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Six appeal - the 2012 Season Preview Part One 09 Mar 2012

Six appeal - the 2012 Season Preview Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One Testing, Day 3, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, 3 March 2012 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 Team.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 1 March 2012 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India F1 VJM05 and Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Caterham CT01.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 4 March 2012 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR7.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 4 March 2012 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E20.
Formula One Testing, Day 3, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, 3 March 2012 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2012 leads Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-27.
Formula One Testing, Day 3, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, 3 March 2012

There have never been six world champions on a Formula One grid. That’s how special 2012 will be, with 25 per cent of the field having at one time or other held the crown and accounting for 14 titles between them.

As Sebastian Vettel aims for a third consecutive drivers’ championship (and Red Bull ditto in the constructors’ stakes), Michael Schumacher strives to show that he is still capable of taking a record eighth with Mercedes, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso wants to move a title ahead of Vettel, whilst McLaren team mates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and the returning Kimi Raikkonen for Lotus all seek to draw equal with the young German, who has dominated for the past two seasons.

As if it isn’t good enough having those six heavy hitters slugging it out, and in particular a revitalised Hamilton seeking to re-establish himself over the super-relaxed Button, who is the only team mate to have bested him, Red Bull’s Mark Webber is intent on taking the fight again to Vettel just like he managed to in 2010. Felipe Massa is desperate to get on to terms with Alonso, to stake his claim to continue his F1 career by staying with Ferrari in 2013. And Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg wants to prove once and for all to a still undecided world that he truly has the ability to put Schumacher away and win races.

Then there’s the French renaissance, led by Romain Grosjean at Lotus, where his speed against Raikkonen’s will be hotly debated. Will it mean that he really is that good, or just that the Finn has been unable to rekindle past glories? Both will be out to prove that they deserve their second chances. For Francophiles, there’s also Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso and Charles Pic at Marussia.

The battle between the drivers rightly puts the focus of the sport where it belongs, but the inter-team fight will determine which of the above named pilots gets the chance to strut his stuff.

Which leads us to the vexed question of testing form… Don’t forget that running weights could vary between 10 and 160 kilogrammes, and that 10 kg of fuel load adds 0.3 seconds to the typical lap time.

Williams did the greatest mileage, followed by Ferrari, Sauber, McLaren, Force India, Caterham, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus. But Lotus (ne Renault) looked very strong as they set fastest times on several occasions, with Ferrari, Force India, Williams and Sauber amongst those also making appearances at the top of the timesheets.

Red Bull and McLaren seemed quietly content with what they achieved, despite some minor reliability issues in each camp, while Ferrari appeared to struggle to match the pace of their long-distance runs.

Both Mercedes and Lotus are confident that they will be able to get a lot closer to the top three.

The midfield fight will be tougher than it was last year. Force India are determined to hold on to their sixth place, but Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg face strong opposition from Toro Rosso and their two new young chargers Daniel Ricciardo and Vergne, Sauber with their established pairing of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, and the revamped Williams equipe with Bruno Senna joining Pastor Maldonado.

Tony Fernandes is also determined to get in on this act with his newly-renamed Caterham team, pairing Heikki Kovalainen with Vitaly Petrov. Marussia and HRT suffered hugely from problems passing the mandatory FIA crash tests, and are left to fight one another at the back, after doing next-to-no testing.

Continued in Part Two

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