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Formula One fans have been served up with a golden season of motor racing so far in 2012. Eleven races in and this year is already set to go down as a classic, perhaps providing more on-track action than multiple past seasons combined.
Fernando Alonso, in imperious form leads the championship at 164 points, 40 clear of nearest pursuer, Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber. We examine the factors that could shape the campaign post the 5-week August summer break.
As has been widely documented, we witnessed seven different drivers take victory in the first 7 races of the season. This openness was largely attributed tothe new range of Pirelli rubber which took the teams a long time to adapt to, owing to the cap on in-season testing. The peak performance of the tyres was found to be confined to a narrow operating window, which has a very sensitive relationship with car setup and track temperature. However as the season has progressed, teams have grown more adept at finding the sweet spot with abundant data at their disposal.
Tyres apart, the regulations and the absence of a runaway technical development has seen the teams at an exceptionally close level of performance. Sample this - the top TEN drivers in Q2 in Valencia were separated by a mere 0.214 s, the smallest margin since the qualifying format was introduced in 2006.
It is thus no surprise that development and upgrades of the cars will hold everthemore importance, as a relative gain of as little as .05s could mean a position or two higher on the grid. Currently Red Bull, Mclaren, Lotus and Ferrari seem very closely matched, the pecking order often varying track to track.
Fernando Alonso, by many accounts is at the heights of his prowess currently, and few people will bet against the twice-champion staying ahead comeBrazil. In a car that was miles off the pace at the beginning of the year, he has excelled in all conditions, with 3 wins to his name. Where he was unable to challenge for the podium, the wily Spaniard has always had one eye on the championship, maximizing the points his car could return on the day while the chasing pack takes points off one another. However he cannot afford too many such weekends and will undoubtedly push Ferrari to provide him competitive machinery through the year.
Red Bull have had a consistently quick car and are constantly pushing the limits of the regulations. Sebastian Vettel currently lies third on 122 points, a haul which could have been much higher if not for losing valuable points to incidents or retirement. Although RBR were pegged back by the engine clarification prior to Hungary, continual development will ensure the champion remains possibly the biggest threat to Alonso.
A deterrent to Vettel's challenge is teammate Mark Webber, who in the sister Red Bull has shown to be more equal to him than in 2011 on several occasions. The intra-team battle will be fascinating, but might work to Alonso's favour like it almost did in 2010. It remains to be seen if Webber can stay ahead on his own to duel with the Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton goes into the break on a high following the win in Hungary, yet remains cautious as the McLaren wasn't the fastest car on race day. The Woking outfit are famous for their rate of car development through the season, but cannot afford a recurrence of their mid-season slump which sawHamilton go from leader after Canada to accruing a 47 point deficit. The Briton has rarely made a mistake all year and is a genuine contender with a fast car under him.
Teammate Jenson Button was more comfortable on the updated car beginning in Germany, but his championship hopes have suffered a nosedive after a disastrous phase beginning in Spain. He will nonetheless hope for a few more wins.
The dark horses of this championship are Lotus who have race pace to match the other top three, but have lamented poor qualifying for the larger part.The team have recently trialed their version of a new passive F-duct style device in practice sessions, expected to give them a boost in qualifying. This could be a real trump card as a gain of a few places could see them right in the mix. Kimi Raikkonen has historically gone well at Spa, and will be encouraged about his chances after a great showing in Budapest. He lies fifth at 116 points.
Romain Grosjean's raw pace could see him on the top step sometime this season as well.
In the team's championship Red Bull with two strong drivers appear favourites at this point being 53 points ahead of McLaren. The three way battle for 2nd between McLaren, Lotus and Ferrari seems promising, the trio separated by all of 4 points at this stage. While development may dictate their final positions, Felipe Massa's form is key to Ferrari's chances of staying ahead.
All being said, given the form book the second half of F1 2012 might throw plenty of curve-balls at us, and remains a mouthwatering prospect for the fans. May the best man win!
- 31/08/2012 19:14 - Belgian Grand Prix Free Practice Report: Rain plays Spoilsport at Spa; Charles Pic tops soaked session
- 25/08/2012 15:28 - Spa love affair continues for Schumacher
- 17/08/2012 14:35 - Mid-season review: Five way race for Formula 1 Drivers' Championship