Five races in, F1’s cleverest brains are still yet to decode the mystery of the bizarre and fascinating 2012 season. As was the case when he utterly dominated last year, Sebastian Vettel is still leading the drivers’ points chase.
But, before last weekend, if he had been told that Williams’ Pastor Maldonado would be the winner of the Spanish grand prix, the German admitted: “Well, I would have put a lot of money on them!
“I think the odds weren’t bad,” he smiled.
Indeed, the major British bookmaker William Hill was taking bets at 500-1 prior to the Barcelona weekend. A spokesman confirmed that only two bets at 10 pounds or above were placed on Maldonado prior to qualifying.
“I’m sure Williams don’t understand why they just won the race here,” McLaren’s Jenson Button is quoted by the Guardian newspaper.
But the previously-derided ‘pay driver’ Maldonado is not the only potential new winner in 2012, after Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Vettel won the opening four grands prix. A detailed look at F1’s specialist reporting in the past few weeks shows that Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean, Michael Schumacher, Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi are all also widely regarded as genuine victory candidates in 2012. And given that their teammates have won grands prix this season, even the struggling Felipe Massa and Bruno Senna should be added to that list.
“Dammit, let’s go for (HRT’s) Karthikeyan!” wrote Chris Hockley in the Sun newspaper.
“It’s really quite crazy right now,” Vettel, who despite his young age would count himself among F1’s currently perplexed purists, told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. “What’s happening is difficult for us to explain,” he added.
The situation has split the F1 audience, with the purists shaking their heads, and others marvelling at the unprecedented spectacle.
“The spectacle has taken over the sport,” said the Paris daily Le Figaro. “Even the teams can’t be sure who will be the hare and who will be the tortoise at any given track,” wrote Hockley.
Alonso, who is the joint championship leader, is in the purists’ camp.
“Of course it is attractive for the spectators that we are going to Monaco not knowing if we will fight for victory or be left out of the points,” he is quoted by El Pais. “But in a way, after eleven years in formula one and now I’m at Ferrari, I would like to have more stability,” the Spaniard admitted.
Sir Jackie Stewart said: “What’s going on is unbelievable, which I think is the outcome of the new rules, new tyres — I think it’s many factors,” he told the Spanish sports daily AS.
“What’s happening,” said Maldonado’s race engineer Xevi Pujolar, “is that these tyres are allowing teams who do not have the biggest budgets to be eligible for really good results. The reason is that the most important thing now is to have a good setup and also some luck with the temperature.”
Pirelli, F1’s tyre maker, has received both criticism and praise for its huge role.
“Pirelli have been both bold and brave,” Sun journalist Hockley said. “It can’t be easy for a manufacturer to make tyres that sometimes wear out faster than you can say Mercedes.”
Marco Tronchetti Provera, the Italian marque’s company chief, is unapologetic.
“What we have provided is what the teams have asked for, and it was not easy,” Italian language reports quote him saying. “Our engineers have done an extraordinary thing.”