F1’s unpredictable season became simply “strange” in Barcelona, Fernando Alonso said after finishing second on Sunday behind Pastor Maldonado.
Once derided as a mere pay-driver, Maldonado was in Barcelona hailed by French-language commentator Patrick Tambay as “a new champion”. Reporters could hardly believe they were asking the Venezuelan with braces on his teeth if he is a contender for the 2012 title, and then hardly believe the Williams driver answered seriously in the affirmative.
“Some of the results that we saw this weekend feel very strange,” said Ferrari’s Alonso.
Even until Spain, it had been strange — McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull had shared the winning spoils, mainly due to the tyre situation, as teams grapple to understand the product Pirelli is supplying. Now, after Barcelona, minds have to go back to 1983 for the last time five different winners won the first five races of a season.
“At one race one team is there (at the front) and then suddenly they are tenth in the next race, so it’s bit of an odd situation,” agreed the 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who finished behind Alonso in his Lotus on Sunday.
Many thrill-seeking spectators are hailing F1’s unprecedented uncertainty, whilst the purists join the engineers in scratching their heads.
Asked if he is enjoying it, former double world champion Alonso admitted: “I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer.”
On the one hand, uncertainty is good for a sport, but the teams and the drivers are just lost at sea.
“With seven laps to go I got to a curve and suddenly the grip was gone. I even radioed the box to see if the car had been damaged,” said Alonso.
His countryman Jaime Alguersuari has a clearer view.
“This is the most even Formula One we have seen for 20 years, so it means you really see the work of the driver, especially with the tyre management,” the former Toro Rosso driver told AS newspaper. “From my point of view this is the best F1 we’ve had for a long, long time, with the best man winning each time.”
Reigning back-to-back world champion Sebastian Vettel, however, joined Alonso in the head-shaking.
“Three weeks ago Williams was nowhere, now they’re beating everyone into the ground,” he is quoted by spox.com.
Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Mario told Kleine Zeitung newspaper: “If we knew why, we’d be very happy.”
Some think the magic recipe is the ability to look after tyres, but in Spain arguably F1’s best driver at tyre management – Jenson Button – was lost.
“I work hard at it,” the Briton is quoted as saying, referring to his famous driving style, “but right now it’s not working and I have no idea why.”
Shanghai winner Nico Rosberg added: “Two races ago we were at the top and now everything is changed. What’s up with Formula One?” he is quoted as saying in German-language reports.
From a purely sporting point of view, however, 2012 is a compelling tale.
“I think it’s going to be a big fight right to the end with some very close racing. Anyone can win,” Lotus’ Romain Grosjean is quoted by RMC Sport.