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

Advertisements

A Good Month for Bad F1 Anniversaries

Rubens Barrichello makes way to Michael Schuma...

Rubens Barrichello makes way to Michael Schumacher at 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, from English Wikipedia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a terrible month for anniversaries, or maybe a good month for terrible anniversaries.  We have recently passed the anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death on 1 May 1994.  We have progressed onto the 30th anniversary of Canadian daredevil driver, Gilles Villeneuve, at Zolder on 8 May 1982.  Looking for, and failing to find, some more positive anniversaries, I discovered that it is 20 years since Nigel Mansell was in the middle of his 5 race winning streak at the start of his tedious steamrollering of the 1992 World Championship in the active suspension Williams FW14B.    One of the best scenes in the movie Senna is a brief shot of the Williams in a pit garage, with the unmanned car dancing like a hyperactive Transformer, as the mechanics adjust the suspension telemetry.

Talking of unfair advantages, it is exactly 10 years this month since the notorious Austrian Grand Prix held on 12 May 2002.  This was the race in which Rubens Barrichello, leading in his Ferrari, was ordered to move over to allow his illustrious teammate, Michael Schumacher, to pass. This was only the 6th race of the season.  Schumacher had already won 4 of the preceding 5 races and was leading the championship by over 20 points.  David Coulthard’s win at Monaco later that month would be the last occasion in the 2002 season on which any car other than a Ferrari crossed the finish line first.  If ever there was an occasion when team orders were not called for, this was it.  Only when the boos began ringing around the A1 Ring did Schumacher and Ferrari team principal Jean Todt look suitably shamefaced, the German meaninglessly pushing the Brazilian onto the top step of the podium.

As usual, Bernie Ecclestone managed to miss the point entirely.  He commented “I did not like what I saw.  Team orders are only acceptable if the championship is in the balance at the end of the year…They could have come up with something more elegant or more discrete.”  So the problem wasn’t asking Rubens to move over, but that Ferrari made it too blatant.  Fortunately, Ferrari learned their lesson and applied the much more subtle “Alonso is faster than you” tactic in Germany 2010.

It seems inevitable, with such a tight championship challenge, that we will hear more about team orders this season.  Indeed, Lotus has already been criticised for not forcing Romain Grosjean to move aside for Kimi Raikkonen.  At least this year, unlike ten years ago, team tactics are likely to be justified.

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?