Controversy never strays far from the Formula One grid, and new sporting regulations suggest this won’t change in 2012. The fallout that followed Sebastien Vettel’s defensive chop against Jenson Button at the start of last year’s Japanese Grand Prix sparked calls for clearer ‘racing’ guidelines. A new legislation now prohibits drivers to return to the racing line should they move off it to defend their position. To further tighten competition throughout the field, backmarkers will once again be allowed to unlap themselves under safety car conditions. Revised tyre compounds by Pirelli – whose ‘squarer’, more aggressive profiles have reduced the difference in laptimes to less than a second – will also prove critical to team strategy in 2012.
The future of FOTA (the Formula One Teams’ Association) will be under question throughout the season. FOTA has failed to reach an agreement on the Resource Restriction Agreement – which caps each teams’ annual spending – despite ongoing negotiations that began last year. Red Bull, Ferrari, Sauber and Toro Rosso recently confirmed their resignation from the Association, while HRT have yet to join since their 2010 debut. Spending cuts have been a hot topic in F1 since FOTA was established in 2008.
Drivers: Sebastien Vettel (2011 – 1st, 392), Mark Webber (2011 – 3rd, 258)
Having raised the bar last year, the runaway Constructor’s Champions face a much tougher prospect repeating their success in 2012. The banning of off-throttle blown diffusers, which formed the basis of the dominant RB7, comes as a particular blow to Red Bull. Though Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey laments what he calls ‘regulation restrictions’, his latest car remains the bookies’ favourite for Championship glory. Indeed the RB8’s stellar pace during pre-season testing in Barcelona, as well as the potential for carry-over from last year’s design, hint that Red Bull’s performance gap to the rest of the field may still be significant.
Few would bet against Sebastien Vettel – already the youngest double F1 World Champion in history – emulating Juan-Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher by taking his third title in a row this season. The reigning Champion’s campaign was near-faultless, a stark contrast to his tumultuous 2010 success. One error at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix aside, few could keep pace with Vettel as he waltzed to 11 victories from 19 starts, breaking Nigel Mansell’s long-standing pole position record en-route. He’s already moved ahead of former-Champion Mika Hakkinen in the all-time victories list, but rejuvenated competition and a narrower performance gap will make his second Championship defence the toughest yet.
Compared with his team-mate’s success, one victory in the season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix signed-off a frustrating season for Mark Webber. Though in the hunt for victory at almost every round (just one more lap would have secured victory at the Chinese Grand Prix), problems managing the more malleable Pirelli tyres compounds often left the Australian on the backfoot. Webber remains a Championship contender, but the rejuvenated Toro Rosso line-up – and the signing of Sebastien Buemi as Red Bull reserve – undoubtedly puts his performances under scrutiny during the final year of his current Red Bull contract.
Championship Position 2011: 1st
Wins: 12 (Australia, Malaysia, Turkey, Spain, Monaco, Europe (Valencia), Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Korea,
Drivers: Paul Di Resta (2011 – 13th, 27), Nico Hulkenberg (2011 – N/A)
Nico Hulkenberg will return to race action after a year on the sidelines. The German, who secured Williams’ first pole position in six years in his last race for the team, finished a successful opening test with the new VJM05 by topping the second pre-season practice session in Barcelona.
Hulkenberg will be pushing hard against new team-mate and last season’s standout F1 debutant Paul Di Resta.
Rumours already abound that the former DTM Champion will replace Michael Schumacher at Mercedes when the multiple-World Champion’s contract runs out at the end of this season. Strong points finishes could be a regular occurrence as Force India aims to improve on last year’s sixth place in the Constructor’s Championship, its team’s highest ever ranking.
Championship Position 2011: 6th
Best Position: 6th (Germany, Singapore, Brazil)
Drivers: Kamui Kobayashi (2011 – 12th, 30), Sergio Perez (2011 – 16th, 14)
Despite an innocuous 2011, Sauber were confident during the launch of their new C31 that beating long-time midfield rivals Force India and Williams was achievable in 2012.
Kamui Kobayashi, who astonished the F1 community with some spectacular passing manoeuvres in his debut season, remains with the Swiss team for a third year, with Sergio Perez once again lining up alongside. Last season the Mexican was one of the few F1 drivers who could manage Pirelli tyre wear effectively: in his debut race, Perez took the chequered flag in fifth place having required only one pit stop, as opposed to the standard three.
The absence of former-Technical Director James Key is a high profile loss, but team insiders predict the ban on exhaust-blown diffusers will play heavily in Sauber’s favour. Peter Sauber continues as Team Principal with the eponymous outfit.
Championship Position 2011: 7th
Best Result: 5th (Monaco)
Drivers: Narain Karthikeyan (2011 – =20th, 0), Pedro de la Rosa (2011 – =20th, 0)
Drivers: Timo Glock (2011 – =20th, 0), Charles Pic (2011 – N/A)
With the cars of both teams failing mandatory crash tests, the launch dates for Marussia’s MR01 and HRT’s F112 have yet to be confirmed. Neither team are therefore likely to run their new models before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Timo Glock remains as team leader with the renamed Virgin Racing Team – in deference to its new Russian sportscar partnership – and will drive alongside his third new team-mate in three years, former GP2 race winner Charles Pic. Narain Karthikeyan returns to HRT after a part-campaign with the team last year and will be joined by former-McLaren driver Pedro de la Rosa, the pair forming the oldest line-up on the grid. Points are unlikely, with both Marussia and HRT struggling for pace during last season.
Championship Position 2011: = 11th
Best Result: HRT – 13th (Canada), Marussia – 14th (Australia, Canada)
Over the last week, crankandpiston has brought you some of the finer points to look out for during the 2012 Formula One season. Now there’s less than three weeks before the first race in Melbourne. Can Sebastien Vettel hold onto his crown? Will Michael Schumacher seal his 92nd Grand Prix victory? Has Kimi Raikkonen still got the speed after two years away? Can Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton become Britain’s first double World Champion since Jackie Stewart? In twenty races time, we’ll have our answers >>>
Click here for Part One of our 2012 Formula One preview
Click here for Part Two of our 2012 Formula One preview
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