After the 2012 Formula One season took eight races to deliver a repeat winner, fans shouldn’t expect races to be predictable any time soon.
Things are so topsy-turvy that even the guys driving the cars wouldn’t risk putting any cash on a championship favourite, because they seem to have no clue who will be fast from one weekend to the next.
“We’ve seen how quickly things can change this year,” said Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen, when asked who he’d bet on for the title.
“You only need one bad race and the guy wins, so I wouldn’t put money [on it]. I’d probably use it for something else.”
Answering the same question, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher of Mercedes, who is 94 points adrift of the championship lead, offered this gem: “Things change so quickly, maybe I [should] put money on myself.”
The comments were made after Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso became the first two-time winner this year in an emotional victory in front of his adoring compatriots at Sunday’s European Grand Prix on the streets of Valencia, Spain. Räikkönen was second, with Schumacher third.
So far this year, it seems like just about anyone has a shot at winning on any given day. With the Pirelli tires offering a tiny temperature window where they can deliver optimum performance, the teams have struggled to find consistent pace from race to race.
Sometimes even figuring out how the car will react in different sessions during a race weekend can be guesswork at best.
For example, after a poor showing in qualifying a day earlier in Spain, Alonso thought his chances of a top finish on Sunday were somewhere between slim and none.
“We were not quick enough to be in the top-10 in the second part of qualifying, and now the race will naturally be tougher,” he said after only managing to put up the 11th fastest time in Saturday’s qualifying.
“The podium is out of reach and clearly, with [championship leader Lewis] Hamilton on the front row, it’s easy to expect that we will lose ground to him.”
But like most of the prognosticating in F1 this year, things didn’t exactly turn out the way Alonso expected.
A rocket start put him up to eighth after the first lap and then a couple of good pitstops and several inspired passes had the Ferrari third at the halfway point. Alonso put himself in a position to win with another sensational overtake on second-place man Romain Grosjean of Lotus on a Lap 33 restart following a safety car period. When Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull expired seconds later, the Spaniard inherited a lead he never relinquished.
Unfortunately for Vettel, his car trouble ruined a race where he looked untouchable, having built a 20-second lead in the first half of the 57-lap grand prix before the safety car emerged.
Things got even better for Alonso when Hamilton crashed out of the race on the final lap while battling over third with Williams driver Pastor Maldonado. The accident, which delivered a penalty to Maldonado, ended a frustrating race for 2008 world champion Hamilton, who was only battling with the Williams driver after a problem with the front jack in his final pitstop allowed Alonso to get ahead and cost him a shot at the win.
The McLaren driver had carried a three-point lead into Spain after an impressive win in Montreal’s Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago, where he became the record seventh different winner in the first seven races of 2012.
After cracking the top step of the podium for the second time, what does Alonso think of the turn of events that saw him vault back to the top of the standings?
“That’s F1 – that’s the best thing we can say,” he said. “It’s unpredictable.”
“We had an amazing race, amazing start, some good fights, I think I remember six or seven overtakings where it was very close – we touched each other. All of those little moments can go on the wrong side and you finish the race in the wall, or you can be the winner at the end. And today, we had all the good factors with us, and the luck, and we have to enjoy this.”
The two-time world champion now has 111 points, 20 ahead of second-placed Mark Webber of Red Bull, who was fourth in Spain. Hamilton is third with the 88 points he had coming into the race, with Vettel fourth on 85 and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg 10 further back in fifth. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
While luck seemed to be going Alonso’s way in Spain, the fickle nature of the 2012 season means he won’t be relaxing as the team heads back to its Maranello factory to prepare for the British Grand Prix on July 8 at the Silverstone Circuit.
“I think we always need to be cautious and we always need to be honest with ourselves first and with our supporters, saying that we will fight, will work day and night to be competitive and to fight for the title, which is the ultimate goal for Ferrari,” he said.
“We know that we are not in the position that we want to be in and there are a few cars quicker than us and we cannot be blind to that. We need to work.”
Vive la différence!
Anyone wondering why F1 has never made inroads in the U.S. needs to look no further than four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti.
Rather than go home after his engine blew on the warm-up lap for Saturday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250, polesitter Franchitti made his way to the broadcast booth to join the NBC Sports crew as a guest colour commentator.
While the Scot decide to have some light fun after his disappointing exit, it would be a pretty good bet that an F1 driver would never stroll into the BBC’s F1 broadcast booth unannounced after being knocked out of the action. And even if one did, fans certainly would not be treated to the kind of open and frank comments Franchitti offered during his time on air.
For example, when KV Racing’s E.J. Viso made a rude gesture towards Will Power after the Penske driver collected him in a crash, Franchitti got in a solid jab.
“It’s a little rich coming from E.J. – he’s hit everything but the pace car,” Franchitti said.
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