true back in 1983.  Prost, Tamby and Arnoux all made a pitch for the title, with Alboreto, Watson, Patrese and Rosberg also in the winners’ circle, but, in the end, Piquet and Brabham were worthy winners of the driver’s crown.

None of the above is to deny Maldonado and Williams their moment of Spanish triumph, which was about as unexpected as Bernie Ecclestone announcing that he is renouncing all his worldly goods and joining the Poor Sisters order.

With Monaco next, Hamilton is the favourite to join the 5 winners so far, but there are at least 2-3 other drivers – Webber, Raikkonen and, possibly, Grosjean – who it would be surprising if they don’t also win a race sometime soon.   Whoever ultimately wins this year’s F1 title (and I’m still betting on one of the experienced champions) will certainly have earned it against a fiercely competitive field.

FORMULA ONE MUM

Williams F1 2004-2012 – Just History Repeating?

Juan Pablo Montoya driving for Williams at the...

Juan Pablo Montoya driving for Williams at the 2004 US GP. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following Pastor Maldonado’s win in the Spanish GP, many people have commented on the extended gap since the Williams Team last won a F1 race way back in the dim and distant past of 2004.  Of course, much has changed irrevocably in the World over the intervening 8 years.   The news today is almost unrecognisable from the issues that troubled us then.  This is obvious when you look at just some of the headline events from 2004:

  • A High Court judge was conducting a high profile Inquiry into the relationship between politics and the media.
  • In sport, a once proud but now badly cash-strapped nation was hosting the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.
  • Wolves were relegated from the Premier League
  • In international news, Vladimir Putin was re-elected Russian President.
  • The British Prime Minister visited Libya to extend the hand of friendship to the country’s leadership.
  • A less than popular incumbent American President faced an election battle with an even less inspiring opponent.
  • America and her allies were preparing their exit strategy from the War in Afghanistan.
  • In science, England suffered bizarre weather, with both flooding and drought.
  • Astronomers were thrilled to see a rare Transit of Venus.
  • From the world of the arts, Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” was in the news.
  • Superhero movies and sequels topped the film box office.
  • Finally, Michael Schumacher was crowned Formula 1 World Champion (OK, maybe history isn’t always doomed to repeat itself).

FORMULA ONE MUM

The Next Vettel?

Much has been made of there being 6 current or former World Champions on this year’s F1 grid – or 6.00001 if you count Felipe Massa’s 30 seconds as Champion at Brazil 2008.  However, who amongst the current F1 runners and riders has the potential to step up to the plate and be the next big banana, if not in 2012, in some future year.

The various drivers fall into a number of categories.  There are the resounding “no’s”.  Sadly, although he came close in 2010, Mark Webber probably falls into this group.  Even if the RB8, or rather its tyres, are more to his tastes, the Red Bull ‘mo’ is now irresistibly with Vettel.  The ship has also sailed beyond the horizon for both Massa and, again sadly,  Kovalainen.  Nothing that Kobayashi, Petrov, Maldonado and Karthikeyan have contributed so far in their F1 careers suggests that they are on the right side of the Championship  talent curve and Marussia’s Timo Glock will only be World Champion if the Russian People’s Party are in charge of counting the Championship points.

There are then those drivers who haven’t fully had the opportunity to prove themselves, but are definitely teetering on the brink of the ‘no’ skip.  Perez, Senna and, possibly, Grosjean are in this category, although it really would be something special if Senna could perform a resurrection spell on Williams and drag them back into the winners circle.

The rookies – Verge and Pic have to get a “we simply don’t know” marking.  Experience suggests that performance in lower formulae is no indicator of F1 potential.  Given that he was driving an HRT last year, I’d say that we also haven’t yet seen Daniel Ricciardo have the chance to perform in a Grand Prix car.

Who does that leave as possible future Champions?  Despite six years and no wins, I’m willing to keep the faith with ‘Britney’ Rosberg.  It would be cruel to do otherwise.  His performances for Mercedes suggest that he’s at least as good as Michael Schumacher operating at 85% of his previous talent.  Paul Di Resta is entering the “tricky second year”, which often defines a driver’s career and potential.  If he keeps developing and doesn’t drop the ball when in good positions, he might get a move to a leading team.  Nico Hulkenberg sensibly spent his “tricky second year” sitting in the Force India garage.  The only things that any of us remember about his first year in F1 was him securing pole position for Williams in Brazil and being dumped for money-bags Maldonado, neither of which harmed his reputation.  The Force India rivalry looks like one of the more fascinating prospects for 2012. 

Last but not least of the potential recipients of the Champion’s laurels is Spain’s sparkling septuagenarian Pedro de la Rosa.  Assuming he carries on racing until he is 100, he will surely get an opportunity to seize the ultimate prize.

FORMULA ONE MUM

p.s. To be honest, back in his Honda days, I’d have put Button in the past-it ‘no’ category, so what do I know?