Tag Archives: Fernando Alonso

2013 half-way driver rankings: 4th – 1st

In the last of 3 articles, I rank this year’s F1 drivers based on their performances in the first 10 races.

We are left with 4 drivers, each driving for a different team, which shows just how spoiled we are for driving talent these days. Without delay, here’s the driver in 4th place:

4th – Fernando Alonso

Previous ranking: 1st

Previous quote: “In 9 years of watching F1, this [2012 season] was the closest thing to perfection I’ve ever seen.”

Had Fernando Alonso reached his peak in late 2012? It’s a question I refused to believe at the start of this season, but slowly I can see why this may be the case.

Flawless victories in China and Spain demonstrate what he can do when the car is on form. Spirited drives in Australia and Canada earned him praise as well. But we’ve also seen uncharacteristic errors from the Spaniard – a bizarre decision to stay out with a broken front wing in Malaysia cost him a potential podium finish.

Making the error of activating his broken DRS wing in Bahrain forced a second unscheduled stop, ruining any chance of a good result. As well as this, we have seen Alonso become more visibly flustered by Ferrari’s incompetence at building a consistently competitive car. A rift in the team grew over the summer break, fuelled by comments from Luca di Montezemelo, criticising Fernando for turning on his team.

None of this has helped his 2013 challenge in the slightest. It also puts him under pressure as to his drive for the 2014 season – should he switch to Red Bull or Lotus, or continue to try with a team that can’t fix a wind tunnel after 3 years of failure?

At this point, there’s no correct decision. All he can do for now is push on track, and try to close the gap to Sebastian Vettel as much as possible. But the title may already be out of reach, thanks to his early-season errors.

3rd – Lewis Hamilton

Previous ranking: 2nd

Previous quote: “If Hamilton can transform Mercedes like Schumacher did to Ferrari, he will go down as one of the best drivers of the modern era.”

3rd place in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix confirmed what many had hoped over the winter – Hamilton’s switch to Mercedes was indeed the right call. More than that, we are seeing inspired, confident drives from the Brit more than ever.

Coping with a car that proved erratic under braking and suicidal when it came to tyre wear, two podiums in Malaysia and China were also very impressive, with his first Mercedes pole position to boot. Losing out in the pit stops in Monaco cost him another excellent finish.

Once he got to grips with the W04, wins were just around the corner. To everyone’s surprise, he calmly converted a pole in Hungary into a win, and I feel he could have done it even with Vettel unhindered by backmarkers. More superb victories in 2013 are expected, naturally.

Any poor finishes were the fault of the car, not the driver. The two Pirelli tyre massacres – Barcelona and Silverstone – threw him out of podium-finishing places. If it weren’t for these, he would have finished in the top 5 at every single race. With himself and Kimi Raikkonen both on form, there could still be a surprise winner to the 2013 season.

2nd – Sebastian Vettel

Previous ranking: 4th

Previous quote: “I still think that he was out-performed by other drivers on the grid.”

His unsporting antics in Malaysia earned him criticism, but in my mind it has cemented Vettel as a true racing driver. No triple world champion would throw away a victory like that – drivers like Hakkinen, Senna and Gilles Villeneuve have done the exact same.

His 2013 campaign is already shaping up to be one of his best – flawless performances are a standard for him these days. Of course, he is assisted by the Red Bull RB9’s stellar pace, but what world champion won their title in a Minardi? Sebastian has proven himself, once again, to be more calculating, more tactical and overall faster than his disillusioned teammate.

If it wasn’t for a gearbox failure in Silverstone, he would have finished in the top 4 at every single race. Such consistency is what we’ve come to expect from the triple world champion, and we’ve seen so much of it that perhaps we’re used to it. Perhaps that’s a good and a bad thing, but at the end of the day, Vettel is as ferocious a racing driver as ever.

1st – Kimi Raikkonen

Previous ranking: 3rd

Previous quote: “Raikkonen did a hugely impressive job this year, establishing himself as one of the sport’s finest drivers.”

It’s easy to appreciate Vettel’s stellar streak of wins across multiple seasons. But Raikkonen’s string of second-placed finishes is perhaps even more impressive, considering the speed difference in the cars they drive.

This year’s Lotus is reliable and consistent on the tyres, but lacks overall pace. The fact that such a car can be dragged to 5 2nd-placed finishes in 8 races is proof of Kimi’s impeccable racecraft. A win in Melbourne was earned with supreme tactical finesse, surprising many inside and outside the paddock.

Where the E21 has failed, it has tended to drag Raikkonen down with it, but I doubt any other driver could do much better. But even where his car was clearly off the pace, we still saw tremendous racecraft from the Finn, with Monaco being the prime example. After falling to 13th, Kimi pulled off three impressive passes on the final lap to snatch 10th place.

Such consistency has earned him the record for most points finishes in a row, with 27 being his current streak. It’s impossible not to recognise this kind of racecraft, and that’s why I’m tipping Raikkonen to be the surprise victor of the 2013 championship.

Who can catch Sebastian Vettel in 2013?

We are now halfway through the 2013 season, and Sebastian Vettel again holds a commanding lead in the championship – a sizeable 38 points over nearest rival Kimi Raikkonen.

But if the form of the first half of 2013 is anything to go by, we’re in for an unpredictable battle all the way to the end. Let’s have a look at the drivers who will take the fight to the Red Bull:

Kimi Raikkonen

Gap to Vettel: 38 points

Finishing form in 2013: 1-7-2-2-2-10-9-5-2-2

To say that his return to F1 has been a success would be a massive understatement. Kimi has been on the pace from the get-go, and has shown nothing but sheer determination and speed every time he’s out on track.

What holds him back though is the team itself. Lotus is bearing the brunt of severe overspending in recent years, and they have shown to be unpredictable when it comes to car development. A temporary slump from Monaco to Silverstone hurt Raikkonen’s chances of making steady progress, and it remains unclear whether Lotus can keep up to Red Bull in the development race.

The E21 can be described as “erratic” when it comes to performance between races – track temperature impacts on their car moreso than others, and this tends to make or break their race weekends before they even begin.

But when the car is on the pace, so is Kimi, every single time. The emergence of Romain Grosjean as a more reliable teammate may also come in handy, as the team may opt to use him as a tactial tool to delay his rivals. If Raikkonen is to win the championship, it won’t be by out-pacing the Red Bull, rather by clever tactics and strategy.

Fernando Alonso

Gap to Vettel: 39 points

Finishing form: 2-DNF-1-8-1-7-2-3-4-5

Rumours of a rift in the Ferrari garage wouldn’t be unrealistic – Alonso has been unhappy with the pace of his Ferrari for some time now, and he can only do so much with the 3rd fastest car.

Like Raikkonen, Alonso is being forced to put more pressure on his team to achieve results, but Ferrari’s leadership has struck back, claiming Fernando should put the team before himself. This has produced a rather worrying situation where Fernando may lack the support from Ferrari in order to win the title.

To make matters worse, Alonso is not the faultless driver he was last year. A bizarre decision to stay out with a broken front wing cost him a Malaysian Grand Prix finish, and Fernando made the mistake of accidentally activating his broken DRS wing in Bahrain, despite having just pitted to have it fixed down.

It’s clear that he has been rattled by years of chasing the apparently unassailable Vettel, and it is now a case of whether Alonso will jump ship altogether, or continue to fight with Ferrari. Despite being a fan, I can’t see any realistic chance of the Ferrari/Alonso combination catching Sebastian in this form.

The next 2 races are expected to suit the F138 though, so if we are to see any late-season charge, we will have to see Fernando perform well in Spa and Monza.

Lewis Hamilton

Gap to Vettel: 48 points

Finishing form: 5-3-3-5-12-4-3-5-1

Only a week ago, I assumed that the 2013 title battle was a 3-horse race. It seemed impossible that the tyre-melting Mercedes could possibly mount a charge. But mount a charge it did, in the searing heat of Hungary no less. Lewis Hamilton is now equipped with the best car to take down Sebastian Vettel, but is it too late?

A 48-point gap is by no means unassailable – look at what Fernando Alonso managed after Silverstone 2010. But the fact that Red Bull are so strong in the second half of the year is the biggest issue. Tackling Vettel at the power circuits – Spa, Suzuka and Austin – will be Hamilton’s biggest test.

Another factor will be Lewis’ reliability – we know all too well what happens when Hamilton goes off the rails, and to do so in 2013 would be catastrophic. I feel that he still lacks the precision driving that Raikkonen excels in, and this could be the difference between becoming the champion and crashing out at the decisive moment.

Lewis has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last 2 years, but it remains to be seen whether he can tackle his major weakness in 2013.

Vettel takes dominant Canadian Grand Prix win

Sebastian Vettel has taken a crushingly dominant victory today, winning the Canadian Grand Prix and extending his championship points lead.

Fernando Alonso recovered from 6th on the grid to take 2nd by the chequered flag, ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Further behind, Valtteri Bottas couldn’t hold his position in the race, while Paul di Resta and Jean-Eric Vergne had exceptional afternoons.

At the start, Vettel made a good getaway, while Valtteri Bottas was surrounded by the first corner. Mark Webber pounced on the Williams first, then Fernando Alonso sliced his way past soon after.

The top 5 – Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg, Webber, Alonso – were in a class of their own, immidiately pulling away from the rest of the field, and effectively setting up a separate Grand Prix. Jean-Eric Vergne led the rest of the pack, after putting a move on Bottas on Lap 6.

Adrian Sutil then tried to make a move on the young Finn, but promptly spun in the middle of Turn 3, forcing several drivers to take evasive action.

Kimi Raikkonen’s race pace failed to materialise. After failing to make considerable progress at the start, he got sandwiched in between Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa in the opening stint.

Up front, Mercedes decided to split strategies between their two drivers, with Hamilton taking the medium compounds for his second stint, while Nico Rosberg took on the super-softs. Hamilton was aiming for a 1-stop race, as proved when he stayed out 6 laps longer than Vettel in the first stint.

Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil did battle for 12th place. Their duel lasted for nearly 10 laps, with the Ferrari making every possible attempt to get past. Eventually, Felipe put a move on the Force India, and entered the battle for a points-scoring position.

Mark Webber was embroiled in a similar battle with Nico Rosberg, but the Red Bull’s high downforce setup was crippling him on the straights. Alonso soon caught up behind, and both drivers put a move on the Mercedes on Lap 32. Nico was instructed to conserve his tyres until the end of the race, and slipped back from the Red Bull and Ferrari.

Webber’s race was dealt a swift blow soon after though, as he clashed with backmarker Giedo van der Garde. The Caterham driver ignored blue flags entering the hairpin, and turned into Mark at the apex, damaging Webber’s front wing and putting the Dutchman back to front.

Despite doing his best to catch Hamilton instead, he was instead caught by Alonso behind, and was powerless to prevent the Ferrari diving down the inside of Turn 1 to take 3rd place.

Paul di Resta had made the option to start on the harder tyres at the start, and it paid off – he was as high as 7th during the race, and managed to drag 57 laps out of the prime tyre before he made his only stop.

It took until Lap 48 for the first retirement of the day, with Nico Hulkenberg clashing with Giedo van der Garde. The safety car was almost deployed due to the Caterham stopping out on track, but luckily for Vettel only double-waved yellows were shown. Sebastian made a rare mistake late in the race, slipping wide at Turn 1 and losing a few seconds, but had such a massive lead it didn’t even matter.

Felipe Massa continued his recovery after a dismal qualifying, and after an eventful battle with Adrian Sutil, dispatched of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen in the final few laps to take 8th place.

Hamilton’s second place came under threat in the final stint, with the ever-threatening Alonso hunting down the Mercedes. Adrian Sutil didn’t help proceedings, ignoring blue flags and holding up the Mercedes, costing Lewis precious seconds. With 5 laps to go, Alonso put a pass on Hamilton to snatch 2nd place.

Up front, Vettel was totally unchallenged, leading by 20 seconds until the chequered flag. Alonso and Hamilton completed the podium, with Webber and Rosberg falling back in the last stint. Jean-Eric Vergne was anonymous all race, but held on for an excellent 6th place, ahead of Paul di Resta. Massa and the two Lotuses completed the top 10.

Alonso has taken 2nd place in the championship off Kimi Raikkonen, but now lies 36 points off leader Vettel.

Canadian Grand Prix Friday practice: Alonso, Mercedes and Red Bull all looking strong

Fernando Alonso has set the fastest time in Friday practice for the Canadian Grand Prix.

The Spaniard battled it out with the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers for top spot, and it is still unclear if any team is a clear favourite for this weekend.

First practice

Extreme rain last night meant that the track was soaked come Friday morning. Plans to run Pirelli’s experimental harder tyres were put on hold, as drivers ventured out on the wet tyres.

Over the session, more switched to the intermediates, and eventually slicks with 20 minutes to go.

The main incident of the session was Pastor Maldonado crashing his Williams with 5 minutes to go. He got his entry wrong into Turn 3, spun and slammed head-first into the barriers, putting out the yellow flags for several minutes. Mark Webber is under investigation for potentially speeding at this yellow flag zone.

Jules Bianchi also spun at the same point, but he didn’t hit the barrier. However, an overheating engine quickly put an end to his day.

Paul di Resta ended up on top, after setting an impressive time on his final attempt. Alexander Rossi made his first appearance in a Formula 1 car, and was reportedly delighted after his experience.

Times from FP1:

Pos Driver                Team                      Time      Gap     Laps
 1. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes      1:21.020          10
 2. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes          1:21.108  +0.088  20
 3. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault             1:21.258  +0.238  21
 4. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                   1:21.308  +0.288  16
 5. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault             1:21.608  +0.588  22
 6. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari        1:22.068  +1.048  18
 7. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes                  1:22.402  +1.382  22
 8. Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes          1:22.587  +1.567  17
 9. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault          1:23.047  +2.027  26
10. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault          1:23.131  +2.111  16
11. Felipe Massa          Ferrari                   1:23.341  +2.321  13
12. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault          1:23.352  +2.332  17
13. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari        1:23.386  +2.366  19
14. Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes      1:23.417  +2.397  19
15. Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari            1:23.957  +2.937  33
16. Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes                  1:25.054  +4.034  21
17. Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari            1:25.354  +4.334  22
18. Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault          1:25.753  +4.733  21
19. Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth         1:25.821  +4.801  19
20. Alexander Rossi       Caterham-Renault          1:27.143  +6.123  20
21. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault          1:27.522  +6.502  11
22. Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth         1:29.306  +8.286   8

Second practice

The second session saw a topsy-turvy battle between Alonso, Webber, Vettel, Raikkonen, Rosberg and Hamilton, with all of the aforementioned drivers taking top spot at different times.

After initial runs on the Pirelli development tyre, most drivers took a stint each on the medium and super-soft tyres. Alonso’s best time of 1:14.818 was slightly faster than Lewis Hamilton behind.

Brief rainfall saw a quiet end to the session, with most teams opting to finish FP2 on heavy fuel loads. Jenson Button’s session was ended prematurely, as his gearbox continually selected neutral, and eventually failed.

Times from FP2:

Pos  Driver               Team                  Time      Gap     Laps
 1.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari               1:14.818          48
 2.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes              1:14.830  +0.012  45
 3.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus-Renault         1:15.083  +0.265  40
 4.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault      1:15.212  +0.394  46
 5.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes              1:15.249  +0.431  46
 6.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari               1:15.254  +0.436  43
 7.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault      1:15.280  +0.462  41
 8.  Adrian Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  1:15.396  +0.578  43
 9.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes      1:15.422  +0.604  29
10.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:15.566  +0.748  38
11.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault         1:15.599  +0.781  35
12.  Sergio Perez         McLaren-Mercedes      1:15.661  +0.843  39
13.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes  1:15.855  +1.037  22
14.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault      1:16.319  +1.501  46
15.  Jean-Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:16.351  +1.533  38
16.  Valtteri Bottas      Williams-Renault      1:16.374  +1.556  40
17.  Esteban Gutierrez    Sauber-Ferrari        1:16.475  +1.657  45
18.  Nico Hulkenberg      Sauber-Ferrari        1:16.929  +2.111  35
19.  Jules Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth     1:17.070  +2.252  41
20.  Charles Pic          Caterham-Renault      1:17.236  +2.418  35
21.  Max Chilton          Marussia-Cosworth     1:17.888  +3.070  45
22.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham-Renault      1:18.392  +3.574  39

Fernando Alonso dominates Spanish Grand Prix, while Mercedes crumble

Fernando Alonso has taken a commanding victory at the Circuit de Catalunya, taking an emphatic win in front of his home crowd. The Spaniard picked off Sebastian Vettel at the first set of stops, then quickly dealt with Nico Rosberg to assume control at the front, and never looked back.

The Mercedes drivers had an utterly torrid afternoon, only going backwards after the race began. Rosberg somehow held off 5 different drivers for the first stint, but was then swarmed by Alonso, Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in a series of corners. After that, he slid further down the order, and never challenged the frontrunners again.

Lewis Hamilton suffered even more, losing positions as early as lap 1. He finished the race in a miserable 12th place, getting lapped just before the end to inflict even more pain. He angrily exclaimed “I just got passed by a Williams” and “I can’t drive any slower” during the race, demonstrating how poor Mercedes’ race pace still is.

Vettel and Raikkonen proved to be Alonso’s only challengers this afternoon. Vettel held off the Ferrari in the opening stint, but could do no more as his Red Bull suffered adversely from heavy tyre wear. Raikkonen showed potential, briefly taking the lead on a different strategy, but couldn’t extract the raw pace to catch Fernando. He finished 2nd, ahead of Felipe Massa, leaping up from 9th at the start, and taking advantage of an early pit stop on lap 9 to obtain his first podium of the year.

Mark Webber had another atrocious start, falling all the way down to 12th by the first lap, but like Massa he took advantage of an early first stop to move up the field. Nevertheless, he never looked remotely on the pace, and 5th place was quite lucky in retrospect.

Paul di Resta took an impressive 7th-placed finish, and even put Rosberg under considerable pressure in the final laps. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were 8th and 9th, but Perez was left fuming after he was instructed not to pass Jenson in the final laps. Daniel Ricciardo took the final point, after a brief scare where he was being caught by Esteban Gutierrez.

Nico Hulkenberg had a race to forget. He pitted 4 times for tyres, once for front wing damage after a clash in the pit lane, and a stop-go penalty for said incident. 

With this result, Alonso moves to within 17 points of Vettel, but Kimi Raikkonen is only 4 points off the lead. Felipe Massa overtakes Mark Webber for 5th, and it has become crystal clear that Lewis Hamilton has effectively dropped out of the title race.

Fernando Alonso takes dominant win in Chinese Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso is the third driver to win a race in the 2013 season so far, crushing his opposition to secure the win at today’s Chinese Grand Prix. He took the lead from pole sitter Lewis Hamilton in the opening laps, and utilised the Ferrari’s excellent race pace to build a gap to his rivals.

Sebastian Vettel drove a fine race, using a vastly different strategy to leap up to 4th by the chequered flag, after starting 9th. In the closing laps, he put Hamilton under extreme pressure, but was unable to steal the podium spot.

At the start, Hamilton held the lead into the first corner, while the Ferraris slotted into 2nd and 3rd easily, with Kimi Raikkonen going backwards after his front row start. However, the Mercedes clearly lacked raceday pace, and was easy prey for Alonso and Massa by lap 5.

Fernando got to work on building an unassailable lead, while disappointment was to befall Massa, who pitted one lap too late to ditch his option tyres, and fell down the order, which he never recovered from.

Nico Hulkenberg put on a fine display in the first half of the race, leading proceedings after the frontrunners had pitted. Still on the medium tyres he started on, the Sauber driver managed to hold off Vettel – who also hadn’t stopped – for an entire stint.

Mark Webber pitted on the first lap to ditch the volatile softer compound tyre, but a miserable weekend only got worse on race day. Attempting to pass Jean-Eric Vergne at turn 4, the two clashed, with Vergne’s race ruined and Webber under investigation by the stewards. A broken front wing, botched pit stop, and subsequent wheel falling off sealed his fate.

There was almost a safety car early on, as Esteban Gutierrez ploughed into the back of Adrian Sutil at the end of the back straight. Gutierrez, who misjudged his braking point with DRS engaged, put both cars out of the race, and is also to be inquired by the stewards.

While the majority of drivers opted for a 3-stop strategy, Jenson Button pulled off a clean and consistent 2-stopper en route to a commendable 5th place. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez continued to disappoint in the sister McLaren, clashing with the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen early on, and finishing only 11th overall.

Raikkonen and Hamilton had no answer to Alonso’s dominative drive, and began to squabble amongst themselves for the final two podium places. After several changes of position early on, Raikkonen held off the Mercedes until the chequered flag. Lewis came under massive pressure from Vettel in the final laps – being caught at over 3 seconds per lap – but a small mistake at turn 11 ruined Sebastian’s chances of gaining 3rd on the last lap.

Nico Rosberg had lost out in qualifying, and a failure of the anti-roll bar on lap 22 ended any chances of a good finish for the 2nd Mercedes driver.

Daniel Ricciardo earned significant praise for his performances, taking a career-best 7th position. Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Hulkenberg finished off the top 10.

Alonso’s pace was completely unmatched until Vettel’s option tyre rampage in the dying laps, and he crossed the finish line with a comfortable 10 second gap to Raikkonen behind. While it’s early days yet, it seems like today’s top 4 finishers will be battling away all season long for the drivers’ championship.

2012 final driver rankings: 3rd – 1st

In the last of 4 articles, I rank the 25 drivers from the 2012 season in terms of their performances.

This final section deals with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen – but in which order? Let’s find out…

3rd – Kimi Raikkonen

Previous ranking: 5th

Previous quote: “Overall he has been hugely impressive, and I am tipping him as the dark horse for the 2012 title.”

While he was unable to keep up the pressure for the world title, Raikkonen did a hugely impressive job this year, establishing himself as one of the sport’s finest drivers.

Victory could have come as quickly as his third race since his return, but Kimi initially appeared rusty in racecraft. This cost him a well-deserved win, and was his only major flaw across the entire year.

If it wasn’t for his tyres falling off the cliff in China, he would have finished every single race in the points. Not spinning and making a slow recovery in Brazil would have meant that he would have completed every single racing lap in 2012. These are very impressive feats from a driver only just returning to the sport.

Kimi only got more impressive as the season progressed. He took three podiums in a row from Germany to Belgium, then a string of good finishes kept him within striking range of Alonso and Hamilton. A worthy win followed up in Abu Dhabi, but it was too late to keep him in contention for the title battle.

Raikkonen appears perfectly at home within Lotus, a team that actively encourages his laid-back behaviour. Is it a match made in heaven? I think it might just be.

2nd – Lewis Hamilton

Previous ranking: 2nd

Previous quote: “2012 has seen a new evolution in Lewis Hamilton”

Hamilton’s 2012 title challenge will go down as a failure, forgotten within only a decade or two. However, this doesn’t do justice to what was a magnificent flourish in form for Lewis.

From the offset, he was quick. He deserved wins immediately, but luck was not on his side – being passed by Button in Melbourne, Alonso and Perez in Malaysia, and crucially, a series of disastrous pit stops.

McLaren are entirely to blame for Hamilton losing the championship. Once they had sorted out their horrifically slow pit stops, the car began to fall apart. Technical failures robbed Lewis of good results in Germany, Korea, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

Nevertheless, we were able to see how good a driver he really is. Outstanding victories in Canada, Hungary, Italy and USA were a joy to watch – when the team and car allowed him, Lewis was unstoppable. After announcing his move to Mercedes, he was freed from the shackles of a restrictive contract, and the next few seasons will show if he is legend material.

Will 2013 yield any results at Mercedes? I doubt anything will come just yet. But it will be hugely interesting to watch – if Hamilton can transform the team like Schumacher did to Ferrari, he will go down as one of the best drivers of the modern era.

1st – Fernando Alonso

Previous ranking: 1st

Previous quote: “For Alonso never to get a third title would be a tragedy.”

To put it simply, Alonso’s performances this year have been nothing short of astounding. I would even suggest that this is the best season performance we have ever seen from a Grand Prix driver.

By pre-season testing, it was already clear that the Ferrari was several seconds off the frontrunner’s pace. Yet Fernando managed to drag the car into 5th by the first race. When the opportunity arose in Malaysia, he grabbed it and never looked back. He battled tooth and nail with Pastor Maldonado in Spain, never giving up despite the Williams’ speed advantage.

At no point in 2012 did Alonso have the fastest car. Yet he managed 3 wins and another 10 podiums, more than any other driver on the grid. If it wasn’t for crashing out on the first laps of Spa and Suzuka, he could have taken 9 podium positions in a row.

His determination and raw speed throughout the season cannot be underestimated. It is something of  miracle that he found himself battling Vettel until the final lap of Brazil, but he somehow pulled it off. A mere 3 points separated him from the greatest championship victory in the history of the sport.

Fernando has already said that he can never recreate this season’s performance again, and to an extent I believe him. In 9 years of watching F1, this was the closest thing to perfection I’ve ever seen.

Top 10: Overtakes of the 2012 season

Like the previous year, 2012 was a fantastic season for overtaking. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the best passes of the 2012 season:

10th – Sergio Perez on Lewis Hamilton, Japanese Grand Prix

Perez eliminated himself from the Suzuka race later on with an ill-judged pass on Hamilton at the same corner. But his first move was brave, albeit slightly clumsy.

The Sauber came from miles behind at the Turn 11 hairpin, threw his car into the corner, and just about made it stick.

9th – Lewis Hamilton on both Toro Rossos, Spanish Grand Prix

An overtaking article wouldn’t be complete without Lewis Hamilton. Recovering from a disastrous 2011 season, he immediately set out to prove that he is one of the finest drivers on the grid.

Arguably his best pass was on Ricciarado and Vergne in quick succession in Barcelona:

8th – Kimi Raikkonen on Nico Hulkenberg, Grand Prix of America

Nico Hulkenberg performed admirably in the second half of 2012. But he was left completely helpless when Kimi made a ruthless move around the outside in Austin.

Passes like these are very underrated – the sheer level of bravery and confidence required is unparalleled.

7th – Romain Grosjean on Lewis Hamilton, European Grand Prix

Despite the (justified) criticism of Grosjean’s antics this year, he remains a fiesty racer when the opportunity arises.

His best move of the year was this ballsy pass on Hamilton, where he refused to budge and forced the McLaren off the racing line.

6th – Fernando Alonso on Romain Grosjean, European Grand Prix

Before this season, who would have guessed that the Valencia street circuit would throw up one of the best races of 2012?

Another great pass from that race was Fernando Alonso’s incredible move around the outside of turn 1. It’s even tougher than it looks –  the exit barriers of that corner close in rapidly, so even a few kp/h too many, and you’re in the wall.

5th – Kimi Raikkonen on Paul di Resta, German Grand Prix

Raikkonen spent several laps behind the Force India before he made a proper attempt to overtake. But it was well worth it.

After attempting to undercut Di Resta exiting the Spitzherhe, he dived around the outside of the following corner, and muscled his way through.

4th – Kimi Raikkonen on Michael Schumacher, Brazilian Grand Prix

Raikkonen and Schumacher were back to their old antics in Brazil. At the same corner, Raikkonen squeezed past Michael on the race of his first retirement in 2006.

This time though, it was around the outside, and not a millimetre of space was shared between the two. Just look at that photo, and that tells you everything you need to know.

3rd – Kimi Raikkonen on Michael Schumacher, Belgian Grand Prix

As you can tell, I’ve hugely enjoyed Raikkonen’s performances this year. He’s been absolutely outstanding all year – but more on that in another post.

This time, he bravely shot down the inside of Schumacher’s Mercedes entering Eau Rouge. It wasn’t as brilliant as Mark Webber’s similar move last year, but still very commendable.

2nd – Felipe Massa on Bruno Senna, Singapore Grand Prix

After a miserable start to the season, Massa picked up his game hugely.

The first sign of Felipe’s comeback was in Singapore, where an incredible slice up the inside of Bruno Senna netted him an extra place. Bonus marks go for the dramatic slide entering the corner. Awesome stuff.

1st – Nico Hulkenberg on Lewis Hamilton & Romain Grosjean, Korean Grand Prix

While the Korean Grand Prix wasn’t a standout race, it brought one of my favourite passes from one of the best upcoming drivers on the grid.

Hulkenberg has been brilliant in the final few races of 2012, and this move was icing on the cake. After waltzing past Grosjean, he proceeded to barge his way alongside Hamilton, and then shoved his way past entering the next corner. Brilliantly calculated, and fantastic to watch – a classic overtake.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many videos of the pass online. This is the best I could come up with.

Button wins, Vettel triumphs in Interlagos epic

The Brazilian Grand Prix has played host to many incredible races over the years, and 2012 was no exception. After a crazy race that saw several downpours, three different race leaders, and a shocking first-lap crash, Sebastian Vettel presevered to finish 6th, and seal his third world championship in a row.

Incredibly, Nico Hulkenberg led a sizeable portion of the race, but accidentaly crashed into Lewis Hamilton, ruining either’s chances of taking a final win for their team. Jenson Button held on in the closing stages in tricky conditions, and led home Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

This was a race that will be talked about for years to come. Here is the breakdown:

Disaster for Vettel?

It was a taste of Brazil 2007 at the start – the championship leader slipped down at the start, while the challenger pushed through. Vettel found himself down in 5th, but worse was to come at turn 4. A fiesty Bruno Senna clumsily dived down the inside of the Red Bull, and clattered into the side of his car. Sebastian was spun around, while Bruno’s race was ended on the spot.

The clash left Vettel 24th, and seemingly in huge trouble for his championship aspirations. Meanwhile, Alonso was 4th, and his teammate was up in 2nd. Being pressurised by Mark Webber on lap 2, Fernando pulled an epic move, taking both positions at turn 1.

Despite his advantage, though, he made a slip on lap 5, sliding wide at the Senna S and just about holding off Webber. Unbeknownst to the cameras, Vettel was preparing an epic comeback…

Rain-filled chaos, part 1

Nico Hulkenberg made a decent start, and was able to pass Mark Webber soon after the start. After another slip from the Ferrari on lap 6, the Force India was able to inherit 3rd.

Just when it appeared as if the frontrunners were beginning to settle in, the rain threw a spanner in the works. Light rain began to fall on lap 7, and the drivers began to struggle. Webber spun, while Jenson Button began to pressurise teammate Lewis Hamilton for the lead of the race.

After Romain Grosjean spun out of the race, it became clear that the track was too damp for dry tyres. Lap 11 saw the majority of the field pit, while Button and Hulkenberg made the brave decision to stay out.

The focus then shifted back onto Vettel, who had astonishingly made his way all the way up to 6th before the stops. He easily passed Webber with little resistance, and within several laps he had fought his way back into a points position.

A surprise leader

Up front, the Force India of Hulkenberg would not let go of Button’s McLaren, and amazingly jumped past Jenson on lap 19.

In the next few weeks, the intermediate-shod drivers slinked back into the pits, admitting they made the wrong call regarding the weather. Further back, shards of carbon fibre found their way onto the racing line, causing a puncture for Nico Rosberg.

Alonso went onto his radio to complain of the dangerous track, and the safety car was promptly called out to clear the debris.

Hulkenberg and Button promptly received their free pit stop, while the order settled down. Nico still led, ahead of Button, Hamilton, Alonso, and then Vettel, who had dispatched of yet another train of drivers.

Rain-filled chaos, part 2

At the restart, Hulkenberg impressively pulled away, while Button made a move on Hamilton for 2nd place.

Kamui Kobayashi raised plenty of eyebrows, as he battled for a drive next season. The Japanese driver bolted past both Vettel and Alonso for 4th position, before succumbing to the Ferrari a few laps later.

Felipe Massa helped Alonso’s chances, but passing Sebastian for P6. The damage to the Red Bull after lap 1 was noticeable, but didn’t result in a chronic lack of pace.

In his final race, Michael Schumacher had his hands full defending 11th place against Kimi Raikkonen. After nearly being collected by Paul di Resta, the Lotus driver squeezed past the Mercedes, closely followed by the second Force India.

However, the rain was back again. By lap 42, consistent drizzle had dampened the track again, and the times began to slip away again.

Battles at the front and back

At the front, Hamilton began to close on the slowing Hulkenberg. In the slippery conditions, the Force India driver had lost his confidence, and on lap 49 put a wheel onto the white line, spinning and handing the lead to Lewis.

At the back, a battle was forming to decide which team would take 10th place in the constructor’s championship. A single 12th place would suffice, and it was being fought between Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov and Marussia’s Charles Pic.

Petrov held 12th for as long as he could, but spun entering the middle sector, and handed the place back to Pic on lap 47.

Despite the darkening clouds, Vettel opted to take on another set of slicks on lap 52. His actions were mirrored by Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Rosberg took on the intermediates.

Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, slipped wide at turn 12, took the escape road, only to discover that it didn’t lead back to the track as planned. Cue a hasty retreat:

 

Rain-filled chaos, part 3

Hulkenberg attempted to retake the lead on lap 55, but disaster ensued. He lost control entering turn 1, clipped the McLaren, and spun around. Lewis’s race was over, and a drive-through penalty for Hulkenberg ruined his heroic drive.

The worsening conditions made it clear – Vettel had made the wrong call. He dashed back to the pits for inters, but had lost crucial track position. He emerged from the pits in 12th place with it all to do again.

There was no debate amongst the frontrunners this time – all of them immediately pitted by lap 56. After Hulkenberg’s penalty, Alonso was elevated to 3rd, but Vettel was able to claw his way back to 7th.

Button now held an enormous lead over Felipe Massa, who was being caught sharply by Alonso. Within a few laps, a 5-second lead was annihilated, as Massa understood the situation, and allowed his fellow teammate past.

Meanwhile, Vettel wasn’t satisfied with his situation, catching and easing past Michael Schumacher, who similarly posed no threat to the Red Bull.

A tense battle for 12th continued, with Petrov zipping past Pic as the two were being lapped by Alonso.

Despite his searing pace, and attempts to close a 20-second gap to Button, Alonso surely had a sinking feeling in his stomach. With Vettel 6th, the title was out of his grasp.

Premature end to a classic race

Kamui Kobayashi made another attempt to make an impact on the race, doing his best to pass Schumacher for 7th. But, a spin only proved to dampen his sprited charge.

With the race entering the penultimate lap, any hopes for a Brazil 2008-style finish were dashed, as a crash for Paul di Resta brought out the safety car.

After weaving through the debris, Button crawled home to take a triumphant win, while Sebastian Vettel sealed the championship with 6th place. Fernando Alonso was visibly gutted, having lost out on his third title for the 3rd time in the final race of a season.

Di Resta’s sudden retirement meant that Petrov was elevated to 11th, which sealed Caterham’s 10th place in the constructor’s championship. Oddly enough, this works out better for Charles Pic, whose new team next year will enjoy extra FIA funding because of this result.

But the man of the day – and year – was Vettel. Having taken everything that Interlagos could throw at him, he charged through the field countless times to become the youngest ever triple world champion.

And so ends another classic season. In a dog of a car, Fernando Alonso did himself and Ferrari proud, but the best driver/car combination was clearly Vettel, who returned triumphant after a disappointing start to the season. Today’s classic race will cement Vettel’s reputation as one of the fastest drivers in Formula 1 history.

How Alonso or Vettel can win the title this weekend

The 2012 Formula 1 season enters the final round with the title still up for grabs – the 29th time in the sport’s history.

Sebastian Vettel holds a 13-point lead over Fernando Alonso, but an epic title battle from 2010 in Abu Dhabi proved that those leads can be very easily wiped out in a single race. That time, Alonso lost a 15-point gap in the final race, and squandered the championship.

With that in mind, the title is certainly still up for grabs. Let’s have a look at how each driver can win the championship this weekend:

Vettel

It’s a lot easier for Vettel. The easiest way for him to wrap up his third consecutive title on the trot is to finish in the top 4. Even after that, there’s not too many complications:

  • If Alonso only takes 2nd place, Vettel only needs 5th, 6th or 7th.
  • If Alonso takes 3rd place, Vettel needs simple an 8th or 9th-placed finish.
  • If Alonso does not achieve a podium, Vettel only needs to take a single point – assuming that the Ferrari takes 4th instead. Any other situation, and the Red Bull automatically wins.

Alonso

A 13-point gap is sizeable, but not indestructible. After struggling massively all year in a dog of a car, Fernando knows that he will have to jump at the slightest opportunity if he is to claw the 2012 title back into his hands.

However, the odds are against him:

  • If Alonso wins, Vettel would have to finish 5th or lower.
  • If he takes 2nd place, Vettel would have to finish 8th or lower.
  • If he finishes on the podium, Vettel would have to score just a single point (or less) to lose the title.

Flashback to 2010

Over 2 years ago, I wrote a similar article on the 2010 title battle. There, I said that Vettel winning the title was improbable, but certainly within reach.

The maths behind this article are certainly much less complicated, but that doesn’t make this title battle any less interesting!

Variables on track

Remember, this is the Brazilian Grand Prix we’re talking about. The Interlagos track is extremely unpredictable, and occasionally throws up some insane races. See 2003 and 2008 for more information.

  • Rain is always a factor here – there is  a 60% chance of rain on race day. This may push the race in Alonso’s favour, as typically Vettel has not driven well in the wet here before.
  • First-lap incidents – The paving over of turns 1 and 2 has not gone down well with fans or drivers, but the treacherous Senna S sequence may still catch one of the frontrunners out. One of the title contenders being taken out here would end the championship showdown before it even began.
  • Red Bull’s alternator – Several incidents so far this year with the Red Bull alternator could turn the championship on its head. The team are opting to bring a newer-spec model to this Grand Prix, and it is unclear how much testing this model has seen.
  • Felipe Massa – A recent surge in form has resulted in Massa’s contract with Ferrari being extended, and Felipe may be keen to stay on friendly terms with the team by assisting Fernando. Massa typically drives very well at this track, so it mightn’t be out of the question to see him surrender the lead to his teammate.

As to what will actually happen… we’ll have to wait until Sunday for that!

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