After three races in the 2012 Formula One season, there is almost no indication of who is likely to take the title. Even at this early stage in previous seasons, some sort of hierarchy would normally have emerged. But not this year.
In three races, there have been three different winners, and six different drivers on the podium. Seven different teams featured in the top 10 in Australia, nine in Malaysia, and seven again in China. Aside from the “new teams” – Caterham, Marussia and HRT – only Felipe Massa has yet to score points.
Qualifying has been astonishingly close. In Q2 for China, World Champion Sebastian Vettel was only 0.330s behind Mark Webber, who was quickest in the session. That tiny gap meant that Vettel was 11th, and did not progress into Q3. In the same Q2 session, the fastest and slowest times were only 1.231s apart.
In an environment as tough as this year’s Formula One grid, consistency is essential. Any poor result is heavily penalised, as is obvious in the case of Jenson Button. After winning in Australia, Button was out of the points in Malaysia, but performed well to finish second in China. Even so, he is only second in the championship. Fernando Alonso has had similarly mixed results. Fifth in Australia, a win in Malaysia and ninth in China puts him only third in the standings.
In the midst of all this inconsistency, one driver emerges at the top of the table. Lewis Hamilton has three third places. Not great results for a driver of his class and with a car as good as the McLaren. But his consistency puts him ahead of everyone else, leading the championship by two points from team-mate Button.
Consistency has won the title before. Keke Rosberg, father of Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg, won the 1982 title despite only one race win that season. Pironi, Watson, Prost, Lauda and Arnoux each won two races, but it was Rosberg who triumphed due to six podiums and ten points finishes.
2012 promises to be one of the most open seasons in Formula One history. Each race weekend has been thrilling from start to finish. It’s anyone’s guess who will win the next race, and that is fantastic for the sport.