Posted by Carrot on June 29, 2012 | No Comments
I’m not sure what’s more surprising about this season, Fernando Alonso being the first driver to take two victories, or that we had seven different winners in the first seven races. Remember back in Australia when McLaren had a car advantage that could be measured in geological time? What happened to that? Remember how pathetic this year’s Ferrari was back then? Alonso is 20 points clear at the top of the drivers’ table.
So far it’s been an odd year for F1, we’re used to a front runner becoming apparent early while the rest of the field sorts themselves out and then the best of the rest starts to chase down the leader. We’re over a third of the way through this season, and close to half way through, and does anyone want to predict who will take the laurels? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a bit sad that this season with all the action being on the track and an uncertainty of who will win until the chequered flag falls being so revolutionary to long time fans, but we aren’t going to complain I think.
The good news is that ‘silly season’, the endless coverage of who will go where and drive what next season has been all but cancelled for now. Postponed would be a better adjective, but I’d much rather be talking about current track action than playing a game of Fantasy F1 in the media. Of course Felipe Massa is likely to go, and I’ve heard multiple guess about who will take that seat and for how long, but thankfully it’s been the second story to what we’ve enjoyed from the actual racing and what may come.
So, what did I find notable in Valencia? Well, I’m going to start with the two biggest successes, and they aren’t the teams you’re probably thinking of. I’m saying the biggest success of the European Grand Prix weekend went to HRT and Catherham. I don’t get a lot of chance to talk about these two team, both never having scored a point, and when I have it’s usually been negative, especially to HRT. However both impressed me greatly, not so much in finishing in their usual positions, but with their qualifying pace. Heikki Kovalainen out-qualified both Toro Rosso cars, no rain, no mechanical gremlins, just on track pace on the same track at the same time. At the same time HRT have improved to the point that even Narain Karthikeyan could out-do the sole Marussia of Charles Pic. Both have taken a massive step forward, Catherham putting the established teams on notice that if they slip they’ll beat them, and HRT using the budget that Ferrari are spending on drivers to beat their nearest rivals. Yes, they’re small achievements compared to points or race wins, but they are significant first steps to establish themselves as permanent teams rather than entries for sale.
Further up the grid, finally Force India decided to start their season. A double points finish and speed from the car that meant they could out-qualify a Red Bull, both Ferraris and a Mercedes AMG. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in writing the team off this year, what with the impressive form from both Lotus and Williams, but if this is genuine pace, rather than a one track wonder performance, it’s going to be fun watching them claw back the deficit they have to the rest of the midfield.
Speaking of Lotus, so near, yet so far. I’d picked Romain Grosjean for the win, which he nearly got before mechanical problems ended his afternoon, and then Kimi Raikkonen very nearly got the job done, he just ran out of laps, and/or couldn’t break the will of Alonso seeing victory at home. The team has got such raw pace and potential I do think they’ve reached the limit of what they can do without that race win, yes the Enstone team have won races and titles in their previous guises, but the current Lotus haven’t. When (not if, you’ll notice) they do, they really could be the dark horse of this year. Even with losing one driver from most races, they’re still third in the standings, to put that in perspective they’re ahead of Mercedes AMG and Ferrari.
At Ferrari, Alonso won magnificently and his pass on Grosjean at the restart was a highlight for me, Massa seems to have reverted to his pre-Monaco levels of motivation. Red Bull, a rare mechanical failure for Sebastian Vettel, but a good haul of points from Mark Webber given how far back he started. Webber’s drive did remind me of the Chinese race where he clawed his way from the tail end of the grid to finish on the podium, and here he was only a second off Michael Schumacher’s third position. I probably should congratulate Schumacher on his first podium since his return, but quite frankly I expect better from him, especially as his team mate has won a race and he’s taken longer to return to the podium than a new car warranty lasts. The top three team, McLaren, that early season advantage seems to have been as useful to them as a chocolate teapot. I’m having a hard time deciding whether Jenson Button or Massa will win the ‘Can’t Be Bother’ award when things aren’t going their way, Massa’s still leading since Button won the opening round.
Pastor Maldonado hit someone, this time Lewis Hamilton, in a dumb way, again. At least this time he was actually racing them and it wasn’t in qualifying or practice. Did anyone honestly think that move back onto the track was going to work? The fact he’s taken a race win will shield him from sanction for a while, as well as some criticism, but the guy doesn’t seem to be able to not hit things when he thinks things have not gone his way. He’s like a small child, what he wants doesn’t happen and then the dummy comes out of the pram. Except in his case it’s not so much a dummy as it is a high speed crash.
And finally, “it’s coming home, it’s coming home”, no not the football and not the Olympics (which are Greek) but F1. We’re back home in the next race for Silverstone, which we were told should finally have its new renovations finished. Enjoy if you’re going, I still can’t like this new start/finish straight though. Maybe I’m just set in my ways. While we’re on the subject (sort of) of the Olympics, what sport did we, the host nation, pick to be added for these games? Rugby, that we could win? Cricket, with the number one team in the world? Snooker, that we could also win handily? Formula motor sport, mainly to embarrass the Americans? No, ‘we’ picked football. Remember that disappointment that reverberated round the pubs on Sunday night after an excellent race? Expect round two when the Olympics happens, see you all at Silverstone.