Titles decided, it's time to look at 2012
Yet another race and yet another win for Seb Vettel. This time it's South Korea. It won't be an exaggeration to say that the 2011 season has been one of the most lopsided in recent times. Not since 2004, has anyone dominated a season so much as Vettel has done. Ironically, Michael Schumacher who swept away his opponents seven years ago with 13 wins in a season, has himself faced the Vettel storm this year. Given his form and the performance of the Red Bull Racing car, it won't take a genius to predict the outcome of the remaining three races. For Indian spectators, it is rather sad that even before the the inaugural race, both the titles have been decided. (Red Bull Racing sealed their second consecutive Constructors' title at Korea) In short, the first Indian GP would now be an academic exercise as far as this year's championship race is concerned. Hopefully, next year, it would be different.
Speaking of next year, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes GP would want to put the 2011 season behind them asap so that they can start afresh from 2012. To have been beaten by a drinks company for a second year in a row in what is billed as the pinnacle of motorsport must not be a great feeling for the big three of Formula One. However, next year could bring some hope for them.
Though trailing Vettel by a huge margin in the title race, McLaren's Jenson Button has stood tall among the rest. Plagued by bad luck and team errors, the 2009 champion has shown flashes of brilliance which, in couple of races, even got the better of Vettel. The signing of a multi-year contract with McLaren shows that the team has enough faith in Button. With a long term deal in place, the Englishman would feel much secured and therefore more free to launch an even more determined effort to regain the championship.
Ferrari's challenge will again be spearheaded by the consistent, confident and talented Fernando Alonso. This year, Alonso has had to do with an underperforming car which has been second best to Red Bull Racing as well as McLaren. The fact that he continues to remain in third place in the drivers' standings, ahead of Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton is a remarkable achievement. A true measure of it can be got by the fact that he has scored more than twice the points than his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa. Alonso also has managed to score top 5 finishes in all but two of the 16 races out of which 8 have resulted in a place on the podium. He also managed to win a race (British GP). On the other hand Massa has finished in top 5 only four times with his best result being a 5th place.
More than anything else, Alonso would want to end the championship drought that he has been seeing since 2006. As a double world champion and someone who had stopped Michael Schumacher, Alonso should have won more titles. However, an acrimonious year at McLaren at 2007 followed by two years in a Renault car (which was not a championship material) and a strategic blunder in the last race of 2010 that cost him the championship, have meant that Alonso is now without the title for 5 years, something that he would like to change. With reports that designer Rory Byrne, who was a key member of the Ferrari era of Schumacher, returning to Maranello, it should add more strength to the Ferrari camp.
Perhaps the dark horse for next year could be Mercedes GP. Going by their performance this year, they hardly fit the bill as title contenders. The Ross Brawn led team hasn't even come anywhere close to challenging the top 3. What's worse is that teams like Force India and in yesterday's race, Toro Rosso, have managed to get the better of them.
The first two years of existence have been nothing short of trial by fire. Despite having two of the biggest names in Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg as drivers and a successful boss like Ross Brawn, they have not had a single podium finish, let alone a race win. However, Brawn is a comptetent and clever boss as seen by the stunning success of Brawn GP in 2009. A year earlier, the earlier avatar of Brawn GP, Honda F1, had a torrid season despite having drivers like Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. Brawn concentrated his efforts on 2009 and despite crippling blows like the withdrawal of Honda from F1 at the end of 2008, managed to run the team under a new name and won both the drivers' and constructors' titles.
Mercedes GP has been further strengthened by the arrival of ex-Ferrari and ex-HRT technical bosses Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis respectively. Schumacher too would be keen to prove his detractors wrong. The seven times champion has faced lot of criticism for returning to the sport and not managing to make any impression. 2012 could very well be his year.
More about Dhananjay Khadilkar
Formula 1 writer
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