Monday, November 26, 2012

F1 season review

Last night the year’s F1 season got over. This year’s was the most exciting season that I’ve seen since I started to follow formula1 racing in 2004-05. I remember those days when many of the races were just processional as there was little overtaking. The better cars would be in the front in qualifying and so in the main race. But this year, not only were there more overtakings because of DRS and KERS but the cars have become more competitive that there were 7 different winners in the first 7 races. Red Bulls, McLarens, and Ferraris were not just fighting with each other but teams like Lotus, Sauber, Force India, Williams, and Mercedes were throwing up tough challenges. The smaller teams were also having smaller battles of their own at the back.

There were those days when there was competition between tyre makers Michellin and Bridgestone. But they are no match for the excitement that the one and only Pirelli tyres deliver. The fast degrading Pirelli tyres posed the challenges of not only choosing the right tyre (Wet, Medium, Hard, Intermediate…)but also which team will conserve them best; make them last a little longer. It made a huge difference for example, when Alonso became a sitting duck for Perez to drive round him at Montreal. Sauber did a good job in making the tyres last longer than rivals.

The year belongs to Red Bull Racing as they ran away with both the constructors and driver championships. Vettel had his problems early on but midway through the season, Red Bull and Vettel were said to have found their ‘mojo’ and Vettel won four races in a row. But was it Vettel all the way or he simply drove a superior car? The Red Bull car is said to have weakness in terms of straight line speed but superior downforce it generates helps around the bends. At one point, Alonso said he’s not only competing with Vettel, but with Adrian Newey arguably the best f1 car designer of all times. But full credit and respect goes to Vettel for his unquestionable skills and his lovable personality. His victory celebrations were nice to watch even if he had beaten your man.

McLaren started the season strong but were inconsistent. Retirements, goof-ups at pit stop (less than last year though), and weaker team spirit (I think) were responsible. Hamilton’s temperament gets the better of him whichever team he joins. He joins Mercedes next year but I don’t think he’ll be a title contender next year also. He was on the hunt early on and had a good car but Raikkonen despite not winning a race till then, overtook him in the driver standings.

Kimi Raikkonen drove as if he never left formula1. When we judge in terms of driver skills, the philosophical iceman is still someone at the top. He won a much deserved race at Abu Dhabi (of course, courtesy of Hamilton’s retirement), a reward for his consistency. He finished the season a fine third.

Massa took almost the whole year to recover. Since his injury, he was never himself. The last few races were his saving grace at Ferrari and his last home race at Interlagos was a teary-eyed one, finally at the podium.

Nico Hulkenberg, the former gp2 champion is someone to look forward to in the coming years. His car and his points perhaps do not reflect how talented this guy is. Some people question if his move from Force India to Sauber is a move to a similar car. Sergio Perez is also an upcoming driver who is very lucky to be joining McLaren alongside Button. But since his announcement to McLaren, his performance has been average. Can he live up to the standard of McLaren? We’ll see.

Maldonado and Grosjean were the fiery boys who can be on fire for a good reason, and then do stupid things. If Grosjean had not created that mayhem at Spa for which he was banned for a race, who knows where Alonso might have finished at the end of the season? Champion? But mistakes and accidents are all part and parcel of the game and it’s no use to linger on what might have been.

What about Narain Karthikeyan, the lone Indian driver? He was hardly on television during the entire season. There are splits of seconds when we see other cars overtaking him when he’s a lap down or when he’s crushing out. Sorry.

Schumacher should not have come back, some people say. But it’s up to him to announce a third or fourth retirement if there are teams who want him. But it’s also a fact that not only his car wasn’t that good; but there is a younger generation of very talented drivers in the circuit.

And now about Alonso. Vettel was the champion but Alonso was clearly the best driver of the season. The best driver of all times? Well, chances are. Ferrari had a bad car at the start of season. It was much slower than the Red Bulls and the McLarens. But somehow, he bridged the gap with his sheer talent. Race after race he surprises with his moves despite qualifying further back in the grid. He squeezed the last drop of juice out of the Ferrari car, race in and race out. Midseason, the car improved but was still inferior to the rival teams. Since his successive wins at Renault (when I started supporting him), he had been losing the championship in the last race of the year, I think for the third time this year….this time again by a narrow margin of 3 points. He’ll continue to fight, a fighter that he is. We don’t know how much change there will be in the cars next year. No one stays young forever and age is not on his side compared to his rivals. Have we seen the best of Alonso in 2012? The best that he’ll ever be?