Come March 17 and for the first time ever we will have a record 6 World Champions on the grid for the 2012 Formula One World Championship. This is definitely one of the most anticipated seasons in a long time with the return of 2007 Champion Kimi Raikkonen and resurgence of 7-time champ Michael Schumacher. Success in F1 depends on many things with the most important part obviously being - a good car.
Out of the 6 World Champions the favourite definitely has to be two-time defending champ Sebastian Vettel. While 2010 was a tough year, he utterly dominated last year’s championship leaving the competition with absolutely no chance at all.
This year Vettel is the clear favourite and will take a lot for any other team/driver to wrest the advantage away from him. The two McLaren Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who were champions in 2008 & 2009 respectively are next in line. McLaren seem to be closest to Red Bull, based on the testing times, so both drivers will be eager to take the fight to Red Bull.
While many people (including me) thought Hamilton would blow his team-mate away, Button surprised everyone last year as he emerged second in the championship, often beating Hamilton along the way. If they are in a championship fighting position, McLaren will suffer as the two drivers will constantly take points off each other.
Ferrari have two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in their ranks but they have been unable to give him a strong enough car to win the title. A team blunder in 2010 might have cost Alonso the championship but he only had the opportunity due to a series of mistakes by Red Bull. This year the car has not been performing to expectations in testing but we will never know till we reach Melbourne and as Mark Webber said never ever count out Alonso.
Then come Mercedes and F1 legend Michael Schumacher, who is into his third year of his comeback. Schumacher has actually improved a great deal last year but the one area where he seems to be struggling for pace is over a single lap, or qualifying to be more specific. His race pace was much closer to his team-mate’s Nico Rosberg and he should be even closer this year. If Mercedes give him a good enough car you can expect a podium finish or even a race win in difficult conditions. His first objective will be to beat Rosberg which will be tough.
Lotus Renault shocked the F1 World when they announced that 2007 Champion Kimi Raikkonen will lead their charge for the 2012 campaign. Raikkonen was dropped by Ferrari in 2009 to make way for Fernando Alonso and after 2 years of rallying has come back to F1, where he truly belongs. While Raikkonen is not famous for his technical input, one thing he can undoubtedly do is drive an F1 car fast, very fast as a matter of fact. While it will take him some time to get back to top speed, he will be a big addition and leader for the Lotus team.
While I have focused only on the World Champions, the rest of the 2012 grid is definitely a great mix, with some great upcoming talent there. This will be the last chance for Mark Webber and Felipe Massa, who will have to lift their games to avoid being dropped by their teams.
Sahara Force India have an excellent driver line-up in my view as both drivers have proved. While Paul Di Resta might have the initial advantage, expect Nico Hulkenberg to come on strong in the latter half of the year. The car has looked good in testing so let us hope they can take the same performance to the races as well. Scuderia Toro Rosso is trying an all new line-up after getting rid of both their drivers, with Jean Eric-Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo. Both have been setting the Formula Renault 3.5 Series on fire over the last couple of years and will be a breath of fresh air for F1 fans. Both are aggressive drivers and know that a good showing this year could mean a promotion to the Red Bull team for 2013 so should be followed with keen interest.
Sauber have retained the same line-up as last year but with Felipe Massa in danger of losing his 2013 seat, Sergio Perez is strong contender for the seat. However, he will have to get past hi kamikaze team-mate Kamui Kobayashi first. India’s Narain Karthikeyan is back with HRT but will only get to drive the car during the first practice session in Melbourne, like last year. So we will have to see how the team has progressed but expect them to fight with Marussia for the third year running.
There has been a lot of talk about pay drivers in F1 after Vitaly Petrov replaced f1 veteran Jarno Trulli. The back-end of the grid is full of pay drivers and is unfortunately necessary for the teams to succeed. It does not make the drivers less than capable, but often is the best way to get into the sport. I must add that drivers like Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber etc. all got their big F1 breaks by paying for their first year, or bringing in sponsors to be more specific. So in my view nothing wrong with it as long as the drivers are good enough and the teams normally ensure they are before taking them in.
So we have six World Champions, some exciting young guns and drivers driving to save their F1 careers so should be a crack of a season. I am going to with Vettel, Hamilton and Button for my top three, what about you?