F1: A season of winners
Last season, it had been all about Sebastien Vettel. From pole to finish in most of the races, Vettel dominated almost every race. At the start of the 2012 season, things were expected to be a bit tougher for Vettel in his Red Bull than last season, but the results were not expected to change. One could never have counted out the fact that there were six former world champions in the driver’s line up and that could have always led to a surprise. And boy, not only did the surprises happen but they came from the most unexpected quarters. The season saw eight different drivers winning, in fact seven different drivers won the opening seven races of the season. A recap of all the different winners.
McLaren were one of the teams expected to pose any serious challenge to the supremacy of the Red Bulls. The first race of the season in Melbourne just strengthened this belief. Jenson Button started in the front row of the grid alongside fellow McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton and drove a solid race to win the first race of the season. The McLaren excelled in the tropical conditions of Australia because it was one of the few cars on the grid which was able to preserve its tyres, a trend which would benefit the team in the races held in the Asian countries. Button, though, could not build up on the momentum from the victory in the first race, as he had 4 races where he failed to score a single point and which undermined his title challenge. But in the first race in the post mid season break, the improved aerodynamics and grip in his car came to his rescue to enable him to win his first ever Belgian Grand Prix in his career. Again people started to expect him to bounce back, but he could not stay in the winning groove and eventually had to battle it out for fifth place in the championship. But finally in Brazil, in the last race of the season, while the spotlight was on the championship battle raging on between Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Vettel, Button quietly stole away to claim his third win of the season at a damp Interlagos circuit to cap a season that saw many ups and downs.
2. Fernando Alonso
For many people, he was the driver who really deserved the title this year. Alonso gave everything he had in a bid to seal his third driver’s championship. The pre-season testing had made one thing clear: that Ferrari were going to have a really tough time developing a car which could pose a challenge for winning the title. In the end, it would all come down to how the two drivers would handle their cars.
And Ferrari did surprise one and all in the second race of the season itself. Alonso drove a very composed race in the wet conditions to seal his first win of the season. He was helped by the fact that Ferrari managed to get heat into his tyres a lot more quickly than the other teams, which helped them to just about stay in front as Alonso gave a display of his champion qualities by not getting flustered under pressure from rookie Sergio Perez. Every track which had cool climatic conditions proved to be Ferrari’s happy hunting ground as Alonso won races in Germany and Valencia to stay put in the championship. But it was not in his destiny to seal the title, for despite all his efforts he still lost the title to Vettel by only three points. Another season, another heartbreak for the Spaniard.
3. Nico Rosberg
Mercedes had been titled as a firecracker which would provide lots of entertainment, but which proved to be a damp squib. They headed into the season trying to shake off this tag but the signs did not look good for them. They had struggled for pace in the testing, but out of the blue, they pulled off one of the surprises of the season in China. Taking a surprise pole, Rosberg kept the rest of the pack at bay to take the first ever win of his career and for Mercedes as a team. But then problems started affecting them one by one, the most major of them being the lack of tyre temperature generation in the early part of the race which scuppered their season.
4. Sebastien Vettel
Vettel came into the season a firm favourite for the title; what with all the pace that Red Bull had shown in the pre season testing, he was expected to dominate once again. But Red Bull did take time to get going. It was only in Bahrain, in the fourth race of the season, that Vettel was able to post a win, that too in a race in which Kimi Raikkenon almost overhauled him. Despite that, he still struggled to find the form of last season and was 37 points behind Alonso at one stage, when the Red Bull really came into its own. 4 races and 4 wins in a streak that started in Singapore and ended in India, Vettel turned in one flawless performance after another as he quickly cut the gap between himself and Alonso (also aided by some poor results for Alonso) and the Red Bull gave us a delightful display of its aerodynamically fast car and strong cornering abilities to reach into a comfortable position in the title race. Vettel kept his cool in the last race to win his third straight driver’s title.
5. Pastor Maldonado
Definitely the surprise of the season; Williams had been fading away over the last few years, a team which was once right up there with Ferrari was now a shadow of itself, but in Spain they showed why they have such an illustrious history. Pastor Maldonado surprised one and all by taking a pole position; but that was just a part of their most successful weekend in 8 years. An unbelievably good drive by Maldonado who showed his talent by holding off Alonso in the dying stages of the race to win the fifth race of the season and once again reinvigorate a slumping Williams team. Yes, lack of funds did affect the car’s development, but the drivers themselves did not make the most of the resources at hand, a fact proved by the point that Maldonado himself failed to score a single point in the next 9 races after the win.
6. Mark Webber
Ever since Vettel had joined Red Bull in 2009, Webber had remained in his shadow. He was expected to lead the team from the front, but it was a role that Vettel had taken over from him. A new season brought new expectations for the Aussie veteran, but he again got off to a slow start. It was not until Monaco where he drove a flawless race to win from pole and ignite his title aspirations. Another win in Silverstone helped him to stay in the hunt as he utilized the strong cornering abilities of the Red Bull to stay within reach of Alonso; but a trademark poor second half of the season saw him fall behind and once again had to be content to remain second fiddle to Vettel in the closing races.
7. Lewis Hamilton
Many considered Hamilton as the one man who would upstage Vettel this season. The McLaren’s pace in a straight line and cornering ability, which was nearly up there with Red Bull, combined well with Hamilton’s aggressive driving style and results began to pay off immediately in qualifying as he took pole position in the first two races but had to be content with two podium finishes. In fact, it took him six races before, in the seventh race of the season in Canada, he managed his first win of the season. From there, his season once again took off as he had a great mid season period where he sealed another couple of wins in Hungary and Italy. But unfortunately for him, reliability issues began plaguing him and had to suffer 5 retirements, 3 of them from winning positions. He did end the season with a win at Austin, in the second last race of the season and his last win as a McLaren driver to end the season fourth in the standings. Who knows, had he converted those retirements into victories, maybe it would have been Hamilton who would be crowned World Champion and not Vettel!
When news of Raikkonen’s return was announced, a lot of people started thinking that he would go the Schumacher way. And qualifying seventeenth in his comeback race did not exactly help allay those fears. But he drove a typical cool drive to finish seventh. But despite all the expectations from Lotus and six podium finishes, Raikkonen struggled to find a win. In fact, Lotus’s challenge started to wane in the latter half of the season due to lack of any major upgrades to the car while the rest of the field was constantly developing, but in Abu Dhabi in race which started in the evening and ended under the lights, Raikkenon took over from Hamilton who retired on lap twenty from the race lead to seal a spectacular win, and set him up well for the last two races and the 2013 season.
It was, in the end, a brilliant season, peppered with brilliant drives from many drivers; and if this season was such a good one, I can only imagine how good the 2013 season will be!