Five races have yielded five winners, in five different cars. That seems to be the nature of Formula One in 2012 – close competition, with the team that makes best use of the tyres coming out on top. While the racing has been tight and competitive, what is perhaps more exciting is that there is still no dominant team or driver. At this point in 2011, it was clear that Sebastian Vettel was streets ahead of anyone else. No so this season.
The most consistently quick team has yet to win in 2012. Lotus have been competitive at every race so far, but the top step of the podium has eluded them. Kimi Raikkonen’s comeback to Formula One has been thrilling to watch. The 2007 World Champion has clearly lost none of his skill and, if anything, has returned to the top-flight more focused and more driven to win. With two podiums this season, Raikkonen is fourth in the Drivers’ Championship and looking stronger by the race. A win cannot be far away.
Raikkonen’s team-mate, Romain Grosjean, has not yet looked like a race winner. He has had impressive qualifying pace, starting in the top 10 at every race this season, and twice from the second row of the grid. Qualifying well is the first step towards running at the front of the field, and Grosjean has certainly started well in that regard. In the races, Raikkonen seems to have a small edge over his young French team-mate, but that is a matter of experience. As he accumulates more Formula One experience, Grosjean should become a contender for victory.
McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams have each topped the podium once this season. Lotus have yet to win, but that is surely just a matter of time. A victory at Monaco this weekend would be a massive boost for the team, and would provide fans with yet more excitement in what is already one of the most exciting Formula One seasons for many years.
Five winners in five races has happened before, most recently in 1983. Six out of six has never happened in Formula One. If it is possible, then 2012 is the year we will find out. The most likely driver to make it happen is Kimi Raikkonen. But, given the unpredictable nature of the season far, who will win at Monaco is anybody’s guess.
Lotus have a quick car. That much is obvious. In the hands of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, the Lotus E20 occupied the lower two-thirds of the podium at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Grosjean qualified third in Australia. Both drivers have looked fast all season. But it bears considering that neither Raikkonen nor Grosjean was on on the grid last year. They’re both taking some time to get acclimatized to Formula One in 2012.
Lotus are competing with McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes. Each of those teams has had a stable driver line-up for at least two seasons, but Lotus has an all-new driver pairing for this 2012. Raikkonen and Grosjean have only worked with the team and each other for a few months. By contrast, Vettel and Webber have been team-mates in a largely unchanged Red Bull team since 2009.
Team principal Eric Boullier is impressed with his young French driver, saying of Grosjean, “He has the speed and the talent to be world champion one day.” Raikkonen, champion in 2007, has already proven his winning ability. The technical team produced a solid car in 2010, and an ambitious but ultimately unsuccesfful challenger in 2011. The 2012 car seems so far to be fast and reliable in all conditions.
So it seems logical that there is more to come from Lotus. A fast car, a previous champion and a quick young driver makes for a competitive package. We can expect to see a black and gold car win a race this season.
Michael Schumacher topped the time sheets on the second day of pre-season testing at Jerez, Spain. The seven-time World Champion completed 132 laps with a fastest time of 1m18.561s, more than a second faster than yesterday’s quickest lap by Kimi Raikkonen.
Heikki Kovalainen made up for Caterham’s limited running yesterday by completing 139 laps today, more than any other driver. It was a significant day for Caterham, as KERS was used for the first time on the CT01. The team formerly known as Lotus did not use KERS in 2011.
Kovalainen was upbeat, saying: “I feel very happy with the work we have completed today. Yesterday we had a problem that was nothing to do with the car so today was our first real day of testing and we had a trouble free day, completing most of what we wanted to on day one and day two and working through a variety of setup changes. We ran on each of the tyre compounds and I’m really starting to get a feel for the car. Basically it’s good news because it confirms what I thought yesterday. This car is a lot better than the 2011 car, it’s quicker and everything works as we want it to. We’ve made very solid progress and I feel really good physically, so I think there’s a lot more to come.”
The day was mostly without incident. Kimi Raikkonen had a couple of off-track excursions, the first of which brought out the red flag while marshals cleaned gravel off the track. There was only one other stoppage, when some loose concrete was removed from behind a kerb.
Raikkonen entertained with some aggressive driving throughout the day, and Schumacher gave an overtaking masterclass when he ended up behind other cars at several points in the afternoon.
Today was the last day of the first test for HRT, who will bring their 2012 car to the second test in Barcelona in two weeks time. They ran their 2011 car for two days in order to gather data on the new Pirelli tyres. All of the other teams, except Marussia, will be in action again tomorrow morning.
Laptimes for the day are as follows:
|1||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes W02||1m18.561s||132|
|2||Mark Webber||Red Bull RB8||1m19.184s||97|
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso STR7||1m19.587s||100|
|4||Jules Bianchi||Force India VJM05||1m20.221s||46|
|5||Kimi Raikkonen||Lotus E20||1m20.239s||117|
|6||Paul di Resta||Force India VJM05||1m20.272s||69|
|7||Felipe Massa||Ferrari F2012||1m20.454s||95|
|8||Jenson Button||McLaren MP4-27||1m20.688s||85|
|9||Sergio Perez||Sauber C31||1m20.711s||106|
|10||Pastor Maldonado||Williams FW34||1m21.197s||97|
|11||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham CT01||1m21.518s||139|
|12||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT F111||1m22.128s||64|
Kimi Räikkönen has signed a 2-year deal to return to Formula 1 with Lotus Renault GP, according to ESPNF1.com.
There was speculation that Kimi would drive for Williams next year, and it was revealed in the press that he had spoken to a few teams, Williams included. During Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, Martin Brundle stated in his commentary that the Räikkönen-Williams deal had fallen through, but gave no further suggestions as to what Williams or Räikkönen might do in 2012. Now, however, it seems confirmed that he will drive for Renault.
This means, of course, that there will be 6 world champions on the grid next year. In fact, the most recent 6 world champions will all occupy the grid for the first time. Schumacher, Alonso, Räikkönen, Hamilton, Button and Vettel have never before all taken part in the same Formula 1 event, yet between them, they have dominated Formula 1 for the last 12 years.
The LRGP deal does make sense for Räikkönen. Lotus Renault GP were bold, innovative and aggressive in their approach to the 2011 season. They were building around a top driver, Robert Kubica, until he was ruled out after a rallying crash just before the season started. They are backed by Group Lotus, who clearly have the resources and determination to take the team forward. Kimi Räikkönen has landed himself in the middle of a team with a great deal of potential.
This announcement does also raise a question regarding Williams. It was generally assumed that Rubens Barrichello would be replaced if Räikkönen joined Williams for 2012. Now there is the possibility that Barrichello might keep his seat. In fairness, he hasn’t done a lot wrong this season. The Williams FW33 has not been a competitive car, and there’s not a lot Barrichello could have done with it.
As Formula 1’s most experienced driver, Rubens still has a lot to offer the sport. He has a large fan base, is popular with the paddock, and is still driving as well as he ever has. It would be a shame if he were to leave Formula 1 for any reason other than his own decision.