Monday, 28 May 2012

Schumi's Return and F1 History

I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who isn't enjoying the 2012 F1 season. Over the past couple of years, we've seen new regulations to make F1 more of a spectacle in terms of the on track racing and the two championships, and I think we can safely conclude that these changes seem to have worked. Formula 1 in 2012 appears to be one of those years that we're going to remember for a long time: Six races in and the season is already making F1 history, with six different winners in the first six races. Could we ask for more right now?

This weekend saw the magnificent Monaco grand prix, arguably the most glamorous and prestigious events on the calendar. Monaco is one of the classic F1 venues along with Spa and Silverstone, and in terms of the spectacle of F1 Monaco has to be leading them all. Thursday's practice sessions (no practice on Fridays in Monaco so that the public get their streets back for a day) didn't lend us any clues as to who would be quickest in qualifying, so Saturday remained a mystery.

When quali day came around, many people were egar to see who would be on pole, and whether we'd finally settle into working out who was the fastest team. Well, we had no such luck in this respect, but we did get one of the biggest surprises of the year: Michael Schumacher took pole position! This was the first time since Schumi's return that he'd topped a qualifying session, and it was an absolutely joyous moment for the Schumi fans out there. Sadly however, Schumacher had to start the race not from the number one slot, but from sixth owing to a penalty carried over from the previous race. Still, many of us were delighted that Schumacher had finally proven he could still drive a racing car. With Schumacher's penalty, it was Mark Webber who started from pole position, closely followed by Nico Rosberg. Hamilton and Grosjean followed the top two, in turn followed by the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa - Massa's best qualifying all season. Vettel chose not to set a time in Q3 for the second race running, preferring instead to save his tyres, set sector times and qualify 10th (9th with Schumi's penalty), behind Raikkonen and Maldonado. Jenson Button was a surprise casualty in qualifying, ending up 13th behind Kobayashi and Hulkenberg. So, once again quite a jumbled up grid for the race.

The race seemed to divide opinion somewhat, with many claiming that it was processional, while others claimed they thoroughly enjoyed it (me being in the latter condition). We did have a fair few incidents at the start of the race: Grosjean spun his Lotus after contact with Fernando Alonso, leading to his retirement. He almost caught his car up with Sebastian Vettel, but luckily Vettel managed to take an escape route and avoid any collision. Alonso managed to escape the incident unscathed. However, Schumacher's luck seems to have been out during the races, and he got caught in the incident with Grosjean. While he managed to continue into late into the race, eventually a problem surfaced with his Mercedes and he retired once again.

From there on in, the order was pretty much stable, with Webber leading followed by Rosberg, Hamilton and the Ferraris. Massa showed surprising pace, and looked like a different man in the race this weekend. In fact, he was quite often faster than Alonso, prompting Twitter to collectively shout 'Fernando: Felipe is faster than you'! Vettel had an amazing recovery from his dismal qualifying session, opting for a different strategy from the rest of the top runners. By staying on the soft (prime) tyre, rather than the super-soft (option) tyres, he managed to leave his pit stop much later. Eventually, he finished in fourth place ahead of Hamilton and Massa.

The final few laps of the race were interspersed with rain, making the race just a little more tense. The pace dropped off, prompting Toro Rosso to bring in Jean Eric Vergne for the intermediate tyre, however this was a gamble which cost them valuable points as it simply didn't rain enough to warrant these tyres. The front runners slowed to such an extent that we had six cars within a couple of tenths of each other, making the last five laps of the race pretty awesome to watch. Sadly, Monaco is not a track which warrants much overtaking and so the status quo remained, and Webber took the chequered flag for Red Bull's second victory of the season (the only team to take two wins so far), and make F1 history by having the sixth different winner out of six races. Rosberg and Alonso took the final places on the podium.

So, with Monaco over the teams head off to Canada in two weeks' time. The way the season is at the moment means it's impossible to pick a favourite for the coming races. While I'm sure this prompts annoyance from those who like consistency and stability, if you're a fan of F1 there isn't a better time to follow the sport. Will we see seven different winners in as many races? It's hard to tell, but with this season so far, anything could happen and I'm sure none of us can wait to see it!