Wednesday 19 December 2012

Final thoughts on 2012: The year that F1 went crazy

Imagine you were the racing gods and could write the script for an F1 season, what would it include? Exciting races, no doubt. Competitiveness may be high on your list, both among the nominal front-runners as well as plenty of competitors able to provide a surprise interloper presence at the front on certain days, resulting in a multitude of drivers and teams getting a win. Top quality driving too, with maybe three or four drivers providing magnificent displays almost every time, and others having ample impressive races. And the championship battle would be exhilarating and tight, have plenty of ebb and flow and be between several teams. It would also not be decided until the last, in a finale which if anything surpasses what came before. Well, the 2012 F1 season had all of these and more. Surely it will go down in history as a great one.

The 2012 F1 season will surely go down as a great one
Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
In many ways the year was a continuation of F1's brave new world started in 2011. For that season the powers that be finally worked out that most of us thought that F1 racing bereft of racing cars racing each other didn't make for a diverting Sunday afternoon. And they went and did something about it; desperate times brought desperate measures with DRS, KERS and degrading Pirelli tyres. And say what you like about it but it certainly worked, with overtaking skyrocketing to levels not seen at any point since such things started to be measured. Suddenly F1 was not a resolution of pre-ordained strategy and fuel levels, races were no longer decided 'at the last stops'. 'Fake!' shouted the purists, but personally I'd much rather defend that point than defend dull races. And frankly the good ship of F1 purity sailed long ago (see narrow track, grooved tyres, downsized engines, parc ferme after qualifying, resource restriction etc etc).

But there were a couple of things missing last year if one was being greedy. One is, the F1 championship title destination was decided early, both metaphorically and literally. Another is that battle at the front had got rather samey. Aside from two early-season Enstone podium runs, only the 'big five' (Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Button and Alonso) got onto the podium in 2011. And we had to go back to the Brawns in 2009 for the last time something other than a Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari won a race. We had to go back to Mark Webber's victory in Germany in mid-2009 for the last debut winner. These drawbacks were sorted emphatically this year.

Saturday 15 December 2012

My Top Ten Drivers of 2012: The Rest...

Here are my views on those F1 drivers from 2012 who didn't make my top 10 ranking I published a few days ago.

My top 10 drivers of 2012 can be read here.

From about seventh place downwards in my ranking a number of drivers were in close contention with each other. Those who came particularly close to making the top 10 (in no particular order) were Sergio Perez, Michael Schumacher, Pastor Maldonado and Paul Di Resta.

Credit: Morio / CC
Sergio Perez is perhaps the most glaring omission from the final cut, given his season featured three memorable podium runs in Malaysia, Montreal and Monza. There he showed astounding confidence and verve and found pace to sail through the field like he was operating with different laws of physics to anyone else, and further he gets his big break for 2013 with a move to McLaren. But Sergio's problem is that an F1 season lasts 20 races, and aside from the three races mentioned there wasn't a great deal to write home about. There was one good race (Hockenheim), a couple more in which he was unlucky to start at the back (Melbourne and Monaco) and three more where first lap contact put him to the back (Spain) or wiped him out altogether (Spa and Brazil). But in the remaining races you'd hardly know that he was there.

And worse, in the latter part of the year and with a signed McLaren contract in his pocket he threw errors into the mix too. He binned it in Suzuka (trying to pass Lewis Hamilton - the guy he's replacing next year - no less) then making what looked avoidable contact with other cars in each of the next four races. Rumour has the top brass at Sauber believing that Perez is inconsistent, and that the C31 was a better car than he tended to make it look. And what about those podium runs themselves: how much of those were down to Perez's driving and how much down to the peculiar magic touch of the C31 on the Pirelli tyres if voodoo-like factors aligned? Next year, in the McLaren glare, we'll start to get answers to some of these questions. Of course, it's a fantastic opportunity and he is young and has time to improve. But at the very least all at McLaren would be forgiven for having some doubts about its new charge. Indeed, some recent comments from Martin Whitmarsh seem to betray as much.

This year we finally witnessed the swansong of the great Michael Schumacher. Debates about the wisdom of his comeback will continue to rage no doubt, but this year Schumi continued his year-on-year improvement since his return in 2010, and for the most part drove more than respectably. The qualifying gap between him and Rosberg was closed for the first time, and he was often the more convincing in races too, particularly in the year's mid-part when the lemon-like characteristics of the W03 became obvious. The main problem Schumi had was that intangible quality called luck. The opening round in Melbourne summed up his season: he qualified fourth (ahead of his team mate) and was running strongly in third...then his hydraulics went. In no fewer than six of the first seven rounds something impeded or stopped Schumi through little fault of his, and over the piece there were five mechanical retirements for him (compared to Rosberg's big fat zero). Without the bad luck it would have been fascinating to see if he could have beaten Rosberg's points total.

Thursday 13 December 2012

F1 Bloggers' Driver of the Year 2012

Recently asked a number of F1 bloggers (including my good self) to vote for their top F1 drivers of 2012. Each blogger was asked to submit a top ten ranking of drivers, and points were allocated based on the F1 scoring system. The results are outlined below, and you'll see that one Fernando Alonso emerged as the winner.

Apparently it was dominant too, him gaining around 25% more points than the 2012 World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

The full list is in the infographic below. I admit the comments are too small to be read by the average human eyeball; they can be read more easily here: It even includes a comment from me...

It's not too far off my own top 10 (available to read here), though clearly other bloggers rated Sergio Perez's season higher than I did. It all seems terribly harsh on Paul Di Resta too.

Image source: MoneySupermarket Car Insurance

Saturday 8 December 2012

My Top Ten Drivers of 2012

Here is my personal top ten F1 drivers of the 2012 season, seeking to take into account their performance under the circumstances and the machinery they had access to. A run down of my views on the drivers who didn't make the top ten will follow in the next few days.

Credit: / CC
1. Fernando Alonso
A simply stunning season. Fernando Alonso spent 20 races scaling sheer cliff edges in his F2012, and it was an effort that so nearly took him to the high peak of the world title, a title which surely have gone into history as just about the most impressive and unlikely ever.

But, fortunately, championships aren't everything and this is a year wherein Alonso surely made the decisive, and most likely irreversible, stride from being an excellent contemporary performer into being an all-time great. It's certainly genuinely difficult to cite more impressive seasons of driving from F1's history by anyone. If you don't believe me just ask yourself this: has anyone ever come so close to winning the world championship in a car that wasn't the quickest in any round? I don't believe anyone has.

Despite having a car that over the year was no better than third best, in 2012 Alonso was always fighting, always on form, always sharp and aggressive in the overtake as well as in defence; even after 20 races it's hard to point out an off-day of his. Race performances that beggared belief roll off the tongue: somehow hauling the difficult machine to fifth in Melbourne, the quick and flawless win under pressure in Malaysia, the astonishing rise to grab a home win in Valencia, the masterful controlling of the Germany race ahead of quicker cars on his tail, the implausible and imperturbable splitting of the Red Bulls and hunting down of Vettel in India, to name just a few. And the F2012 was a machine that gave him much to do on a Sunday (if it didn't rain). Only once did Alonso start on the front row after a dry qualifying session (Spain) and even then only thanks to Lewis Hamilton getting a grid drop. Only in Canada and Italy did a fight for the front row look even possible. Yet, watching Alonso make up lost ground in the opening laps of race after race was extraordinary, and galling demonstration of what a top-level driver at the top of his game looks like.

Further, even though he was almost always at the outer edges of adhesion there were almost no errors either. The closest he came to one was at the start in Japan, when the tiniest tickle from Kimi Raikkonnen's front wing on his rear tyre put him out, but even there the driving was slightly imprudent rather than egregious. And the extent that some sought to pounce on it only underlined its rarity.

Fernando Alonso's equilibrium at Ferrari is a clear contributory factor to his mighty driving, though the Scuderia would be well advised not to test his patience waiting for a competitive car yet further. But the team can be content though that it doesn't have to worry about its driver; if it provides Alonso with a machine that's half as good as he deserves it to be then championships will follow. He demonstrated as much this year.

Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
2. Lewis Hamilton
Were you to judge purely from the points standings, Lewis Hamilton's season looks little better than his annus horribilis of 2011: fourth in the table and close to 100 points shy of the summit. But you know what they say about lies, damned lies and statistics.

This year we witnessed a supreme bouncing back of Lewis to his formidable best. For the first time since his stellar debut season he put together a campaign to match it, perhaps even to surpass it, in terms of consistent quality and decisive racing.

Lewis retained his status and F1's quickest, most exciting and instinctively talented performer this year. But the frequent ill-judgement of the last campaign, along with the discontented figure out of the car, was shorn. After a 2011 year where he, in his own words, had a loyalty card with the stewards, Lewis didn't so much as receive a reprimand from the stewards this year. The overtaking was crisp, aggressive and still frequent, but always clean. Lewis also managed to show suitable intelligence and restraint to manage a race on the limited-resource Pirellis (underlined by him driving close to half the Barcelona race on a single set, and was still quick). And what we ended up with was a mighty and complete F1 driver.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Talking about F1's Competition in Partnership with FreestyleXtreme

2012 has been another incredible year in Formula 1. The racing has been closer this year than ever and with and with plenty of overtaking it was a year to remember. Codemasters have recently launched the Formula 1 2012 game for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, and we've a copy available to win.

We've partnered with Europe's largest action sport store, FreestyleXtreme ( to offer you an incredible competition to win a copy of the game as well as Alpinestars clothing.

To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is answer the following question.

Which team does Fernando Alonso drive for?
A) Red Bull Racing-Renault
B) Scuderia Ferrari
C) Force India

Please send the right answer to me at by the 16th of December 2012. One lucky winner will be chosen at random to win a copy of the game (for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 or PC, you can choose which) as well as the Alpinestars clothing, and will be notified by email on the same day. Good luck!

Monday 3 December 2012

Sebastian Vettel 2012 World Champion: What has he got to do?

What have I got to do to make you love me? What have I got to do to be heard?

Odd I know to start an article about F1 with an Elton John lyric (or, to be strict about it, a lyric by Bernie Taupin). But Sebastian Vettel would be forgiven for thinking such things right now. He won this year's world drivers' title, his third in total as well as his third in three years which only Fangio and Schumacher had done before, yet you'd hardly know it. Beyond the Red Bull team and Seb's/Red Bull's coteries of supporters much of the reaction has been rather muted, almost resentful in some quarters. To borrow a little more from Bernie (not the F1 one): it's a sad, sad situation, and it's getting more and more absurd.

Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
What does he have to do, as I said? And further, the more you dig into the achievements the more remarkable they become: it's Seb's third championship from only five full years in the sport, and just four in a front-running car (indeed, had FIA's decision on the double diffuser gone the other way - and many thought it should have - Seb could be celebrating four from four). And Seb's done it from the front: he's triumphed 26 times (from just 101 starts) in a field that has good claim to being F1's most talented ever, and has almost always been a contender at the head of the pack. Seb is no cruise and collect points-gatherer.

All the while Seb has developed into a driver with just about everything. The speed and precision that he can turn on like it is on tap are well-established, and this is allied to intelligence, industry and increasing demonstration of his ability to race. Seb is a great ambassador for the sport too: a well brought up, friendly and responsible guy who is refreshingly open (for an F1 driver) with the media.

And while, yes, Seb has often had an excellent set of wheels to call on for much of that time, surely only a churl would argue that Seb isn't also personally bringing something to the party. If nothing else, where has Mark Webber (no slouch he) been when all this has been going on? Seb's up 25-9 on wins in their four years sharing a stable, as well as is 3-0 up on titles of course. If you're still not convinced, I invite you take a look at the entire list of F1 world champions since 1950, and count the number who won it without the best car (or close to the best). You'll likely not need more than the fingers of one hand.

And, oh yeah, did I mention that he's just 25? In F1 history only Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso had won any world championships at that age, and in either case it was just the one. If the past is any sort of guide then Seb's a good six or seven years shy of his peak even now. There's a long way to go of course and nobody knows what lays ahead, but it's not outrageous to say that even Schumi's stratospheric records might be vulnerable. One can only imagine what sort of force Seb might end up as.