The 2012 season is almost upon us, with new drivers and new rules joining an expanded 20-race calendar, this year’s world championship is likely to be the most thrilling and aggressively fierce in the history of Formula One racing.
Only two drivers in the past sixty-three years in the pinnacle of motor racing have achieved the title hat-trick. The legendary Juan Manuel Fangio was the first back in 1956, while Michael Schumacher achieved his third straight championship with Ferrari in 2002. Can Sebastian join this exclusive club? He is the favourite to claim the big prize but this year’s competition is closer than ever.
After finishing in the runner-up spot last season, Jenson Button has become a strong challenger to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull for title honours this year. The 2009 champion will have one target on his mind: to be number one.
His McLaren team-mate is also a contender for the title. Lewis Hamilton suffered a horrendous 2011 season with incidents both on and off-track that affected his driving. But the 2008 title winner hopes that this year will return him to championship glory.
Taking that single victory at the British Grand Prix last year was not enough for Fernando Alonso. The 2005/06 champion hopes the Scuderia has delivered a championship-winning car for him to go for more wins that will ultimately lead to title success.
Michael Schumacher is also relying on the mighty Mercedes squad to give the seven-time world champion a worthy machine to go for points finishes that will possibly lead him to achieving his 92nd Grand Prix victory.
But all eyes will be focused on the returning Kimi Raikkonen. The 2007 title winner makes his Formula One return with Lotus and it will be fascinating to see if the Iceman can rediscover his brilliant form after three years away from the sport.
Following the success of the Drag Reduction System – an adjustable rear wing to aid overtaking – plus the excessive tyre wear from Pirelli in 2011, this season’s promises to bring even more excitement and entertainment.
Although the sport’s governing body has modified some key technical and sporting regulations to make the racing more competitive and yet safer. These rule changes introduced for 2012 are the following:
- The off-throttle blown diffusers is now banned in a way of reducing the effectiveness of exhaust gases to increase downforce. The FIA had acted to ensure the exhaust gases have a minimal effect on aerodynamics with a tight guideline on how to position the tailpipe exiting the rear of the car.
- Races will have a maximum four-hour time limit to prevent the indefinite suspension of a race. This will stop the theoretical possibility of a race lasting more than eight hours. This rule was introduced in response to the rain-interrupted Canadian Grand Prix last year, which set a record for the longest race in Formula One history, at four hours and four minutes.
- The reactive ride-height first proposed by Lotus last year in which hydraulic cylinders located in the brake calipers and suspension pushrods to make minute adjustments to the ride height of the car, thereby keeping the ride height at an optimal level throughout the race and providing stability during braking, has been banned.
- Driving standards is also a key issue following the over-defensive driving from Michael Schumacher on Lewis Hamilton in last year’s Italian Grand Prix. The sport’s governing body has sought to clarify the regulations as “more than one change of direction to defend a position is not permitted. Any driver moving back towards the racing line, having earlier defended his position off-line should leave at least one car width between his own car and edge of the track”. Expect controversy over this latest key rule change.
- After being banned in 2009, in an attempt to control costs, in-season testing will return this season. The teams will now be allowed to test their cars on track during the 2012 season, most likely at Mugello after the four flyaway races.
- While the Safety Car is deployed, lapped cars will be waved past and allowed to complete a lap to rejoin the back of the queue. This will ensure the tail-enders will be kept out of the way of leading runners at restarts.
- Tyre supplier Pirelli revised their tyre compounds this year in an effort to encourage teams to use each of the compounds supplied for individual races. In addition, each driver has access to eleven sets of dry tyres (six hard ‘primes’ and five softer ‘options’), four sets of intermediates and three sets of wets over the course of a weekend. Each of these tyres have improved colour coded marking to make it easier for spectators to see exactly what compound each driver is using.
- Wheelguns can now only use air or pure nitrogen, rather than helium. This will slow down the wheelguns slightly, and therefore increase pitstop times a little.
- The biggest aesthetic change to these modern-spec racing cars is the re-profiling of the nose. The pre-2012 regulations allow the nose to be as high as 625 millimetres above ground, but the revisions to the sporting code lower the maximum allowable height to 550mm, 150mm ahead of the front bulkhead. Meaning the majority of this year’s cars are launched with a “platypus” nose.
- The intensity of static-load tests, designed to test flexible bodywork has increased. This means that flexible front wings are far harder to produce.
- And finally, this season’s Formula One television coverage will be shared between the BBC and Sky Sports. Ever since Formula One Management announced this split broadcasting deal last year, it has caused outrage from fans and observers. Many complained about the racing action being interrupted by adverts (like the good old ITV days) but Sky Sports insists it will be ad-free. In addition, the extra cost in subscribing to Sky doesn’t seem justified for UK television viewers but the satellite network has pushed all its resources including hiring the best team of presenters and commentators to provide an excellent show for its UK fans with a dedicated channel devoted to Formula One. Both will be broadcast in native high definition format.
In terms of the drivers taking part this season, it will be fascinating to see the youngest double world champion Sebastian Vettel going for his third consecutive title against a strong field of driving talent with the likes of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher and the returning Kimi Raikkonen.
The 2012 season sees a host of driver changes featuring a mixture of youth and experience.
Another driver to make his return after winning the GP2 Series is Romain Grosjean. He has been given a second chance at Lotus, having previously competed for the team (when it was known as Renault) in 2009.
Despite testing the new Caterham, Jarno Trulli has left the team and has been replaced with Vitaly Petrov. For the first time since the 1973 German Grand Prix, there will be no Italian driver in this season’s Formula One World Championship.
After being cast aside by Williams in 2010 despite taking a brilliant pole position in Sao Paulo that year, Nico Hülkenberg is back with Force India. The German spent the 2011 season as their testing and reserve driver but now he has the opportunity to race.
As for the teams, a change in identity over the Lotus naming debacle has finally been resolved. Team Lotus are now Caterham with Renault becoming the official Lotus F1 Team. Virgin Racing have also changed names and are now called Marussia in deference to their Russian backers.
Right, lets turn our attention to the runners and riders this season. Starting off with the defending world champions, Red Bull Racing.
After dominating the 2011 season with the all-conquering RB7, Sebastian Vettel is full of confidence and is the favourite to claim a third consecutive crown. Last year he was untouchable with eleven wins and 15 pole positions. Vettel’s only non podium finish was at his home race at the Nurburgring, while his single retirement was due to a puncture. Despite these impressive achievements, the young German is seeking an even greater result this year with the new Adrian Newey-designed RB8.
For Mark Webber, 2011 was a demoralising season for the plucky Australian, who found himself roundly trounced by his team-mate. Despite having the quickest car, Webber struggled to get the grips with the switch to Pirelli tyres and the driving style of the blown diffuser. But at least he scored that Sao Paulo win to end his season on a high-note. For 2012, the Australian hope he can cast aside his disappointing 2011 season with a fresh approach this year.
Leading the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in 2012 are the two recent British Formula One world champions, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. The pair hopes that the new MP4-27 will challenge the likes of Red Bull Racing for race victories. Unlike last year, when the new car had reliability issues in testing, McLaren are now better prepared and are pretty confident for the season ahead.
After finishing in the runner-up spot to champion Vettel, Jenson Button is in the best possible position to go for title glory this year. His smooth driving style suit the Pirelli tyre’s higher rate of degradation better to those of his team-mate. In addition Jenson is able to keep his head cool in chaotic situations resulting in unexpected results. His wins in the wet-soaked races in Canada and Hungary underlines his reputation as mentally strong – making that decisive switch to the right tyres at exactly the right moment.
As for Lewis Hamilton, last year was a major disappointment with numerous clashes with Felipe Massa on-track while off-track, his demanding celebrity lifestyle played a major role on his driving. So for 2012, Hamilton will start with a clear target of driving fast, making no mistakes and going for victories. If Lewis can achieve this aim every racing weekend, he will no doubt become world champion. As he is one of most gifted drivers in Formula One thanks to his supreme racing spirit in qualifying, overtaking and going wheel-to-wheel with rivals. But if the new MP4-27 can’t match his expectations, it will lead to frustration and desperation. Hopefully McLaren has a race-winning car to guide Hamilton to his second title.
This is a make or break season for Ferrari with the radical new F2012. The all pullrod suspension car is quite an aggressive approach from the design department at Maranello. But that gamble to create a revolutionary car seemed to have backed fire due to a troublesome pre-season testing in Spain.
The new car certainly won’t win any beauty contest no thanks to that nose profile, but if the Maranello-based outfit can win races on a regular basis, then an ugly car becomes a beautiful car.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso is under immense pressure to lead Ferrari back to championship glory. That sole victory at Silverstone was the only highlight for the Scuderia in 2011 and the Spaniard hopes he can lead the team in the fight for title honours against Red Bull Racing and McLaren this year. Alonso is considered to be the most complete all-round driver on the grid considering his speed, technical knowledge and experience. To win the title for Ferrari will be the ultimate dream but it will be difficult if the F2012 fails to match the pace set by the RB8 and MP4-27.
As for Felipe Massa, this is final chance to convince Scuderia that he is a race winner. Some observers believe his accident in Hungary 2009 has affected his driving to this day, but others believe the Brazilian has struggled to adapt with the high degrading Pirelli tyres. Whatever the true issue, Felipe must step out from his team-mate’s shadow and do a better job in 2012. Or else losing his seat at Ferrari to a new upcoming driver…
The Mercedes GP squad have set a target for this season, to break into the top three teams winning success. It seems a lifetime ago since Brawn GP took the title honours and with the partnership of team boss Ross Brawn and seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, you would have expected a return to winning ways. Sadly, the Silver Arrow lacked pace compared to Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari but hopefully the new W03 will allow Schumacher and team-mate Nico Rosberg to challenge for points finishes and possibly a race win.
Michael Schumacher will be competing in his final season at Mercedes after originally signing a race deal for three years. But does he still have the desire to lead Mercedes to championship success? And can he finally score his 92nd Grand Prix win? It will be interesting if Schumacher signs a new extension deal to remaining in Formula One for the considerable future.
As for Nico Rosberg, he is now the most experienced driver still seeking that elusive maiden victory in Formula One. He has the skill, talent and desire but can the new Silver Arrow provide him the chance to take that first step on the podium?
That unique forward exhaust system fitted on last year’s car has been dropped but the team did experiment on the concept of reactive ride-height for this season, only for the FIA to ban it despite ruling it legal initially…
With Robert Kubica still out of the picture following his rally crash in 2011, Lotus F1 has turned to the next best driving talent in the shape of 2007 title winner Kimi Raikkonen. It’s fantastic news that the Iceman is back in Formula One this year but can Lotus provide Raikkonen a car that has the chance to fight for podiums? Well, so far in testing the Lotus E20 has the speed but it did suffered a chassis problem involving the front suspension. This has been fixed and at this moment of time, the E20 does have the potential. It will be interesting if Kimi can lead the team back to championship glory like the Alonso/Renault days.
As for his team-mate, Romain Grosjean makes his return to Formula One after winning the GP2 Series. Grosjean is much more experience since he last raced for the team (when it was known as Renault) back in 2009. And yet, does he have speed to beat his new team-mate Raikkonen? This is going to be a fascinating battle to watch.
Leading the Sahara-backed Force India team is rookie of the year Paul di Resta. The Scot impressed the team with his consisted driving in 2011 that resulted in point finishes on a regular basis. He now has a full year under his belt and it will be intriguing to see if Di Resta can lead Force India to even greater success.
After sitting on the sidelines and taking part in selected Friday practice sessions last year, Force India has promoted testing and reserve driver Nico Hülkenberg with a race drive in 2012. This is Hülkenberg’s second chance to prove his talent since racing for Williams two years ago. Can The Hulk fulfil the team’s ambitions in scoring championship points?
Representing the Sauber team is an exciting Japanese racer who loves to overtake, with a hard-charging Mexican who has the ability to conserve tyres over a long race stint.
Kamui Kobayashi has become the fans favourite following his bold (and brave!) overtaking moves over the past two seasons. Once again, he is the right driver to lead the Sauber team. Sergio Pérez is his team-mate and now more experienced. His qualifying crash at Monaco hasn’t dented his confidence and the Mexican hopes he can deliver stronger results this year.
It’s all change at Scuderia Toro Rosso with both Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari out following a lack of decent results for the Red Bull junior team last year. Taking their driving seats is Daniel Ricciardo, who drove for HRT last season, with 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series runner-up Jean-Eric Vergne making his Formula One debut.
The new STR7 looks promising but can these two inexperience drivers make the most of it? It’s going to be a difficult learning curve for Ricciardo and Vergne, with Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz demanding top results.
That elusive 114th race victory still remains out of reach for Williams. But at least the Renault engine partnership is back. The line-up of Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna seems odd considering the lack of experience between the pair but the British-based team has high hopes these two young charges can lead Williams to a brighter future.
Last year was the team’s most disappointing season ever. A change in management following the news that Patrick Head has stepped down from Formula One involvement with Sir Frank Williams making way to commercial director Adam Parr, it will be intriguing how the team will operate this season.
But at least the driver line-up looks encouraging despite the fact that Rubens Barrichello – the most experienced Formula One driver in the sport – has left the team. Taking his spot is a young Brazilian with a famous surname. Bruno Senna brings a sense of excitement to the team and it will be fascinating to see the nephew of the late Ayrton – who drove for the team back in 1994 – can help Williams back to respectability following a disastrous 2011 season.
As for Pastor Maldonado, he needs to improve his performance to justify his position at the team. Last year was a very difficult maiden period for Pastor. To finish 19th in the drivers’ championship is not ideal, so for the new upcoming season, the Venezuelan must aim for better results.
For 2012, the former Team Lotus will compete this season as Caterham. This follows the acquisition of British sportscar manufacturer Caterham Cars by team principal Tony Fernandes, forming the Caterham Group.
Despite the rebranding, the famous yellow and green cars will still be featured on the grid. The new CT01 has been unkindly named the “platypus” by observers due to the car’s nose profile, but hopefully the car’s odd looks will translate to solid results this season.
After testing the CT01 in the first week of official Formula One testing at Jerez, Jarno Trulli has been replaced by Vitaly Petrov. The Russian will race alongside Heikki Kovalainen. Both are eager to compete in a more competitive car. Realistically, the best Caterham could hope for is racing midfield and fighting for the occasional championship points.
Following a difficult maiden season two years ago with an under-developed car that lacked pace, has HRT learnt its lesson by designing a race car that is more competitive in its third season in Formula One? Well, it doesn’t seem that way as the new F112 was meant to complete its first running during the second pre-season test, but after failing the mandatory crash tests, the only chance to shakedown the new car was a couple of laps at the Circuit de Catalunya, less than two weeks before the first race.
With a lack of running in the F112, both Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan will face an uphill struggle to even make it into qualifying due to the 107 per cent rule. Hopefully the experience Pedro de la Rosa can guide the team back to competitiveness, thanks to his extensive years of knowledge as test driver for McLaren. As for Narain Karthikeyan, his finance backing has secured his seat at HRT for a second season but he needs to justify his position with some decent on-track performance this year.
Under a new name following the purchase of a controlling stake in the team by Russian sports car manufacturer Marussia Motors in late 2010, the Marussia F1 Team heads into its third season competing in the sport. After taking the highly innovative approach of designing the entire car using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation technology – as opposed to the traditional method of using a windtunnel – the team has parted company with Wirth Research after two years with limited success. Marussia has now entered a relationship with McLaren Applied Technologies ahead of the 2012 season.
But with a lack of time to prepare the new MR01, after failing the last of the mandatory 18 crash tests required by the FIA, the team are in a race against time to be fully ready for the new upcoming season. A brief shakedown at Silverstone helped but without a baseline against its rivals, Marussia is left with a steep learning curve to become competitive.
This is so unfortunate for new Formula One rookie Charles Pic and his experienced team-mate Timo Glock. As both will face a tough season due to the late running of the MR01. In the case of Charles Pic, the GP2 Series driver will find it very difficult to compete due to a lack of development and limited track time. But at least his Marussia team-mate can give him a guiding hand. Timo Glock has years of experience and technical knowledge to push Marussia forward. The best Glock can achieve with a car running no KERS could be some championship points. Very useful to avoid last year’s embarrassment of finishing last in the constructors’ standings pointless.
So that’s the grid. In terms of the circuits, for the next eight months the Formula One circus will be travelling around the world with the opening round of the championship taking place in Albert Park, Australia on March 18th.
Following the political unrest last year, the Bahrain Grand Prix is now back on the calendar. That tortuously twisted loop that was used for the first time in 2010 has been dropped.
Hockenheim will host this year’s German Grand Prix as part of the ongoing race share with the Nürburgring, while the United States Grand Prix is a new addition to the 20-race calendar. But will the Circuit of the Americas be ready in time when Formula One makes its visit to the States in November?
As always, the final race of the season will be held at the popular Interlagos circuit, scene of many dramatic title showdown including that epic final lap contest between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa in 2008.
After three excellent years provided by the Beeb, the UK’s Formula One television coverage will be a joint broadcasting partnership between Sky Sports and the BBC. Meaning all the practice, qualifying sessions and races will be shown live by Sky, while the BBC will be televising qualifying and the race live from ten selected events and extended highlights of the remaining ten on a delayed broadcast.
Yes, this new arrangement remains a topic of flaming debate regarding the costs to subscribe but for the viewers, it means we now have even more airtime devoted to Formula One.
With a dedicated channel on the satellite network, Sky Sports hopes to provide a more in-depth coverage on the sport with extensive programmes like documentaries, magazine shows previewing upcoming races plus countless hours of practice, qualifying and racing action.
In fact, former Radio 5 Live commentators David Croft and Anthony Davidson have made the switch to Sky. The pair will provide commentary for all the practice sessions, with the latter providing in-depth analysis thanks to his racing experience.
Established broadcasting presenter Martin Brundle will join Crofty in the main comms box for qualifying and the race. It will be fascinating how the pair will get on explaining the on-track action this season.
Sky also announced that Steve Rider, who fronted ITV’s Formula One coverage between 2006-2008, will be responsible for presenting a series of interviews and features with current and past drivers.
As for the BBC, Jake Humphrey will remain as the main anchorman on the television side. Joining him will be Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard. Expect the usual trio to talk about the latest rumours and news from the pitlane and paddock this season.
Reporting from the view of the commentary box is the excellent Ben Edwards. His enthusiasm and commentating style is a popular choice with fans and media alike.
Coulthard will join Edwards in the comms box and it will be interesting how the pair will get on covering the qualifying sessions and the race. Comparisons will be made with DC and Brundle (who is now at Sky) plus the Eurosport era of Edwards and John Watson.
As for Radio 5 Live, former ITV commentator James Allen is back behind the microphone. Former Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari will join Allen in the commentary box while Jennie Gow, who will be reporting from the pitlane, will join the pair on the radio waves.
With these new signings, the wealth of motorsport experience is impressive and it will be fascinating which media coverage will gain the most listeners/viewers over the course of the season due to the split between Sky Sports and the BBC.
So there you have it. Not long to go before the first race in Melbourne on March 18th. It’s going to be one hell of a battle. Bring it on!