Friday, 16 March 2012

F1 2012 rundown

With the first practice session of the 2012 getting underway in less than two hours, here's my interested-amateur opinion on what's going to happen this season.

This is based on coverage from winter testing, team and driver interviews, general trends and gut feelings.

The frontrunners
Red Bull &McLaren.

Painful as it is to say for a McLaren fan, it's hard to see anyone beating Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel is on top form, and it will take a mighty effort to overcome him. They were quick in testing and have a history of hiding their true speed.

Although their headline times weren't that impressive, McLaren are widely considered to be closest to Red Bull. Their final test showed a very competitive car, and those at Red Bull have been praising the McLaren.

Sebastian Vettel will probably be World Champion again, with one of the two McLarens in second - Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will be closer this season than last.

1st Vettel
2nd Button / Hamilton
3rd Hamilton / Button
4th Webber

The chasing pack
Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari

I think all these three teams are in with excellent chances of winning a race this season.

Ferrari have been very pessimistic, but Fernando Alonso is a fighter, and will push the team for all their worth. He's also very capable of getting results better than the car deserves. Felipe Massa has had two poor seasons in a row. I wouldn't be surprised to see him replaced at the end of the season, and I think he'll finish several places behind Alonso.

However, many teams say they believe Mercedes could be in with a very strong car this year. They are tipped to have the technology to copy (like the blown diffuser last year, and the F-duct the year before, and the double diffuser before that), and Ross Brawn is an excellent engineer. They have been improving every year (except 2009-2010, but it's hard to improve on the year they had in 2009 as Brawn GP).

Lotus also posted excellent times in testing, and have a special talent in Kimi Raikkonen. However, Raikkonen is not a team leader, and won't push Lotus in the same way Schumacher will at Mercedes. I wouldn't be surprised, however, to see one of these teams sneak fourth place in the drivers championship.

5th Raikkonen
6th Rosberg
7th Schumacher
8th Alonso
9th Grosjean
10th Massa

The midfield
Force India, Sauber, Torro Rosso, Williams

These are the teams who will be regularly scrapping for the lower order points, and may get one or two podium finishes.

Force India have been the strongest midfield team for a while, and really seem to be just about to break into the chasing pack. I can see the young, eager talents of Di Resta and Hulkenberg beating Massa for 10th.

It's hard to read the other three teams, and they are normally close anyway. Williams have made improvements over last year's car, and so these three teams will be racing wheel to wheel throughout the season. Sauber probably have the best driver line up out of the three.

11th Di Resta
12th Hulkenberg
13th Kobayashi
14th Perez
15th Maldonado
16th Senna
17th Ricciardo
18th Vergne

The stragglers
Caterham, HRT, Marussia

These newish teams are unlikely to score many points this season.

Caterham have been putting a really big effort into catching the midfield teams, and I think this is the season we'll see them start to mix it up with them - more at the beginning than the end - I doubt their development can keep up. They are clearly faster than the other two teams, who had very little testing.

HRT have done no pre-season testing, and will probably be much slower than the others.

19th Kovalainen
20th Petrov
21st Glock
22nd Pic
23rd de la Rosa
24th Karthikayen.

Enjoy it!

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