Watch out for the Lotus team
The time for talk is over. In a week from now on, the action that will speak louder. The 2012 Formula One season starts from next Saturday at Melbourne with a hope for other teams and fans in general, that Red Bull won't run away with the championship like they did last time. There's some indication that this year's championship could be a lot closer.
The start of the season is going to be crucial. Last year, Sebastian Vettel was unstoppable from the word go. He rattled off a string of victories/top 3 finishes in the first half that left the chasing pack trailing way behind. By the time, Button and Alonso figured out a way to leash Vettel, it was too late as far as the championship was concerned. What was played out in the second half was a mère formality.
Button and Alonso, were the best 'other' drivers of 2011, and 2012 too sees them as hot favourites for the title. Ferrari hasn't been making the right noises in the run up to Melbourne. However, pre-season testing is not a true indicator of the team's form.
Going by the drivers' potential and the car's timings in Barcelona, McLaren again seems to be the closest challenger to Red Bull. Hamilton and Button are obvious contenders for the title, especially the latter, who has come of age as a driver after making the switch from Brawn GP to the Woking based outfit. Even though he finished runners up last year, Button mesmerised everyone with his sublime and effortless driving.
Given by their performance over the past two seasons, a majority of people would bet their money on Red Bull Racing. Vettel was a révélation in 2011. He destroyed the compétition with confident, error-free driving, something which he lacked when he won the crown a year ago in 2010. Similar to 2010 and 2011, the genius of Adrian Newey would be stamped on this year's car as well. Which means the car would be at its best. The Vettel-Newey combination would be a tough nut to crack again.
The Lotus team has undergone a lot of changes, starting with the drivers. They stunned everyone last year when they managed two consécutive podiums in the first two races with drivers like Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov. The team was unfortunate to have lost out on the services of Robert Kubica at the last moment after the Polish driver suffered a life threatening accident. This year, they have a driver who has the réputation of being very fast and has tasted championship glory. Kimi Railkkonen is making a comeback to the sport and many of his fans would be expecting a repeat of his McLaren and Ferrari performances. He has the hunger to succeed after his World Rally Championship career went nowhere. He is partnered by the talented Romain Grosjean, the defending GP2 champion who had made his F1 debut in 2009 in unfavourable circumstances with Renault (following the exit of Nelson Piquet Jr post crashgate). Grosjean looks more confident and has the full backing of the team. The team itself has shown that it isn't shy of even experimenting with the design of the car in order to derive maximum performance out of it. Last year, they came up with a radical front exhaust design that seemed to have clicked in the first few races. Won't be surprising if the Raikkonen-Grosjean combination pulls off something special in the upcoming season.
More about Dhananjay Khadilkar
Formula 1 writer
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