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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Formula One 2012 - We Have A Winner

Anyone else get the feeling Schumi farted just before this was taken?
So, that was a pretty epic end to a pretty epic season finale, wasn't it? The man to beat gets tangled up with a local to make it look like the underdog would seize the title, only to come back through the grid, overcoming difficult conditions as changeable weather saw panic pit-stops and slithering sideways (as well as very nearly seeing a highly unlikely winner to the race) to get into sixth place, enough to clinch the World Driver's Championship by just three points. A more apt number of points to win by this season, there isn't. Sebastian Vettel is the youngest ever Triple World Champion, as well as only the third in history to win three in a row. This in a season when Red Bull also won the World Constructor's Championship for the third year in a row. I may have doubted how much of SebVet's success was down to him before, but after the Brazilian Grand Prix he had, and given the above stats, it's pretty hard to doubt him now. He joins a list of greats be becoming a triple world champ, one which includes Nelson Piquet, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Niki Lauda and, of course, Ayrton Senna, whose record for the youngest ever entrant to this elite club was snatched by the German Merman (a name I have made up because he's swimming in victory champagne).

Alas, said record could've been snatched from Senna by Fernando Alonso (possibly, I may not have worked their ages out right). So often on TopGear, the car which is the best loses a head-to-head, because the other car steals the heart or mind of the tester - see MP4-12C vs 458 Italia - and indeed while Vettel bested him this season, Alonso is my driver of the year. He's been painted as a bad guy before after his whiny season at McLaren in 2007, but this year many have been able to forget all that, and just watch him take a substandard car and put it on the podium time after time, being the first repeat winner at Valencia after an astonishing run of different victors in the first seven GPs and then becoming the first man to win a third, at Hockenheim, around which he was faster than Felipe as well as everyone else. He outperformed the car so often in the first half of the season, helping Scuderia Ferrari develop the car to catch up until it could just about hold its own against the now-mighty Red Bull RB8 - which found some form of its own - in the closing stages. Alas, with Sebastian winning four races in a row in Asia and Fernando being wiped out in Spa and punted off in Japan, the tables turned. Without those forced retirements it could've been a fairytale year for Ferrari and Fernando, but unfortunately for the relentless warrior from Asturias, it's somebody else's fairytale at the moment. Here's hoping he can get a car next year that can be qualified in the top 5 regularly, in which case his knack for lightning starts and reliability could see him take a third title of his own.

But while there are two championship fighters in the top picture, there are two leavers as well. Lewis Hamilton not only left the race after Nico Hülkenberg's brave and surprising campaign for victory saw him lose the rear end under braking for Turn 1 and tail-whip the Brit out of the race (report coming later), he is now leaving McLaren, who have sponsored or employed him for 14 years. You've probably heard all about that, and while his final race before moving out and into the world didn't end well, he did at least become the inaugural winner of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit Of The Americas, at his penultimate race for the team. He will relish the challenge at Mercedes, bringing a slightly off-pace team to the fore alongside his BFF Nico Rosberg before supposedly being in the fastest car in 2014. We'll just have to see how that develops, as well as whether or not the 2013 Mercedes-AMG W04 gets a chromed paint finish or not...

Also leaving is Michael Schumacher, and, to use his words, "this time it may be forever." It's no secret that he doesn't have a drive next year, and he's almost definitely retiring for good this time. He flew a thank-you flag on Sunday while going from pits to grid, and managed a points finish in his final Formula 1 Grand Prix, which is a nice way to end what has been a disappointing comeback for the only ever septuple F1 World Champion. I followed him as I grew up - although not his whole career; his time in F1 is marginally longer than I've been alive! - initially because we had the same name, which is a big deal when you're little, but also because he was driving a Ferrari, which, again, is the coolest kind of car at the age I was then. I saw him win championship after championship in the 2000s and listened to people complain what a dirty driver he was. Having re-watched some of it on YouTube, I can't deny it, but at the same time you can't fluke being the most successful F1 driver of all time. He also brought a new dimension to the sport that Sebastian Vettel is now using to great effect, one of multitasking in the car. While out in front flirting with the idea of setting a lap record, Schumi would ask about the weather and consider strategy. What's more, he brought a new level of fitness and dedication to the sport that made drivers have to go faster for longer. Now we see drivers training by entering triathlons or doing 100km bicycle rides or some such like, and it's arguably because of him. He's a legend of motor racing, and he will be missed.

But do you know who else is leaving Formula 1? Apart from maybe Kamui Kobayashi, which will suck, it's the BBC F1 team's Jake Humphrey. Part of the team who made British Formula 1 broadcasts watchable again when The Beeb bought the rights from ITV, he has been the face of the sport for so many people over the last four seasons, but now he's off to host Premiership football on BT's on-demand channel service, or whatever it is exactly, in 2013. As a proud watcher of BBC F1 even after Sky swept in and forced them to show only highlights for half the races, I'd just like to say thank you and good luck! I'm also reading his new book, which is highly insightful. Who will replace him in 2013? Well, I don't think the BBC would dare let Eddie Jordan run the show, and DC is probably best in his current position rather than being the frontman, so maybe Lee McKenzie? Or someone new? Who knows, but whomever it is I hope it's someone who cares deeply for the sport and not some interchangeable TV tool they grabbed from a lineup. Michael Schumacher, perhaps? OK, probably not...

But that's for next year anyway, and the 2013 season promises to be very different from this year's, with a notably different driver lineup, some new faces and of course the aforementioned absentees, among others. But who's going where? Well, let's go team-by-team:

Red Bull (2/2 Seats Filled)
Both drivers are staying put. There have been many rumours of Vettel going to Ferrari in 2014, but frankly that would be silly when he's treated like Fernando Alonso is at his current team, a team that also possesses Adrian Newey and therefore makes the fastest cars. If Mark Webber wanted to leave the team, he'd have trouble finding another competitive team to go to, and he doesn't want to retire yet, so he's sticking it out for now.

Ferrari (2/2)
Despite much speculation over Ferrari Junior Academy driver Sergio Perez, the lineup at the Scuderia will be the same next year, with Felipe Massa's recent resurgence being enough to keep him employed as Ferrari's second fiddle. As he said after letting them break the seal on his gearbox in America, "they probably won't find another driver like me", which is a swipe at the role they've put him in, i.e. Rubens Barrichello Mk.2. I'd hate to be in that role, but then it does mean racing for Ferrari...

McLaren (2/2)
Well, you all know where Lewis Hamilton's going, and you probably also know that Sergio Perez is going to the British team to partner Jenson Button. Team boss Martin Whitmarsh admitted they were "taking a bit of a punt" by recruiting whom they feel to be "the most exciting young talent in the field" from Sauber, but think of it this way: He and Jenson are both tyre conservationists, so rather than have to design a car for two distinctly different driving styles like they have had to in the last three years, they can make something more harmonious and make the tyres last, which is proving to be an effective way to get into the podium. Just ask Perez, who got three this year in what's normally a fairly middling team. One to watch.

Lotus (1/2)
But what of the other Sauber driver, who's been booted from his seat by the Swiss team's third driver Esteban Gutierrez? Well, there's a chance that Kobayashi-San might be replacing Romain Grosjean at Lotus next year. They're currently weighing up whether they want a faster driver or a more reliable one (who can still overtake well, lest we forget), and Kamui has been raising money to fund his efforts to get a drive next year, a cunning plan as he's something of a fan favourite for being a bit off-the-wall in interviews and exciting on the track. On the other side of the garage, Kimi Räikkönen is staying put. They make good ice cream in Enstone, it seems, although there's word floating around in the press that Lotus are having trouble paying his salary. Probably no big deal really.

Mercedes-AMG (2/2)
You know what's happening here. Lewis Hamilton will partner his BFF from junior formulas, Nico Rosberg, as Michael Schumacher retires from the sport. Again. It'll be interesting to see if Lewis can drag an almost-competitive car up the grid like Fernando Alonso has this year with a lacklustre Ferrari.

Sauber (2/2)
Esteban Gutierrez, has ascended from Friday driver to full-time Formula 1 driver at the age of 21 (I'm so jealous!). He will be partnered by Nico Hülkenberg, who's made a bit of a sideways jump into a team whose performance can be unpredictable season-by-season. Sauber have had a cracker this year though, so who knows? He'll be hoping they can build on it and finish ahead of the Force Indias consistently, lest he be embarrassed and regretful next year.

Force India (Probably 1/2)
Speaking of For-- I mean, SAHARA Force India, who is going to fill the Hulk's seat? Paul Di Resta is most likely staying put (if Hamilton wasn't jumping ship he would've had a fair shot at going to Mercedes, who are to Force India what Ferrari is to Sauber), and at the moment the lead candidate for the other car is Adrian Sutil, who is now allowed to race again after being chucked out for shenanigans involving a bottle in a Chinese club. Other people who could go there? Well, Kobayashi could if he doesn't get the Lotus seat, I suppose, or Bruno Senna. Frankly this could be the most interesting empty seat left to follow...

Williams (2/2)
Bruno Senna's worst fears have been realised and he has made way for Friday driver Valtteri Bottas, while wayward-but-quick Pastor Maldonado is living to crash another day. Rubens Barrichello keeps acting like he might return to F1, but frankly he doesn't have the funding for it and he's probably too old now given the hotbed of young talent we have at the moment.

Toro Rosso (2/2)
Both drivers - Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, in case you've forgotten - have done well enough to stay put, unlike last year's pairing of Jaime Alguersuari (who now works for BBC Radio 5Live) and Sebastien Buemi, who can go down a waterslide really fast.

Caterham (1/2)
No-one has any idea what Heikki Kovalainen is doing for next year, but Marussia driver Charles Pic, possibly the only driver in F1 history whose whole name fits into the graphics, will be making what could also be considered a sideways jump from Banbury to Norfolk. Vitaly Petrov may well vanish off the face of the earth, or go back to Lotus, perhaps. Or Force India?

Marussia (1/2)
Timo Glock is staying put, while the other seat could be filled by GP2 driver and British Person, Max Chilton (brother of the BTCC, now WTCC driver Tom), who's been their Friday driver this year as well as racing in GP2. Aside from him, I have no idea who else is lined up to take that seat. Are you really bothered, though?

HRT (2/2 or 0/0)
Hispania Racing Team - and you thought HRT was short for Hormone Replacement Therapy - is up for sale at the moment and no-one cares, so the Spanish team might even cease to exist by the 2013 season. Not many people will care about that either, except Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan. Plus, y'know, everyone else who works there. This would mean 22 cars on the grid next year instead of 24.

UPDATE (2/12): Hispania Racing Team aren't on the 2013 entry list, meaning they have met their end after just three seasons. We could poke fun, but it means hundreds of jobs lost and dreams ended, which is sad regardless of the team's performance on-track...

So to sum up, we still need contracts for a seat in Force India, Caterham, Marussia and possibly Lotus if they decide against keeping Grosjean (in which case all the fast drivers being kicked out will try to race there, I suspect). As for tracks, New Jersey has been delayed until next year for a number of reasons, including not having enough money and probably being a bit Sandy at present. The French GP is unlikely to happen next year either, according to Alain Prost, so the Belgian GP at Spa is safe. The Nürburgring is in as sorry a financial state as HRT, so Hockenheim will host the German GP. So, basically, it's the same calendar as this year. Oh! Except that the European Grand Prix at Valencia has been taken off the calendar for being too boring because Spain as a whole is short on money at the moment and can't afford to host two Grands Prix. The NJ street race was meant to replace it, but... yeah. No.

Until pre-season testing in Jerez next February though, everyone gets a holiday. The mad, crazy, spectacular travelling circus of the Formula One World Championship has once again reached the end of its annual world tour, having given us highs and lows the likes of which we would never have expected, coming right down to the wire but ending up celebrating the same driver and team for the third year in a row. Sure, Vettel and Red Bull Racing walked away with a title each, but does that mean this season was boring? Hell no. An unprecedented seven different winners in the first seven races and a field with more World Champions in it than ever before saw to that. What will the changes for next year bring? We must wait until February to find out. I'm looking forward to it already.

As and when the final seats are decided, you can find out by whom on here.

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