The 2012 Season Review - Part Two 01 Dec 2012
Continued from Part One
You could make a strong case for the Sauber C31 being one of the cars of the year. It struggled in some temperatures and it liked the faster tracks, but it treated its tyres extremely well and it was usually extremely quick. That first became truly apparent in Malaysia, where Sergio Perez was catching Alonso hand over fist in the rain to the extent that it seemed only a matter of time before he would become the first Mexican since Pedro Rodriguez back in 1970 to win a Grand Prix. And his error there notwithstanding, his second place was a coming of age for him. It was also a sign that Peter Saubers team - the running of which he handed over to Monisha Kaltenborn - really had something special on their hands.
After a lean spell Perez was third in Canada, sixth in Germany and an excellent second at Monza where he might well have achieved his personal aim of a victory before the end of the year. He signed to replace Hamilton at McLaren for 2013 shortly after, but seemed to go off the boil towards the end of the season.
Team mate Kamui Kobayashi was a little overshadowed this year and ultimately lost his drive with the Swiss team in favour of Hulkenberg and upcoming Mexican Esteban Gutierrez for 2013. One wonders whether he might have held on to his ride if hed been able to start second at Spa and not been taken out in the first corner courtesy of the flying Grosjean; that was surely the worst day of Saubers otherwise excellent year, which also included Kobayashis fine third - his first F1 podium - at Suzuka.
Force India maintained the momentum which had placed them sixth overall in 2011, and though they dropped to seventh this time they scored an impressive 109 points compared to last years 69. Hulkenberg and Di Resta were very evenly matched on many occasions, though after the Scots excellent drive to fourth place in Singapore, it was the German who starred, most notably in Brazil where he overtook the McLarens to lead the race. In the end Hulkenberg was the major points scorer with 69, to di Restas 46, though the teams habit of splitting strategy did not always favour the latter.
Williams had their best car in years, thanks to the technical shake-up that Adam Parr put in place before he quit the sport at the start of the season. He employed Dr Mark Gillan, formerly of Jaguar F1, and brought former McLaren man Mike Coughlan back from F1 exile, and they created a tremendous machine in the FW34. But though it showed genuine flashes of potential in the early races nobody really expected to see the flawless display that Maldonado put on in Spain.
Starting from the pole after Hamiltons penalty, he held off Alonso throughout and even drew the Spaniard into overtaxing his tyres, as he scored Williams first victory since Brazil 2004 only days after founder Sir Frank turned 70. It was an emotional success marred only by the dramatic garage fire that followed.
Sadly, that was arguably the only truly error-free drive from the Venezuelan, who earned himself numerous stewards penalties early on and then a 10-place grid drop in Brazil having received three reprimands. Incredibly, he scored points on only five occasions, with a nine-race drought between the win in Barcelona and eighth place in Japan.
Meanwhile, Senna had his moments, such as a great drive through the field to sixth in the rain in Malaysia, but he had too many silly accidents and often suffered through losing track time when reigning GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas ran the car on Friday mornings. The Finnish test driver was very quick, however, and could be Williams best chance of exploiting the FW35s potential in 2013 as he partners the unrepentant Maldonado.
Toro Rosso had some decent outings, and there were times when the very closely-matched Ricciardo and Vergne looked promising. The French rookie took four eighth places to the Australians four fifths and two sixths, but generally the latter had the upper hand, especially in qualifying. Though both drove well, neither did more than their predecessors had, showing just how fickle the sport can be.
None of F1 racings three newest teams - Caterham, Marussia and HRT - made the progress they had expected. Indeed, Caterham had a most disappointing season in which they only narrowly reduced the gap to Toro Rosso at the tail of the midfield, despite the addition of KERS to their car. Petrov kept Kovalainen honest, but their habitual qualifying places were 19th and 20th and until Brazil the best result was 13th.
Marussia, meanwhile did make progress, and despite the terrible accident that befell test driver Maria de Villota at Duxford in July which cast a pall over them in the middle of the season, the MR01 looked quite handy at times, especially when you remember that the team did not use KERS, unlike rivals Caterham.
The turning point came in Singapore when Timo Glocks 12th place moved them ahead of Caterham in the constructors standings, a potential financial boon. For Marussia this was manna from Heaven worth around $10m in FOCA payments, for Caterham a disaster. In Brazil it seemed that impressive French rookie Charles Pic might do even better with 11th, but then he was overtaken by Caterhams Vitaly Petrov, turning the tables back in Caterhams favour at the eleventh hour.
HRTs new owners seemed to have got the hang of F1 racing early in the season, though it took the team a while to catch up after their move to Madrid, and at times Pedro de la Rosa and the underrated Narain Karthikeyan showed Marussia-challenging pace.
All three of the lowest ranked teams used Friday drivers during the 2012 season: Caterham tried Giedo van der Garde and Alex Rossi, both of whom performed well; Marussia gave Max Chilton a run in India, where he looked good; and HRT tried Dani Clos and Ma Qing Hua. The Spaniard was fast, while the Chinese driver far from disgraced himself despite his lack of experience.
All in all, 2012 was a fantastic season of F1 racing with an abundance of hugely unpredictable and exciting races and a championship battle that went right down to the wire. And there is no reason not to expect more of the same when the 2013 campaign kicks off in Australia in March - and don't forget, pre-season testing is less than ten weeks away...
For tickets and travel to 2013 FORMULA 1 races, click here.
For FORMULA 1 and F1 team merchandise, click here.