Posted by Carrot on April 25, 2012 | 2 Comments
Four races. Four winners. Four different teams. 2012 is nothing like the runaway dominance we had last year. Bahrain was the last of the early flyaway races, so where are we as the European season begins to dawn? Well, your guess is as good as mine. If you asked me to remake my full season predictions right now I’d still be none the wiser than I was after pre-season testing, and that caused the season predictions to be delayed until after Australia.
Last year we wouldn’t have been shocked that Sebastian Vettel took a pole position and then went off to win the race with only minimal threat. If you’d have said in China that the same thing would happen a week later I’m more than certain you’d have been laughed at. This Sunday, Vettel taking off and disappearing seemed to be a replay of an old race, such was his ability to set the overall pace when he got free air. His team mate, Mark Webber, is now the most consist finisher of 2010. While all these other drivers have been trading wins and assorted podium spots, Webber’s been fourth in four races. Hardly something to call a failure with the car’s early season pace, but 240 points (fourth place in 20 races) won’t be enough for him to win the championship, and if his future is as under threat as the rumours suggest then he needs to be going back a race and consistently beating Vettel to keep his seat.
Now the energy drink company is out of the way, I can get on to what I thought was the real story of the race, Lotus. Their pace was phenomenal. Every time they came to overtake someone (Raikkonen on Vettel excepted) it was like they had another gear or three to take advantage of. They were breezing past cars that don’t get overtaken easily due to raw traction. It’s not a case of engine power, the Renault engine is often named as one of the weaker examples in the field, but the ability of the Lotus car to make use of the power and put it down on the track paid absolute dividends with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean taking the other two podium positions.
With all the talk of Raikkonen’s return and Grosjean lasting a handful of laps in the first couple of races, I think the team’s been overlooked somewhat. Since Renault pulled out as a constructor the team’s been going through the usual dips in form that come with a management change and alterations in the flow of funding, but let’s remember, this team has fundamentally the same DNA as the team that Fernando Alonso won back-to-back crowns with in 2005 and 2006. How did that car win championships? By having unbelievable traction and going from zero to lots very, very fast. That design philosophy came back to haunt the field on Sunday. If they can fund this design then we could be looking at the season’s dark horse for more than the occasional podium.
Last week’s début winner had a much rougher time this time around. Well, there was no win, but he managed to start and finish in the same position as he did in China, but in Bahrain that starting position was fifth. I don’t think I’m the only one who thought he should have been penalised for some of the ‘defensive moves’ he performed on track, but the stewards obviously didn’t agree. In the other car Michael Schumacher had a disastrous Saturday, falling out in Q3 with a grid position of 17th, only to be moved down to 22nd due to a gearbox change. I was looking forward to watching him take the obviously fast Mercedes AMG through the field, but we didn’t see a great deal of that due to the Lotuses (Loti?) making the frontrunners into their personal chew toys whenever they got near the back of them.
Sixth to reach the chequered flag was Paul di Resta in Force India. A good run by the Scot and important for the team to get points, if you look at the top ten then it was entirely made up of members of the ‘top five’ teams, excepting the retired Jenson Button. If these teams are going to have consistent reliability then the opportunities for the midfield to score will be vastly curtailed this season. Good strategy and a determined drive, as we saw from di Resta, will make all the difference in the standings unless the midfield can come up with a massive surprise like Lotus did this weekend and Williams did in China.
That only leaves me to talk about seventh, eighth and ninth in the finishing order. That’s unsurprising that I’m talking about the lower end of the points towards the end of the articles, what is surprising is that the holders of these positions are the Ferraris and the sole scoring McLaren. Well, OK, apart from Alonso’s win in the rain you might expect Ferrari to be that far back. You wouldn’t expect Felipe Massa to be that far forward or Lewis Hamilton to be that far back. It was an excellent drive from Massa that reminded me of the man of old who took Hamilton to the line in 2008, whether it lasts for the rest of the season is anyone’s guess, I’m not optimistic though. Hamilton had his race ruined by McLaren’s pit stop problems, something that’s now become a very bad habit for them and potentially cost them two race wins this year depending on how you saw this race and China.
So, that’s it for being away from home. We have an in-season test, a return for this idea since it was scrapped as a cost-saving measure before the start of the European season. With four different drivers from four different teams having won the opening races, your guess at the eventual victor is as good as mine. All I do know is we’ve got an incredibly close and exciting season ahead. See you in Spain.