Sport: 2012 – A Winning Formula
We’ve noticed a curious silence in our living rooms over the past few weekends. Affectionately referred to by some detractors as ‘The Bees’ (‘Not the bees!!!’) and others as ‘glorified Scalextric’, some of us were bowled over by what the travelling circus known as Formula 1 had to offer this season.
It wouldn’t be fair to start without mentioning the steps taken in recent years to make the sport more competitive. Tyre degrading is more severe than ever. Refuelling is not allowed. Kers (a boost provided by a battery which recharges kinetically under braking) has become a stalwart feature, and DRS (a dynamic rear wing system which aids overtaking in certain areas) is being refined every year.
The First 7: History Made
Undoubtedly, these elements contributed to the most exciting start to a season in the history of the sport. There were 7 different winners in the first 7 races, an outcome not envisaged by anyone, not even Murray Walker’s optician.
DRS has been the most divisive of these elements. A few years ago, drivers were having issues overtaking, as the cars reach their limits due to their aerodynamic design. However, should a car be stuck behind another, they can get caught in ‘dirty air’, which would ultimately slow the chasing car, rendering overtaking impossible. Calls were heard for something to be done, and this something is DRS. Labelled by some as the ‘Cheat Wing’, it gives a huge boost of speed to the chasing car, sometimes up on 20mph. It can only be used in certain sections and only once you’re within 1 second of the car in front, and cannot be used by the defending driver. Our opinion on this? Well… if the car behind is faster, the DRS will negate the ‘dirty air’ and provide enough straight line speed to complete the pass. If the car or driver being passed is equally fast or competetive, there’s no excuse not to keep pace with the car in front, and return the favour on the next lap. If the overtaken driver can’t keep pace, it’s normally due to degrading tyres (a possible result of poor race strategy) or the driver or car not being good enough. This logic is sound.
Initially introduced in 2011, it was said to be unfair on certain circuits, giving the chasing driver too much speed and advantage. But the zones have been altered, shortened or moved this season, and in our opinion, it was never obvious that use of DRS proved unfair. Some think it should just be done away with, but it’s a work in progress, and a necessary evil to counter the ‘dirty air’ issue. It’s being augmented even further for next season.
The Middle 6: European Slicks
For some though, these toys aren’t enough. Alonso started the season in a car almost 2 seconds off the pace, yet at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, became the first driver of the season to secure a second win.
Many claim that Fernando was the rightful champion this season. Despite not having the fastest car, he consistently out-performed his team-mate, and wrestled his way into the top of the standings. It’s probably true that he had to work harder than any other driver this season, and that no other driver could have done the same. It’s for these reasons he’s a double world champion, is Ferrari’s #1 driver, and could have 4 world championships under his belt by now. He narrowly missed out in 2010; going into the last race of the season with an 8-point lead, he lapped in 6th position, got stuck in the ‘dirty air’ referred to above, and couldn’t make a pass. Vettel then took the title from his grasp, with a race win and 25 points, finishing 4 points clear at the top. And this season, he finished 3 points shy of Vettel. Had he not been taken out by the Lotuses in the Belgian and Japanese grand prix, he probably would have bagged enough points for the title.
Around the halfway point of the season, Alonso had a lead of 40 points to second place. Following his bad luck at the Spa circuit in Belgium, his lead was reduced to 24 points, and the rest is history, Red Bull bringing aerodynamic upgrades to improve their car’s performance immensely, securing 4 race wins on the trot. At least he’s lucky to still have his head, but to be fair, Ferrari didn’t bring enough to the table this year. They gave Fernando the impossible task of succeeding in a car much slower than his those of his competitors. Our opinion? If the car had been better, then his task would have been easier, and he could have scored better points more consistently. It’s easy to point the finger at Lotus’ Romain Grosjean for being involved in so many first-lap incidents, becoming the first driver in 18 years to earn himself a one-race ban for his transgressions at Spa, but we feel Ferrari ought to share some of the blame.
The Final 7: The Lights Go Out
Hamilton’s win at Monza propelled him back up to second in the championship, but this was to be short lived. Taking pole position by half a second in Singapore, he continued to show his speed and prowess, cruising at the front, until his gearbox failed on lap 23. Vettel gratefully took the lead, and held on for the win, his first of 4 in succession that would see the championship sway in his favour, and give him a 13-point lead going into the final 3 races.
The normally mundane Abu Dhabi GP flipped the title race on its head, as a fuelling issue ensured Vettel had to start from 24th place. Hamilton controlled the race from the front, but again, was let down by yet another mechanical failure, with Raikonnen inheriting the lead and securing his first win since his return to the sport. However, on the back of a determined performance, with the help of 2 safety cars, Vettel managed to finish 3rd, Alonso keeping him honest with a 2nd place finish, cutting the deficit between the two to 10 points, and rendering the title chase a two horse race. So why was it so easy for Red Bull to put their foot down when it mattered?
Adrian Newey is regarded as being the foremost aerodynamicist in Formula 1. His advancements are so ahead of the curve, that the rule book struggles to keep up with him. After Mark Webber’s win in Monaco, earlier in the season, the FIA ruled that certain aerodynamic elements on the under-floor of their car were illegal. He pushes the envelope so much, that his ideas are normally overlooked by the FIA, and other teams then play catch up. It’s fair to say that over the last 3 seasons, most other teams have copied Red Bull, rather than attempting to innovate themselves. Ferrari attempted innovation this season, using pull-rods rather than push-rods in their suspension, but this didn’t help their cause.
Having the foremost thinker in the field is undoubtedly largely the reason for Red Bull’s success; Newey has previously designed 9 championship winning cars for Red Bull, Williams and McLaren. There’s truth to Alonso’s veiled jab at Vettel, when he paid tribute to Newey alone following Red Bull’s 2012 success. And we wouldn’t be surprised if we see Ferrari offering him a job in the years to come.
The End of the Road
Hamilton’s season and his McLaren career ended at Interlagos in familiar fashion, when an overly keen Nico Hulkenberg, impressively running in second, left it too late on the brakes going into the first corner late in the race, and took him out. On a countback, we’ve found that Hamilton suffered in 10/20 of his races, due to mechanical failures, being crashed into, poor pits stops and team errors. If not for these incidents, we would have had a runaway champion. Alonso suffered also, at crucial moments, though not quite to this extent. It goes to show that F1 can be a cruel, indifferent sport. And as proven by a dedicated, more measured Vettel than in previous seasons, it’s not over until it’s over.
Willy Kerr is a Formula 1 fanatic who is seasoned in the arts of opining and being generally very sound.