The 2012 Formula 1 World Championship season has been one real topsy-turvy affair. I’d like to think I’m pretty good with my F1 history, and even I can’t recall a season so wide open where every single weekend there are atleast 16 drivers who could realistically snatch a place on the podium. It has simply been extraordinary!
The first follow on question I suppose is 'Why has this year been so close?' I believe there isn't a single reason but a combination of things. First and foremost are the tyres. Pirelli has supplied a variety of compounds this year as usual but they have been harder to understand than in the past. You often find teams and drivers talking about their struggle to find the sweet spot and this season's tyres seem more sensitive to temperature and track conditions than ever before. A few degrees of temperature change or a slightly different asphalt and the performance window changes dramatically.
The second big reason I believe is the banning of the 'blown diffuser' technology that all the teams were using last year. The top teams like Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari had certainly made good use of this in 2011 and therefore the banning of it has meant that they have been pulled back to where the chasing pack were.
Class of the field
For all this talk about this being the most open and closely fought season of F1 racing, there has been one man who has stood head and shoulders above the rest — Fernando Alonso. The Spanish double World Champion has been simply perfect thus far this season and especially on the Sundays, his relentless pace lap after lap has literally pummelled points onto the board. For most of the races the Ferrari has been the 3rd or 4th best car and some weekends perhaps even the 5th best, yet Fernando sits on top 40 points clear of the pack. His win in Valencia summed his season up beautifully I thought - not a great qualifying, brilliantly opportunistic with a fine show of controlled aggression and a slice of luck to get to the victory.
Behind Fernando, it's a real battle. Just eight points cover Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen. Each of these guys have had good days but they've also all had days where they looked a bit average for a variety of reasons and that has been the difference between them and Fernando. I'm a real supporter of Mark Webber's and I'm delighted to see he has re-discovered the form that he lost last year. I suspect the 2010 Championship battle took a lot out of Mark mentally and he suffered a bit last season, but this year he has come back refreshed and strong.
Vettel came into this season looking to be the youngest ever triple World Champion in F1 history. If he does manage to pull off the Championship win this year, it may well be his best yet. In 2010 the Red Bull car was the pick of the bunch but a combination of errors and unreliability meant he only snuck into the tittle at the final race. This year, Vettel lost a guaranteed victory in Valencia which may prove very costly at the end in a season where it has become clear that not only do you need to rack up the odd victory, but a non-finish from a good position will hurt badly. The team have been consistently one of the most competitive across the 11 races so you have to assume that both drivers will be in the fight until the end.
Lewis in form
Lewis Hamilton is another one to rediscover his mojo. When he's feeling good and everything's working well, Lewis is majestic to watch. His win in Canada and his qualifying lap in Budapest were clear illustrations of that. He lost an opportunity of another win in Barcelona when a fuel calculation error in qualifying meant he started at the back of the grid and further potential points were lost in Valencia and Germany which has pretty much created his deficit to Fernando.
Kimi Raikkonen has been the surprise contender of the season thus far. After two years of playing in the mud in the World Rally Championship, the 2007 World Champion has come back and made an immediate impact. The Lotus has been the most consistently fast car this season and once we saw that pace early on, the biggest surprise has been that they haven't actually won a race yet. In Bahrain, Barcelona, Valencia, Silverstone and Hungary either Romain or Kimi showed enough speed to make you think that they should've been contenders for the win albeit missing one piece of the puzzle - either sub-par qualifying or conservative strategy or poor reliability hurt them.
The second half of the season promises to enthrall as much as the first.