Though Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone played down the prospect in the late 1990s, this season’s F1 calendar will boast an unprecedented twenty races. India makes its first appearance on the Grand Prix scene in October, while the United States Grand Prix will return (budget permitting) for the first time since 2007 with a new venue in Austin, Texas. The Turkish Grand Prix makes way for the new races.
In-season testing is also set to return, with a session set to run at Mugello before the European leg of the season gets underway. Debutant drivers will hope to benefit from this extra running, as will the teams following new technical regulations being sanctioned during the off-season. In particular, off-throttle blown diffusers – a system that directs exhaust gases over the diffuser, thus creating downforce while a driver is off the throttle – have been banned for 2012. The practice was used to great success by Red Bull last year, the core design of the Championship-winning RB7 based around this.
Drivers: Jenson Button (2011 – 2nd, 270), Lewis Hamilton (2011 – 5th, 227)
Taking six wins to Red Bull’s twelve last season did not sit well with McLaren. A more conventional design for the new MP4-27 – the only frontrunner not to run a stepped nose this season (so far) thanks to the car’s low centre of gravity – may remedy the ills of an over-ambitious design last year. The Woking outfit will be keen to clinch the Constructors’ Championship it last won, incredibly, back in 1998.
Too many on-track ‘adventures’ prevented Lewis Hamilton from mounting a serious Championship assault. Comparisons to the tenacious youngster who won the 2008 drivers’ title in dramatic style sadly dwindled last year. But as his performances in China and Abu Dhabi demonstrated, staunch critics could be forced to eat their words in 2012.
No longer part of ‘Lewis’ team’, Jenson Button enters his third season with McLaren in the best position since the eve of his 2009 Championship campaign. The only driver on terms with Sebastien Vettel in the closing rounds – and the winner of a memorable Canadian Grand Prix – proved that a second title in his 13th F1 season is not outside the realms of possibility.
Championship Position 2011: 2nd
Wins: 6 (China, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Abu Dhabi)
Drivers: Michael Schumacher (2011 – 8th, 76), Nico Rosberg (2011 – 7th, 89)
Norbert Haug, the President of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, surprised the F1 community when he admitted the new MGP W03 would not feature any dramatic innovations. The team (now AMG Mercedes) was the last to launch their 2012 challenger, even missing the first day of pre-season testing. Despite buying out the Championship-winning Brawn outfit in 2009, Mercedes’ return to F1 has yielded just three podiums, none of which were scored last season.
Following his much hyped-return, Michael Schumacher has yet to better fourth place, despite the seven-time World Champion completing the most on-track overtakes last season. Now into the final year of his Mercedes contract, regular podiums will help secure Schumacher’s position with the team amidst the rumours of a second retirement from Formula One.
Nico Rosberg will hope to secure his first F1 victory after two superlative seasons against his more experienced team-mate. Having remained well off the pace of the top three last year, a rejuvenated technical line-up – which now includes former-Red Bull man Geoff Willis – and a bold design concept under the direction of Team Principal Ross Brawn means victories are surely a must for Mercedes in 2012.
Championship Position 2011: 4th
Best Position: 4th (Canada)
Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo (2011 – =20th, 0), Jean-Eric Vergne (2011 – N/A)
It’s all change at Toro Rosso, with Daniel Ricciardo and 2010 British F3 Champion Jean-Eric Vergne forming the team’s first all-new driver line-up since its 2006 debut. Although Ricciardo’s 11 outings with HRT last season make up the pair’s combined F1 experience, team officials are keen to jumpstart Toro Rosso’s contribution to the Red Bull Junior Driver Programme, with former-pilot Sebastien Vettel the solitary success story thus far.
Despite allusions that the nose of Toro Rosso’s new STR7 may be aggressively redesigned later in the year, top five times at the pre-season Barcelona tests suggest the team will be a strong points contender throughout the season.
And with rumours circulating that Webber’s 2013 Red Bull seat could be up for grabs, both Ricciardo and Vergne will be keen to establish themselves quickly as team leader.
Championship Position 2011: 8th
Best Position: 7th (India, Korea)
Drivers: Heikki Kovalainen (2011 – =20th, 0), Vitaly Petrov (2011 – 10th, 37)
The former-Lotus Racing team – renamed after a year-long law suit with Lotus-Renault – has big plans for the new season. On their debut, the team had targeted 2015 as the year of their first Grand Prix victory, but have yet to record their first Championship point.
The team are confident however that the new CT01’s aggressive design and new signing Vitaly Petrov, who ironically drove for Lotus-Renault last season, will establish them comfortably in the midfield.
Heikki Kovalainen resumes his team leader status after a stellar 2011 in which he regularly finished as best of the ‘new teams’.
Championship Position 2011: 10th
Best Position: 13th (Australia, Monaco, Italy)
Next up: Red Bull, Force India, Sauber, Marussia, HRT
Click here for Part One of our 2012 Formula One preview
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