The 29th November 2011 was a very significant day for Formula One fans and even more important for the forthcoming season. That day, Kimi Raikkonen announced his return to F1. After a two year self-imposed hiatus from the sport, the double world champion was to return to the Renault team, completing an amazing driver line up of six world champions on the grid for the 2012 season. A prospect that had F1 fans the world over salivating with excitement.
Former Ferrari driver Raikkonen; who looks more like he would rather be having a beer with his mates after a hard days snowboarding than driving an F1 car, turned his back on the sport after growing disillusioned with the demands that being Number One driver at a team like Ferrari demanded. Ferrari is one of the great sporting institutions like the New York Yankees or Manchester United, whereby it’s not just enough to represent them; there are responsibilities and standards that must be met both inside and out of the sporting arena. These sorts of responsibilities never sat well with Kimi, all he ever wanted to do was drive, and drive fast.
At Renault he has been given that chance. Alongside Kimi on the grid there would be current Champ Sebastian Vettel, the back to back title winner and at 23, the youngest ever champion. The German, known as the new Michael Schumacher, is the man they are all chasing after an incredibly dominant 2011. Then there is the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. Jenson, the methodical, tactical, ever-thinking driver who knows how to treat his car in just the right way to get it to perform to its optimum. And Lewis, the brilliant, natural born racer. The man who overtakes when he shouldn't, who takes reckless but brilliant gambles for a position, and leaves spectators on the edge of their seats. In an eerie throwback to the Prost/Senna days at McLaren; one man who drives with his head, and one man who drives with his heart.
Ferrari is one of the great sporting institutions like the New York Yankees or Manchester United
At Ferrari, the man who replaced Raikkonen is Fernando Alonso. Another two time world champion and the man seen by many as the complete driver. As fast as they come, tactically astute, always knowing when or when not to take risks, and as wily as the come, both on the track and off it. Had it not been for the underperforming Ferrari car of the last couple of years then he would surely have been the one who could have given Vettel a run for his money. And last, but certainly not least is, arguably the greatest ever, the seven-time world champion himself, Michael Schumacher. Brought back by the newly formed Mercedes team in 2010, he’s struggled to get back to his brilliant best but that has largely been down to the car. Form is temporary, class is permanent.
So, with the dream line up complete, we awaited what we hoped would be a glorious, competitive season and it hasn’t disappointed. Six races down, six different winners, and even more surprisingly, only three have come from the newly formed Champions’ Club. Vettel, Alonso and Button have each taken the chequered flag this year, but there has also been a big push from the chasing pack. Mid-table teams like Lotus, Williams and Sauber have all made great strides, highlighted by the fact that the three other victories have been claimed by Pastor Maldonado, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber. These victories, along with podiums for the likes of Sebastian Grosjean and Sergio Perez have given us, at present time, one of the most open title races in recent history.
So, why is it so open this year? Of course in the ever changing and evolving would of F1, it’s only natural that each teams form and competitiveness goes up & down as various new designs and modifications are implemented and either flourish or fail. This is always a contributing factor; this year however, it’s all about the tyres. Pirelli were given a brief of making F1 more exciting by creating tyres that didn’t last long as long and actually made the teams and drivers think about how best to make use of them; and, given that teams are only given a ration of tyres for the entire race weekend, how best to allocate them. The tyres are reacting differently with each track, its climate and its conditions. That combined with the ever evolving changes to the car, it’s set up and the way they are driven, is helping to cause a whole host of unexpected results to be thrown up, both in qualifying and in the races themselves.
This year it’s all about the tyres
Such is the nature of this season that if someone can string just a couple of wins together it will give them a decent lead in the championship and something to defend going into the second half of the season. As it is, as long as you can stay in the chasing pack, and stay consistent by picking up points regularly, then come the end of the season you’re going to be in with a shout.
So, has the playing field be levelled so much that this season will we actually find out who really is the best of the best? No, we don’t need to, Schumacher is best, with seven world titles he has nothing to prove to any of us. He, along with the legendary Juan Fangio, are the greatest drivers of all time. As far as right here, right now goes however, then yes, this year is the year we may well find out who the best of the best actually is. Who that is however, is anyone’s guess.
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