Saturday, March 17, 2012

Formula 1 Season 2012 Preview

So the 2012 season of Formula 1 is (almost) upon us. This weekend is the kick-off in sunny Australia. 1,5 months after the dramatic finale of Ausie Open, Melbourne hosts the other worldwide famous sport event on the continent.

Image CopyrightGem Tennis

The Albert Park race is one of twelve this year that will not be hosted in Europe. In a bid to make the Formula truly global, Bernie Ecclestone's management team has secured contracts with tracks in Asia, Australia, North and South America. This year the number of races hosted in Europe and in Asia will be the same - 8 each. A representation equality that FIFA cannot afford in its World Cup. As Formula 1 race visits remain prohibitively expensive for most developing countries, except for the Asian Tigers and BRIC, there will be  no races in Africa (the last race on the continent was in 1993). This season will be the longest in the history of the championship with 20 (expected) races, spanning more than eight months between the middle of March and the end of November.

Image Copyright: Wikipedia

 Despite no major rule changes, this is a year of firsts. Besides the length of the competition, this will also be the season with most former champions starting on the grid. The title of Sebastian Vettel will be contested by five other former champions and maybe Massa, Webber, and Rosberg. The overall winners of 14 titles will meet to determine the "King of Kings."
Image Copyright: Yalla F1

The Champions

Sebastian Vettel
Image CopyrightBettor
Titles: 2 (2010, 2011)
GP wins: 21
Pole positions: 30
Nickname: Baby Schumi

The 24-year-old current F1 champion holds most youngest ever records in the series. He was the youngest driver to score points in a race, to achieve a pole position, to win a race, to win the title, and to become a double world champion. In the fight to become triple world champion, Vettel will race Michael Schumacher, whose first title was one in 1994 when Vettel was 7(!). Being a German and an evident F1 fan, Sebastian grew upon supporting Michael. However, once he gets on the track all feelings of respect for MS and Ferrari disappear and Vettel is ready to do whatever it takes to win. He has mixed feelings towards the nickname given to him by some fans. While Seb is pleased to be compared with the Great Michael, he obviously wants to leave his own mark on the history of the formula. 

Funny Quote on the subject: "Well, its just a joke. I've asked my mum and Michael really isn't my father."

Further to being the fastest man on the grid in the last two years and a really great driver, Sebastian is also a "media darling." He willingly gives interviews, always with a big smile on his face. He seems to be able to hold his liquor quite well, an ability necessary to survive the post-race pressures of the F1 grid. The funny video below demonstrates this and his talent of a stand-up comedian.

Expectations for 2012: The pre-season performance seems to suggest that Vettel will gain be very hard to beat. I expect him to retain the title, even though the challengers will be closer than last year.

Jenson Button
Image CopyrightDaily Postal
Titles: 1 (2009)
GP wins: 12
Pole positions: 7

After spending eight uneventful years in F1, Button seemed almost content that he would never be one of the selected few, who become champions. Until the new regulations in 2009 came along and his Ross Brawn-designed car brought him the title. He joined McLaren in 2010 to start a British dream team partnership with Lewis Hamilton. Despite Hamilton's seniority in the team, Jenson managed to repeatedly outperform him in the races and reach the runner-up spot in 2011 (Vettel was untouchable at the top). 

Expectations for 2012: He will be a lot closer to Vettel but not good enough (the qualifications are his big weakness) - a runner up.

Lewis Hamilton
Image CopyrightEzine Mark
Titles: 1
GP wins: 17
Pole positions: 19

A real F1 prodigy. Hamilton's first two years on the grid were particularly eventful. He lost the title in the last race of 2007 and won it 2008 in the last corner of the last GP. After that, however, his form has slumped. A conflict with his father and problems with on-again, off-again singer girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger only amplified his on-track tendency to participate in crashes (usually with Massa). He managed to achieve 3 wins last year but was never even close to challenging Vettel, who won eleven races.

Expectations for 2012: If he sorts his personal problems out maybe he will begin regaining his old form. Since he announced his second brake-up with Nicole last year, he was seen again with her, suggesting that the book is not closed there. This means that he might still be out of it mentally this year. I don't think without his full focus he can be a real competitor this year - third place.

Kimi Raikkonen
Image CopyrightAusmotive
Titles: 1 (2007)
GP wins: 18
Pole positions: 16
Nickname: Iceman

After coming close to challenging Schumacher in 2003, Raikkonen finally managed to become champion himself in 2007 by the narrowest of margins. Kimi won the title for Ferrari by 1 point in the last race, even though just before it he was third. His drop of form in 2008 and especially 2009 led to his retirement from F1.   Two years of WRC disappointment, however, have driven him back to Formula 1 for a meet-up with his old rivals Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso and the (barely adult) prodigy Vettel. Most other F1 stars seem quite excited that Kimi is coming back as he is notorious for his drinking habits. Kimi is known for being specifically economical with word so taking an interview with him is always a formidable task.

Expectations for 2012: The real speed of the new cars is still unclear but it is unlikely that Kimi's Lotus would be able to match Red Bull and McLaren. A position somewhere in top 10 would not be unrealistic. 

Fernando Alonso
Image CopyrightSports Blog
Titles: 2 (2005, 2006)
GP wins: 27
Pole position: 20

A couple of years ago, Alonso was the also the youngest double world champion. His domination with Renault in 2005 and 2006 were among the reasons for Michael Schumacher to retire in 2006. After a disappointing spell with McLaren in which he was never treated with the respect that the reigning double world champion deserves and a brief return to Renault, Alonso ended up taking MS and Raikkonen's position as Ferrari's lead driver. He narrowly missed the title in 2010 and in 2011 managed to completely outperform teammate Massa. 

Expectations for 2012:  Ferrari's new car has probably the most revolutionary of the so called ugly noses but seems not to be fast enough to compete with the Red Bulls during the testing. I expect Nando to be on top of the car again but I'm not sure he can really advance further than forth.

Michael Schumacher
Image CopyrightF1 Zone
Titles: 7 (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)
GP wins: 91
Pole positions: 68

Almost all Formula 1 "most" records belong to one man and that's Michael Schumacher. He is undoubtfully the greatest F1 driver ever and my personal favorite since the very first races I saw back in the 90's. He has the most titles, the most wins, the most pole positions, and ....the list goes on and on. He is the King of F1 but he seems lost lately. MS retired in 2006 but decided to come back in 2010 because Formula 1 is more than a job for him, it is his life - it is what he loves doing. I think the decision to drive for Mercedes is part of the reason why Schumi seems unhappy. Ferrari was his family and being in Mercedes simply cannot compete with that. Both after his first title with Ferrari (2000) and sixth overall (2003) Michael stated that he was not as happy for himself as he is for Ferrari. Driving for Mercedes just seems wrong: MS does not belong there and his heart will always be in Maranello.

Image CopyrightVisit Switzerland
On the funny side of things - Michael is probably the only F1 star that can successfully match Kimi Raikkonen's drinking abilities. MS is a beautiful memory of the romantic Formula 1 of the past - rougher, tougher, less media-friendly. 

Expectations for 2012: I don't think MS has the car to make a successful title challenge but I do hope he will manage to snatch at least one victory before his contract with Mercedes expires at the end of the year. And after that I hope he will just go back home to Ferrari.

If you liked this post, you might like also my post on the new online motorsport show The Grid: The World After TV: The Grid

Who is your favorite among these six current and former champions?

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