2012 season review

In the current era, every year in F1 seems to surpass itself in terms of entertainment and brilliance. The oft-repeated assertion that, say, 2009 to at least 2012 represents a ‘golden era’ is no less true for its clichedness. And 2012 was the best yet – a season made wildly unpredictable by the KERS, DRS and principally by the wonderful Pirelli tyres. No one knew what to make of the rubber at first, which must have contributed to the seven different winners in the first seven races, In a season like that, the men in the shadows often get the chance to shine, to show their skill on a day when others are lost. But finally, inevitably, the cream rises to the top. Here, we salute that cream, and analyse milk, cheese and curd too.

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel: As has been noted, superlatives are nowadays in short supply for this man. A new dictionary will need to be written for his plaudits this year, though, because he demonstrated very clearly that what had been perceived as his Achilles heels (inability to fight his way through the field, and some susceptibility to pressure) were absolutely not fragile points at all. Abu Dhabi and Brazil stand as glorious testaments to the falsity of both those charges. The old Vettel was there too, though, all dominance and finger-in-the-air. A legend of our times. 10/10
Mark Webber: Although it seemed that the topsy-turvy early-mid season might play into Webber’s hands, and wins in Monaco and Silverstone were well-taken and seemed to promise a title challenge. It did not come together, and towards the end of the season the Australian relapsed into his familiar role as bridesmaid. History will affirm that. 6/10
Car and team: Adrian Newey’s baby might not have started the class as far ahead of the rest as in previous years, but by God did she reclaim her superiority. The team’s continued professionalism and excellence are recognised justly by their third consecutive constructors’ title, a very considerable feat. 10/10

Ferrari
Fernando Alonso: In any reasonable poll, the Spaniard’s 2012 season might well have catapulted him into the top five greatest drivers ever. Alonso was superb throughout – consistent, devastating on occasion, opportunistic, fearless and peerless in the cockpit. All with one hand tied behind his back, because the Ferrari wasn’t nearly fast enough. Or so he would have it. But what is the problem with a little carping about the car? It serves to motivate a team that perhaps do need it, and to take the pressure off oneself (and thus put it on others). As such, whatever psychology Alonso employed this season was another facet of his magnificence. (And the car was actually not that good). A legend for all times. 10/10
Felipe Massa: After a couple of seasons of increasingly deteriorating performances, Massa’s 2012 will hopefully be his nadir. Rumours about the sack were not dispelled even by the bovinely loyal Ferrari and by mid-season the calls for Perez were deafening. Massa picked up his game in the final few races, but be assured he is there for no other reason than Alonso. 4/10
Car and team: The F2012 was not a great car, but it was a very good one by Ferrari’s recent standards. It enabled Alonso to compete for the title, even if it was not the quickest. The team with Alonso at the spiritual helm are more than capable of running with the pack – he provides leadership and motivation, and they follow him like disciples. As they should. Not a bad season for il Cavallino Rampante. 6/10

Lotus
Kimi Raikkonen: What a credit to the sport this man is! He is such a performer – adored by the fans, respected by the paddock, and feared by his competitors. This year the Kimster produced some excellent drives reminiscent of his 2003 pomp – not least his win in Abu Dhabi where he was hilarious on the team radio to boot. Flighty maverick that he is, we may not have his company for that long, so treasure every moment. 9/10
Romain Grosjean: Regular readers of this column will know that it supports young Grosjean with the blind faith of a French team boss. Grosjean is good, somewhere, as his early season matching of Raikkonen demonstrates; but his first lap shenanigans this season, principally in Belgium, were infuriating and dangerous. He has been confirmed for 2013 but do not expect him to last if the errors persist. 5/10
Car and team: James Allinson and his team should be proud of the E20, a car that was as good as the rest for most of the season. The elusive win came towards the back end of the season, and there is a sense of determination about Eric Boullier’s leadership that seems to suggest a consistent title challenge in the next few years. That consistency is the key though – Enstone must match and better its machinery for 2013 at the very least. 7/10

McLaren
Lewis Hamilton: Hamilton could have been a lot closer to the title than he was this season, and it is accurate to say that he was not at fault. Errors and prima donna behaviour have not been prominent this year and he has driven, by his own (never immodest) assertion, the best he has ever done. Particular highlights were Italy and the USA, especially when the furore surrounding his future threatened to distract. On the evidence of this year, Alonso and Vettel still know that he is the third arm of their triumvirate at the top of the sport. 9/10
Jenson Button: Button confounds. On his day, in Australia and Belgium in particular, he is masterful – the racing brain and the soft hands conducting the conditions wonderfully. On other days, he can look very ordinary. Qualifying is still his vulnerability – until he sorts that out a title challenge looks a way off. 7/10
Car and team: As above. Car and team can take a sizeable portion of the blame for Lewis Hamilton’s inability to fight for the championship. Pitstop mistakes were common and reliability left much to be desired. A pity, really, considering the car was basically the second best in the field – quick and malleable. 5/10

Mercedes
Nico Rosberg: Despite flattering to deceive on occasion, Rosberg did not have a great season. He won his first race in China, sure, but thereafter faded, and very much looked like a man adrift in a team focused on the future. He has done well to dispose of the Schumacher threat, at which many would have quailed, but there isn’t much in Nico Rosberg’s 2012 driving that will scare his old karting mate Lewis Hamilton. 6/10
Michael Schumacher: 2012 was very much the old man’s last chance saloon and…he showed that despite a very large percentage of his old talent, he wasn’t quite as fast as he used to be. As the mid-season report testifies, a pole position in Monaco and other signs of improvement were not quite enough to signify a real comeback; and so Schumacher’s return diminishes, rather than enhances, his reputation. But still. There are quite a few among us who believe anyone else would have been far more lost than he was. Thus, he retains his dignity and his honour. 6/10
Car and team: Not much to say about this offering from the grand German marque, whose win justifies their continued involvement. Never been so obvious that a team has given up on a year, however.

Sauber
Sergio Perez: One of the drivers of the year. A strong rookie showing belied his real talent – for grabbing races by the scruff of their necks and making a real fist of them. Outstanding in Malaysia, Canada and Italy, he nevertheless appeared to be cocky once a McLaren contract was in his pocket. One to manage, Ron and Martin; to nurture, unlike both Fernando and Juan Pablo. 8/10
Kamui Kobayashi: As has been remarked, Kamui’s special skill – for banzai overtakes – has rather been negated by this year’s variables. He has nonetheless done much as expected; that is, better than any other Japanese driver to sit behind the wheel of an F1 car. He is quick, and it would be a tragedy to lose him. Spain, Japan and Abu Dhabi the highlights. 6/10
Car and team: Stars of the show – a truly spartan performance from a little but brave team. What a car, and what punches dealt blows far above their weight? Nothing but admiration for the team at Hinwil.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg: A driver with real talent, Hulkenberg had to sit out the indignity of his own dismissal from Williams and subsequently the di Resta fanfare – and as such has emerged with the greater credit. Consistency early on was matched by points finishes in each of the last six races bar Abu Dhabi, and his sterling effort in Brazil was only dampened by inexperience. 7/10
Paul di Resta: One sometimes wonders if a driver’s nationality has anything to do with his burgeoning reputation. For di Resta, many thought so – the heir to Clark, Stewart…cousin of Franchitti, anyone? Di Resta did not do enough to justify that billing in 2012. Spoken of as Schumacher’s replacement at Mercedes by the British Grand Prix, the Scot managed only four more points finishes out of the final twelve races. 6/10

Williams
Pastor Maldonado: This man is a race winner. This man is a race winner. This man is a race winner. Something worth writing three times before one evaluates the Venezuelan hero. Here’s the alternative: otherwise, he’s dross. Not so. One does not keep Fernando Alonso at bay in front of a Spanish crowd without good reason and talent. A flickering talent that the oil will keep burning. 6/10
Bruno Senna: There must have been few more disappointing seasons in motorsport. He had a third chance, this Senna, and he blew it with a series of distinctly underwhelming performances. For once, the great man was wrong; Ayrton, your nephew is decidedly not quicker than you. Will be very lucky to find a seat for next year. 3/10

Scuderia Toro Rosso
Jean-Eric Vergne: A rookie season in which no one expected much…but Vergne delivered a performance or two against the odds. Since his Formula Renault days he has been someone to watch, and Malaysia, Belgium, Korea and Brazil were timely reminders of his talent. Mark Webber, watch out. 7/10
Daniel Ricciardo: Post mid-season, you’d have put your money on a half-decent end of year showing from the Aussie. However, although he was usually line-astern with his French team-mate, the Frenchman was usually in front of him. This does not look good to the Red Bull hierarchy, and they have itchy trigger fingers. There isn’t much between him and his team mate, though, mark it – both show a youthful ambition their predecessors had lost. 6/10

Caterham
Vitaly Petrov: A good year for the Russian, who did better than most expected. As a Caterham driver, one gets little exposure and every time Petrov came to light, it was usually for the right reasons. Disposing of Kovalainen is not done lightly, and this bodes well for his future. 5/10
Heikki Kovalainen: Widely thought of as the top man without a top drive at the start of the season, Kovalainen has very nearly become the bottom man without any drive. Quite how he has let Marussia encroach so far upon his territory and Petrov trounce him ten times in races is anyone’s guess. Enough remains for his residual stock to be high, though. 5/10

Marussia
Timo Glock: The German plugs away, without realistic hope of points finishes or even a nice Sunday drive without having to glance frantically in the mirror every thirty seconds. Frippery aside, Glock has done an honourable job this season to help take this team extremely close to the seemingly better-run Caterham. 4/10
Charles Pic: As the back marker that he is, Pic’s talent, or lack thereof, is hard to measure. He seems alright – he ran Glock close. 4/10

HRT
Pedro de la Rosa: It was always, I suppose, a forlorn hope that a team called Hormone Replacement Therapy would have a 40-year-old Spaniard lead an Iberian charge to the points. He comes across very well, nonetheless, and I should like to have a cup of tea with him one day. 5/10
Narain Karthikeyan: I’m glad he didn’t get hurt when Nico Rosberg didn’t see him in Abu Dhabi. Otherwise, I don’t think I’m much fatter than Narain. And I’m quite fat. 4/10

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