2012 Formula One season – the ultimate review

December 6, 2012 6:00 pm

The 2012 Formula One season gave us eight different Grand Prix winners driving for six different teams, and a season long duel for the title crown between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

How will the season be remembered?

In this feature, we pick the best, most memorable and worst moments of the 2012 season, along with views from around the world and a ‘Top Ten’ driver ranking to summarise what has been a truly extraordinary year of sport.

THAT battle will be a reason 2012 goes down as a classic…but not the only one

(L-R) Action abounded aplenty in 2012, from the battles between Caterham and Marussia, to the wet conditions that produced mixed grids for the British and German Grand Prix in July. Lewis Hamilton strategically out-thought both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to win his first race of the year in Canada.

GREAT MOMENTS

25th March, Closing stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix

After a chaotic and confusing rain-affected race, it was left to Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez to fight it out for honours at the Kuala Lumpur track. Alonso kept his head while Perez ate into his lead, but the Mexican slid wide and lost enough time for Alonso to scrape home to win his first race of the season. Nevertheless, it was excellent to see the ‘old-hand’ up against the fresh, new talent and was the first of three podium finishes for Perez in 2012.

13th May, Finish of the Spanish Grand Prix

Pastor Maldonado’s finely judged victory in Barcelona was the first for Williams since 2004, and a day many believed may never come. That it arrived on the weekend of Frank Williams’ 70th birthday was almost divine intervention – in reality it was down to the excellence of Maldonado on that particular weekend, staving off Fernando Alonso who was desperate to win his home event. The garage fire that caused so much anguish hours after the race finished was upsetting, but Williams has had dark days before and come through the other side – this will be no different.

24th June, Valencian Podium

The emotion exhibited by Fernando Alonso on the podium was uncharacteristic, the Spaniard reduced to tears by the reaction of his home crowd to his incredible win from 11th on the grid. That it was aided by the retirements of Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean mattered not.

22nd July, German Grand Prix

Alonso again; this time holding off the combined assault of Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel for the full 67 laps. Masterful, brilliant and totally unflappable. Fernando at his very best.

28th October, Abu Dhabi podium

Lewis Hamilton should have won this race, but Mclaren’s reliability woes put paid to his hopes. Step forward, Kimi Raikkonen! After the obligatory podium formalities, the intrepid David Coulthard stepped forward to interview the winners. Cue the now infamous Youtube hit ‘People have been giving me sh*t.’ comment by Kimi…

25th November, Brazilian Grand Prix

As finales go, we couldn’t have asked for one better; action, drama, highs, lows, the championship advantage swinging one way and then another. The fact Vettel only secured it in the dying moments just made it perfect. Unless of course you were an Alonso fan.

(L-R) Fernando Alonso worked miracles in an uncompetitive Ferrari amongst the tightly-packed order of the field, but it was Sebastian Vettel who snatched his third world title.

(L-R) Accidents added to the tension and excitement of the 2012 season, even Michael Schumacher not immune to the dangers of a wet track at Hockenheim, and eventual World Champion Sebastian Vettel also fell victim in Brazil. By far the most horrifying however was Romain Grosjean’s over-zealous move at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix.

BAD MOMENTS

25th March, Halfway through the Malaysian Grand Prix

After a solid enough start to the rain-affected Malaysian race Sebastian Vettel, World Champion and role model for younger racers, blotted his copybook by losing his front wing after hitting Narain Karthikeyan’s slower HRT car. That in itself wasn’t the problem – Vettel calling the blameless Indian an ‘Idiot’ most certainly was.

19th April, Thursday before the Bahrain Grand Prix

There had been vociferous criticism of the decision for the Bahrain race to go ahead, given the delicate political situation in the country in the wake of the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ that saw the event cancelled. Things got worse when Force India mechanics, returning from the circuit on Thursday evening, were caught in a bomb blast as Police fired upon protestors. It was an ugly incident that reminded everyone that not even Formula One was above local politics. Thankfully, no-one was seriously hurt.

13th May, around one hour after the end of the Spanish Grand Prix

In the midst of celebrations following Williams’ remarkable Barcelona triumph, things turned sour when a sudden fire broke out following an explosion in the winning team’s pit garage. A hurried evacuation saved lives but couldn’t save much of Williams’ equipment, both cars also being damaged. A sad ending to an otherwise triumphant weekend.

22nd July, penultimate lap of the German Grand Prix

As if calling a backmarker an ‘Idiot’ wasn’t enough, Sebastian Vettel stirred up more controversy by overtaking Jenson Button off the road for 2nd place at Hockenheim and earning a post-race time penalty that dropped him to 5th. Branding Lewis Hamilton ‘stupid’ for un-lapping himself from the Red Bull earlier in the race also didn’t go down well in the Mclaren camp…

2nd September, first corner of the Belgian Grand Prix

Romain Grosjean had already got into a few notable scrapes prior to the Belgian Grand Prix; what happened at Spa topped all those in horrifying style. Squeezing Lewis Hamilton against a wall was a questionable start, but the instant he made contact things were always going to end badly. Crunching into the back of the Sauber cars catapulted him across the nose of championship leader Alonso. The shaken Spaniard was inches away from losing his head and a furious Hamilton gave the reckless Frenchman a piece of his mind – all in all the crash eliminated five drivers from the race at the first corner. The one race ban slapped on Romain was the first such punishment since Felipe Massa was forced to sit out the 2002 US Grand Prix.

(L-R) Nico Rosberg took the first Mercedes win in half a century, while Pastor Maldonado claimed his country’s first. Mark Webber continued to fly the flag for Australia with 4th in the Driver’s Championship table.

(L-R) Sergio Perez did enough to earn a Mclaren drive for 2013 alongside Jenson Button, who won three races in 2012. Kimi Raikkonen eventually reached the top step of the podium in Abu Dhabi.

VIEWS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Britain

Mclaren failed to deliver again; it’s as simple as that. Both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton encountered numerable mechanical failures that crippled their championship hopes. With the departure of Hamilton to Mercedes for 2013, many critics will surmise the British ‘dream-team’ has failed in the objectives set for it when it first took to the track in 2010. They haven’t exactly let themselves down –the two men have taken eighteen victories between them-but at the same time they haven’t delivered a concerted title challenge in the manner of Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso. Button remains at Mclaren for 2013 in his quest for a second World Championship, while Hamilton embarks on the second stage of his career by re-joining former karting team-mate Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.

Paul Di Resta also had a difficult season that only got worse towards the end. The Scot started off strongly as returning team-mate Nico Hulkenberg got up to speed, and he once again excelled in the hostile environment of the Singapore race where he took a career-best finish of 4th. After the Indian Grand Prix he struggled with a chassis imbalance and insisted the car be replaced with a new one for the final three events, but his frustration seemed to boil over at the United States Grand Prix where he refused to communicate with his team over the radio after another disappointing qualifying session. He stays at Force India for 2013, but must show marked improvement if he is to be the successor to World Champions Button and Hamilton.

Seeing as the majority of the teams are based in the UK it would be remiss of me to ignore the achievements of the hard-working and loyal mechanics that propelled foreign drivers to success in 2012 – Red Bull of course landed both World Championships at the eleventh hour courtesy of a largely British workforce. Similarly Nico Hulkenberg’s oh-so-nearly performance in Brazil came with the support of the Force India (nee Spyker, Midland F1 and Jordan) squad based just across the road from the entrance to Silverstone. Caterham, Marussia, Lotus, Williams and Mercedes are also all British oriented teams, and each experienced varying degrees of success in 2012.  F1 has never looked so healthy in this country.

Germany

Aside from Sebastian Vettel’s enduring battle with Alonso, Germany had more to celebrate in 2012 when the legendary Mercedes ‘Silver Arrows’ returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since 1954, courtesy of Nico Rosberg in Shanghai. That was as good as it got for the team based both in Stuttgart and rural Banbury, as aside from Michael Schumacher’s phantom pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix the Mercedes cars failed to top any significant timesheets for the rest of the season.

Schumacher himself achieved a high-point in Valencia when he made the only podium appearance of his comeback in 3rd place, and despite the all-too-obvious failure of the seven time World Champion to recapture his former glories he remains one of the greatest drivers of all time. His retirement was perhaps, inevitable, given the pressure he is believed to have been under from within the team. Silly accidents with Bruno Senna in Spain and Jean-Eric Vergne in Singapore showed the rustiness hadn’t gone away despite two full seasons to get up to speed, and the former earned him a grid penalty that cost him the chance of claiming that Monaco pole and adding to his already-impressive tally. The legend is finally in retirement for good, but his records will stand for a good many years yet.

Inevitably, the talk must turn to Sebastian Vettel; but what is there left to say? The facts speak for themselves – youngest polesitter, youngest race winner, youngest Champion, youngest double Champion, youngest triple Champion…the list is endless. If Adrian Newey produces another gem of a car when he pens the final design of the Red Bull RB9, there is no reason Vettel can’t be a quadruple World Champion, a distinct possibility given the previous German record for domination in Formula One. It would be nice to see him in machinery equal to his adversaries though…

Italy

Il Commendatore would not be pleased. Old Enzo Ferrari was a believer in fighting, and the tenacity and determination of Fernando Alonso would have been appreciated by the old Ferrari team founder. Less appreciated will have been the consistent pace at which Ferrari lagged behind its rivals Mclaren and Red Bull for the duration of the season. Only five years ago this team made Kimi Raikkonen World Champion, yet in 2008, 2010 and now 2012, they lost out by the smallest of margins to their challengers.

It was only thanks to the talent of Alonso that the F2012 won those three Grand Prix in Malaysia, Valencia and Germany, and that the Spaniard hailed his ‘best season ever’ as one in which he lost the World Championship shows how much of a struggle it was to be competitive. It was far from a sterling effort from Ferrari, and despite Massa getting his act together for the second half of the season you get the impression this is a team on a downward spiral. Ferrari lost Alonso this championship. The last vestiges of the Schumacher-Brawn-Todt era are quickly fading away…

Spain     

Alonso – the greatest driver of this era? He certainly caught attention by breaking the Schumacher-Ferrari stronghold on the sport in 2005 but few would have put money on 2006 being his last Championship triumph. Yet that is the way things currently stand – fifteen times the Spaniard has landed a victory since the start of the 2007 season, but the point tallies haven’t quite fallen in his favour come the final chequered flag.

There was no F1 in Spain before Alonso – since his arrival in the sport they can’t get enough of it. Popularity is often a product of success. If only his achievements matched the enthusiasm of his fans he would, deservedly so, be a triple, possibly quadruple World Champion by now. It’s not hard to imagine 2007, 2010 and 2012 could so easily have been his. Maybe 2013 will make up for lost time.

Australia

Well, Mark Webber can certainly never be accused of not trying. It’s a great shame this irrepressibly cheerful Aussie has probably lost his best chance of claiming the Formula One crown. 2010 may remain the closest he ever gets.

Despite a solid start to the year and victories in the illustrious British and Monaco races, Webber never got a look in once Vettel had recovered his form and as the summer wore on it became obvious the Australian was no longer receiving the full backing of his Red Bull team. Indeed, in a haunting repeat of the 2010 debacle at Silverstone Vettel was given a brand new front wing for the US Grand Prix while Webber failed to receive his in time for the race on Sunday.

For Daniel Ricciardo, 2012 marked his first full season of Grand Prix racing, and the young man from Perth acquitted himself with remarkable aplomb. He couldn’t have started any better, scoring points on his debut on home turf in Melbourne, and even hauled his Toro Rosso STR7 to 6th on the grid at Bahrain. A summer points-drought was partly down to a dip in performance from his car more than anything, and he bounced back with a run of solid 9th and 10th place finishes in the Asian flyaway races. He has some way to go, but he might be the talent Red Bull have been looking for to replace Mark Webber in the ‘A’ team.

Ferrari, Mclaren and Red Bull were once again the class of the field in 2012.

THE TEN BEST DRIVERS OF 2012

Just who did the best job during the season?

 

1. Fernando Alonso

Before you exclaim ‘Hang on, he’s not the Champion!’ consider this; At no point during the 2012 season was the Ferrari F2012 the fastest car on the grid. Indeed, it started the season one and a half seconds off the pace of the Red Bull car, failed to qualify on the front row in dry conditions and didn’t set a single fastest lap during any race this year. At first, Alonso did his usual solid job it seemed and mirrored his stealthy 2011 campaign. An opportune win in Malaysia was followed by a succession of mid points finishes, and it appeared Ferrari were destined to once again be ‘also-rans’. Yet as the summer wore on, and Alonso took and maintained the lead of the points table, it seemed almost Senna-esque the way the Spanish double World Champion would appear among the front-runners regardless of circumstances. An incredible victory in Valencia was backed up two races later with another win at Hockenheim, holding off the attentions of Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, but no further glory came the Scuderia’s way – podiums were achievable but the wins remained out of reach. Nevertheless, Fernando took the fight to the very last race and came within a few laps of snatching the championship away from Vettel. His expression in the immediate aftermath of that defeat, helmet on and staring into the distance, was caught on camera and will be the defining shot of the 2012 season. It was not to be, but there is no doubt that this man is the greatest driver in F1 today and certainly one of the all-time ‘greats’.

2. Sebastian Vettel

And he does it again! Just when it seemed Vettel and Red Bull had finally cracked they bounced back with a series of dominant victories in the Asian ‘flyaway’ races to carry the German to a record third World Championship. The early season was slow but steady, podiums and points carefully amassed along with a solitary win in Bahrain. A mature drive to 3rd at Silverstone was undone by a rash moment of youthful silliness in front of his home crowd at Hockenheim when he overtook Jenson Button off the circuit and incurred a time penalty which dropped him from 2ndto 5th, otherwise the title could have been decided before Brazil. In fact, it should have been decided several races sooner but Vettel didn’t really outreach his machinery in the manner of Alonso. Nevertheless, he had the car and he got the job done, but he will face a much sterner challenge in 2013 if he is to take an incredible fourth title in a row.

 

3. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis decided, rather suddenly it seemed, to call time on his association with Mclaren amid a whirl of confusion and speculation around the direction of his career; that he did so in the wake of retiring from the lead of the Singapore Grand Prix tells you all you need to know about the 2008 World Champion’s season. All too often since claiming that maiden title, Lewis has found himself battling the often-superior Red Bull cars in machinery inferior to the task demanded of it. Hamilton missed out yet again in 2012, with shoddy pitstops undermining efforts in the first half of the year only to be replaced by appaling reliability standards in the second stretch. An all but certain victory in Abu Dhabi was lost, plus a potential win in Singapore, although his wins elsewhere were finely-judged and showed his class. Canada was the standout performance as he and his team out-thought and out-drove both Red Bull and Ferrari for a fine win. On the other hand, his form dipped at Silverstone and Hockenheim, and again in Korea and Japan later in the year. All in all, Lewis is driving better than ever after the disaster of 2011. Pastures new at Mercedes will show if he really is the complete package.

 

4. Kimi Raikkonen

He’s not the World Champion, and yes, it took him until November to win a race. Yet Kimi achieved some notable records this year, completing more laps than any other driver and scoring points on all but one outing. It’s a far cry from the last World Champion to make a comeback, and I imagine a certain Michael Schumacher will have been watching the ubiquitous Finn with more than a pang of envy. 2012 has been a solid year for Kimi as he settled in at Lotus, topped off with that finely-judged win in Abu Dhabi, and he seems happier there than he ever did at either Mclaren or Ferrari. He harks back to the days when drivers had no press obligations and behaved as they pleased, and Lotus seem content to allow the 2007 World Champion to just turn up and race. There are those that question his commitment amongst the hyper-competitive modern nature of the sport, with his contemporaries well-versed in media obligations in addition to their driving prowess (His Abu Dhabi radio messages will live long in the memory). Kimi is like Marmite; you either love him or you hate him. One thing is for sure – the grid would be a poorer place without him.

 

5. Jenson Button

Mystifying, confusing and downright odd. Such can Jenson Button’s 2012 campaign be summed up. A mighty win in Australia seemed to indicate he was picking up where he left off in 2011, but things went dramatically wrong in the wake of the raft of updates introduced by Mclaren after the Bahrain Grand Prix. Languishing in the lower ranks in Canada was followed by an embarrassing shunt at Monaco and a string of underwhelming performances. He bounced back for 2nd in Germany at a race he so nearly won, before strategical shortcomings denied him the opportunity of racing teammate Hamilton in Budapest. He came back on song for the Belgian Grand Prix in September with a win just as dominant as any Alonso or Vettel performance, but a mechanical failure in Monza lost him yet another fine result and things tailed off toward the end of the year with his car even failing to make the distance in qualifying for the US Grand Prix. However, he bounced back with an excellent Brazilian Grand Prix victory which bodes well for the future. All things considered, Jenson will be hoping 2013 is considerably more successful.

 

6. Felipe Massa

Given the woeful inadequacy of Felipe’s 2011 campaign, you could be forgiven for thinking this to be the likeable Brazilian’s final season behind the wheel of a prancing horse. Massa’s time did not come though, and he has earned a welcome reprieve for the 2013 season, thanks largely in part to his pleasing return to form in the latter half of the year. Felipe must rue his 2009 Hungarian GP qualifying accident that nearly cost him his life, for it has cast him in the shadow of Fernando Alonso since his return in 2010. Near shambolic in the first half of 2012, Massa turned it around and his emotional drive to 2nd place at Suzuka may well have been the key that saved his ailing career. He should have made the Korean podium at Yeongam but for team-orders, and a succession of healthy points finishes meant he ran Alonso much closer from Japan onwards. The 3rd place finish in Brazil in front of his devoted home fans was an emotionally-charged affair that showed the 2008-spec Felipe really is back. He will never be allowed to beat Alonso in a straight fight, but it would be a heartless observer who doesn’t admit part of them wants the little Brazilian from the slums of Sau Paulo to stand on the top step of the podium once again.

 

7. Mark Webber

Strewth mate, that’s another year gone! Mark had another bitter-sweet year and will be disappointed that he didn’t come any closer to the title. After coming so near in 2010 and having to write off 2011 in the face of the Vettel onslaught, Webber seemed to be back to his best in the first half of the year with remarkable wins at Monaco and Silverstone. Yet the form ebbed away as Vettel gained momentum, and the final nail in the coffin was his ultimate defeat after starting from pole in Korea. Time is running out for the well-liked Australian, and he must hope that his 2010 luck returns soon.

 8. Nico Hulkenberg

After a false start in 2010, Nico was back on the F1 roller-coaster with Force India this time round. In 2012, he was on impressive form and often qualified inside the top ten. A mature qualifying effort at Hockenheim earned him 4th on the mixed-up grid and the Force India was good enough to carry him to a 4th place finish at the Belgian Grand Prix. From then on he was the definite pace-setter in the team line-up, out-qualifying and out-racing Paul Di Resta. His near-dominance of the wet conditions that saw him lead the Brazilian Grand Prix until an unfortunate lapse cost him a potential victory but showed he has a mastery of tricky conditions unlike many others. ‘The Hulk’ is quickly developing into the next Schumacher or Vettel.

 

9. Pastor Maldonado

Wild, erratic and blindingly fast. Pastor Maldonado is the most exciting talent to emerge from South America since Felipe Massa entered the sport in 2002. Okay, he only had a smattering of points finishes all season but one of them was that superb victory in Spain. It may have been a flash-in-the-pan but it was emotional for all concerned to see Williams on top of the rostrum once again, and Maldonado certainly has the raw speed to make it happen again in the right circumstances. Some exceptional qualifying performances elsewhere, notably in Singapore, often saw him amongst the established front-runners and championship contenders. Perhaps one day soon the first ever Venezuelan race winner may be the first of his countrymen to be World Champion as well…

10. Bruno Senna

Bruno has never had it easy. Yes, he walked into motorsport thanks to a significant wad of cash and companies clamouring to be associated with the Senna name, but with that came a whole heap of expectation. As the nephew of the late great Ayrton it was always going to be an uphill struggle, but were it not for his name, Senna would be considered an excellent prospect for any midfield team. Overshadowed by Pastor Maldonado in the wake of the Venezuelan’s flamboyant and often frightening driving style that took the win in Spain, the relaxed Bruno rebuilt his reputation that has taken a significant battering during the past couple of seasons. A number of minor points-scoring positions earned after often disappointing qualifying session showed he can mix it, and placed him among his peers such as Di Resta, Hulkenberg and Kobayashi. It would be a great shame if he is not on the grid come the 2013 season. He’s not his illustrious uncle, and he shouldn’t be judged as such.

NOTABLE OMISSIONS

Nico Rosberg is the only race winner not to appear in the top ten, and this is largely down to his failure to score a single point in the final six races. Although impressive both in China and Monaco, he otherwise failed to shine and will need to up his game to beat Hamilton when the Brit arrives at the Mercedes team.

Charles Pic made it into our summer mid-season top ten, and only misses out again thanks to the improvements of other drivers. The young Frenchman made an excellent impression in his freshman year and did enough to earn a Caterham drive for 2013, the first Marussia second driver to survive more than one season in the world’s toughest sport.

Kamui Kobayashi took a brilliant 3rd place in front of his home crowd at Suzuka and drove maturely for most of the season but blotted his copybook by crashing into Jenson Button in Korea and acting somewhat wildly on occasion. It’s a great shame this likeable Japanese has no place in Formula One in the foreseeable future. His team-mateSergio Perez was also impressive, but only in the first half of the year – once his contract with Mclaren for 2013 was signed he proved reckless and accident-prone which probably set more than a few alarm bells ringing at Woking. He must prove he can progress in 2013.

Paul Di Resta, ‘the third Brit’ had a solid year and took a career-best finish of 4th in Singapore after coming very close to the podium but was largely outperformed by Hulkenberg from Belgium onwards. It seems he has a drive with Force India for next season but he must show something extra-special if he is to prove the heir to Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

 

 

 

 

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