The 2012 Formula One season has gotten off to an exciting start with a remarkable six different winners from six races and five different constructors reaching the top step of the podium. The top of the field is as competitive as never before with both Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships destined to go to the final laps of the season. However, with the good comes the bad, and several early season missteps, blunders have left a few teams and drivers looking to rebound.
The winners of the early season blunder awards go to:
McLaren showed up at the opening round in Melbourne, Australia as the class of the field, running at the top of the timing sheets in all sessions and being rewarded a victory with Jenson Button and a third-place finish for teammate Lewis Hamilton. However, so much of that early promise has been erased by uncharacteristic – for McLaren – gaffs.
Problems with tire changes during pit stops have relegated both the McLarens several critical race positions at most every track. More troubling is a questionable qualifying strategy in Spain, where Hamilton lost any shot at victory in the race when his pole winning time was disallowed, pushing him to the very back of the field. There have also been set-up, strategic, and reliability concerns with Button’s car with his lone victory and one second place finish tarnished by the collection of just two points over the other four races.
Compounding McLaren’s difficulties is the feeling around the paddock that other manufacturers have closed the initial performance gap found in Melbourne. Simply, the McLaren team has squandered and given away a bushel of potential points for both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ titles. The good news is the season is young enough to allow a comeback, and the team still ranks second among constructors trailing only Red Bull.
This is an award shared between driver and team. Through six races, Schumacher has two points compared to the 59 of teammate Nico Rosberg. To be fair, Schumacher’s Mercedes team has let him down, including a botched tire change in China that eliminated him while running second. More troubling, however, is Schumacher’s developing trend of running into cars he’s overtaking, a fairly common occurrence during the 7-time world champion’s two plus seasons back from retirement, and most recently evidenced in Barcelona when Schumi climbed over the back of Bruno Senna’s Williams.
Schumacher’s brilliant pole win at the next race in Monaco went for naught as his 5-spot grid penalty pushed him back into harm’s way, into the barrier entering the first corner, and eventually into the garage with another DNF. Again, with fully 2/3rds the season to go, Schumacher and Mercedes have an opportunity to realize the potential that seems tantalizingly close. The fast qualifier spot at Monaco shows the driver/car capability, but for now, with just two points, a blunder award is the only trophy on the mantle.
Massa has had a difficult time matching the performance of teammate Fernando Alonso, which probably doesn’t make him special, as Alonso is singularly regarded as one of the best drivers in the world. However, Massa has never been just an ordinary driver, and was even an extraordinary driver, narrowly missing out on being 2008 world champion by just a couple of corners.
This year, while under intense pressure from media, fans, and his Ferrari team alike, Massi has simply underperformed. In the same equipment as Alonso, Massa trails his more decorated teammate in points, 76-10. While Massa grabbed eight points in Monaco with a well-deserved 5th place finish, skeptics look for his struggles to continue as the slow, twisting Monte Carlo circuit likely hid a great many of the Ferrari’s performance deficiencies. Massa definitely knows the pressure is on for him to perform – his team has said as much. If he wants to keep his seat at a top-tier F1 team, his results have to spike up immediately.
Coming off 2011’s impressive 6th place finish in the constructors’ standings and falling just four points shy of Renault for 5th, Force India was thought by many pundits over the winter as being the best of the mid-tier teams and a strong candidate to evolve into one of the sports heavy hitters. Now, it’s apparent that Force India missed on its design for 2012; they lost the scent of Lotus (nee Renault), who looks like an eventual race winner this year, and have slipped behind both Williams and Sauber. Drivers Paul Di Resta and Nico Hülkenberg wrested a combined 10 points at Monaco with 7th and 8th place finishes, giving hope for improved results as developments are made on the car. Until then, though, a blunder award is bestowed for positively missing the mark thus far.
Some media members are speculating that six winners from six races borders on being bad for the sport, with race outcomes being wholly unpredictable on the nature of NASCAR, and dependent on the follies of tire management and circuit/car compatibility. For sure, there are four other drivers with very real aspirations of winning in 2012 – Schumacher, Hamilton and Lotus’ pair of Kimi Räikkönen and Roman Grosjean. Those bemoaning the current state of affairs will have a better argument if those four win the next four races. But look for repeat winners soon, and for the cream of F1 pit lane to rise to the top in this incredibly competitive, compelling engaging season.