With Christmas and the New Year out of the way, our focus is turning more and more to the imminent return of Formula 1.
Fans have plenty to be excited about this year, particularly the return of a certain world champion. Before we get stuck into the testing season next month, I want to know what interests you this year. Here are a few examples…
The clash of 6 champions
Can Raikkonen upset the order in 2012?
The return of Kimi Raikkonen means that, barring disaster, there will be 6 world champions at the starting grid in Melbourne. As far as I know, this is completely unprecedented in F1 history, as former/current world champions now make up a quarter of the entire grid.
These six drivers will be seated in vastly different cars, and not all of them will deliver as expected. Raikkonen’s move to Renault is particularly noteworthy, as it is still unclear what type of approach the team have taken to their 2012 car.
As well as this, Michael Schumacher is still well in the mix, and a powerful Mercedes car could propel him back to the podium. We still have the established champions – Vettel, Hamilton, Button and Alonso – to take everyone else on.
The return of the US Grand Prix
The Circuit of the Americas may well get finished
The Circuit of the Americas has had a difficult birth, fraught with controversy and arguments, resolved only weeks ago. Still, it appears that the track is on schedule to be on the 2012 calendar.
From the get-go, it became clear that this track would be a fan favourite. The layout incorporates corner elements from Turkey, Silverstone, and a small bit of Interlagos is in there too.
There is fantastic incline around the track, and many of the corners are fast and flowing. More importantly to Bernie Ecclestone, this track is F1’s latest hope to crack into the American market, which has been rather cold to the sport since the Indy 2005 fiasco.
Exciting new rookies
Can Pic survive longer than Di Grassi and D'Ambrosio did?
After Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi were booted out of Toro Rosso, it became clear that we were to see an influx of new rookies. Their latest two drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, are an exciting pairing to say the least.
Ricciardo impressed last year in a HRT – quite the feat in itself – and Vergne has performed well in testing in the past. We also have Charles Pic, the third driver in 3 years to partner Timo Glock at Virgin. Whether he can perform better than Lucas di Grassi or Jerome D’Ambrosio still remains to be seen.
As well as this, Romain Grosjean has finally been given the opportunity to return to F1. It’s debatable whether he’s actually a rookie, but it’s certain that 7 races in 2009 was not enough for the Frenchman to prove his potential. I am quite a fan of Grosjean, and am hugely looking forward to see how he performs against teammate Raikkonen.
Siginificant French drivers – finally
Can Grosjean cause a major upset and beat his teammate?
Neither Grosjean or Sebastien Bourdais could retain their seats in 2009, and with the imminent exit of Renault as a constructor this year, it appeared as if the French had completely abandoned F1.
However, with the arrival of Grosjean (again), Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne, the French F1 fans have reason to celebrate. The last successful French F1 drivers were Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis, who took his one and only win back in 1996.
I’m not suggesting that these three drivers could win a race in 2012 (though I’m not completely ruling Grosjean out), but there is fantastic potential here for future seasons.
The end of exhaust/diffuser debates
Exhaust-blown diffusers are finally buried for good
The FIA have finally stamped down on “off-throttle blown diffusers”, as the layout of the exhaust has been restricted so as to not generate downforce over any area of the car.
Exhaust-blown diffusers were an excellent idea, generating plenty of downforce with minimal drag. However, as the technology evolved into the “off-throttle” format, it became more and more irritating to watch the teams scuffle over the regulations.
This ruling should hopefully end the 3-year debate on exhausts, diffusers and the like, which began in 2009 with double-decker diffusers being introduced by Brawn, Toyota and Williams.
Can Lotus/Caterham hit the midfield?
Another year, another promise from the team now known as Caterham, as they drive to reach the back of the midfield.
While they have made good progress over the last 2 years, many fans are wearing thin with watching the 3 “new” teams languishing at the back, and it’s time that one of them makes a stand and changes the running order.
I won’t comment on Jarno Trulli, but I feel that Heikki Kovalainen is the most promising chance to pull the team out of the bottom 3. Whether it happens any time soon remains to be seen.
The return of the Bahrain Grand Prix
Over to you…
I can’t cover all the exciting prospects of the 2012 season, but those above should do fine.
But back to the original question: What excites you about the onset of the 2012 season? Have a say in the poll below, and you can add your own answer if you wish:
The Circuit of the Americas is in serious trouble after recent disputes
F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has said that he is ready to axe the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, after contract disputes in the last few days have ground construction to a halt.
In India rumours surfaced that the event was in trouble, but it has only been in recent days that the full extent of the contract collapse has been revealed. Ecclestone’s original contract with Tavo Hellmund’s Full Throttle Productions company – who are organising the race – has been cancelled in the last few days.
As well as this, a row between the track organisers and the event promoters has surfaced, and the track developers have stopped contsruction. This is because the developers have not received the race contract from Formula One Management – Bernie Ecclestone’s company.
Ecclestone is yet to receive a guarantee of several payments from the Circuit of the Americas, and has given them up to 3 weeks to resolve the issue. To make matters worse, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, who controls the money flow to the circuit, has stopped putting money into the project, stating that she will not put taxpayers’ money into the track until the race contract is secured.
Bernie explained the situation today from his point of view:
"We had an agreement with Full Throttle Productions. Everything was signed and
sealed, but we kept putting things off like the dates, various letters of credit
and things that should have been sent, but nothing ever happened.
Then these other people [Circuit of the Americas] came on the scene, saying that
they wanted to do things, but that they had problems with Tavo [Hellmund]. They
said they had the circuit, and that they wanted an agreement with me.
I told them they had to sort out the contract with Tavo, which they said they
would. But that has gone away now because we've cancelled Tavo's contract as he
was in breach.
We've waited six months for him to remedy the breach. He knows full well why
we've cancelled. He's happy. But these other people haven't got a contract. All
we've asked them to do is get us a letter of credit.
We are looking for security for money they are going to have to pay us. That is
via a letter of credit, normally from a bank. If people don't have the money they
find it difficult to get the letter of credit, and so we don't issue a contract."
After a 4-year absence from the calendar, the United States is a prime market for Formula 1, and disputes like this will do the sport’s reputation in America no good whatsoever, considering the last debacle in 2005.