F1 Tops and Flops of 2012, Part 1 – The A-listers

The 2012 F1 world championship is almost over, the battle for the title is tight between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, and Red Bull are going to win their third constructors’ championship in a row.

As every year, the focus is not only on the winners, but on the losers, too. Teams could invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research, development and drivers’ wages and end up empty-handed.

Therefore, I was ready to write my tops-and-flops list of this year, being almost sure that nothing would change. However, last Sunday’s victory for Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi forced me to change my plans… sort of.

In fact, at the top of my Flop list you would have found two of the most-acclaimed-but-still-little-achieving teams: Lotus and Mercedes. The former, which has nothing to do with the legendary team founded by Colin Chapman, had been indicated as a possible winner since the pre-season tests. Moreover, given the fact that the first five races saw five different teams winning, there were high expectations on them.

Their line-up is interesting as well. Kimi Raikkonen coming back after two years spent rallying with little luck and 26-year-old Romain Grosjean, who debuted in F1, with Renault, in 2009, but showed little attitude at the time.

Everybody was expecting a great result from them, but they were only able to score several podiums from Raikkonen and several million dollars of damage from Grosjean. Until last Sunday. When, to be fair, the victory was in Lewis Hamilton’s hands before his engine died.

But still, a victory is a victory, they are safe fourth in the constructor’s championship and Raikkonen is even third. We will see them next year, hopefully stronger and more consistent.

On the other hand, the case of Mercedes is even worse. They made their comeback in Formula 1 in 2010, after retiring in 1955. Like Lotus, they had been said to be possible title contestants since the 2010 pre-season tests.
No need to say that this team dominated the 2009 season under the name “Brawn GP”, which was formerly nothing less than the Honda F1 team.

What about the line-up? Ladies and gentlemen the Germans went the whole hog, hiring Nico Rosberg and Mr Michael Schumacher, coming back (it must be a sort of a trend now) after four years of abscence.

They were the actual fourth team on the track. However, they have never been as fast as the first three teams (Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren), but they were a lot faster than the rest of the field.

They are just mediocre; there are no other words to describe such a failure. One victory and six podiums in three years is not acceptable for a team that was aiming to conquer F1 like a panzer division in Poland. No wonder why they were thinking of giving up the Mercedes name in favour of a more diplomatic AMG F1.

The first -and last, for now- victory arrived at the Chinese GP from Rosberg. After that, he has fallen in a deep nothing. Schumacher was looking forward to winning his eighth title within three years, when he accepted to come back at the end of 2009,  but he has just scored a pole position in Monaco and a podium, up to now.

What else can be said about Lotus and Mercedes? They are an almost complete failure, the proof that money alone cannot guarantee success. Which is something that other teams know best. Like HRT for example, which not only is lacking of success, but it is lacking of funds, too. But I am going to talk about them later on… stay tuned!

By Tommaso Cervini

FIA bans Lotus ride-height control system

The FIA said the innovative ride-height control system developed by Formula 1 team Lotus is illegal.

This announcement comes a few weeks after Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s technical director, accepted the system designed by the formerly French team Renault.

Some top teams, including Ferrari and Williams, asked the Federation to clarify the matter, thinking that the designers were exploiting a hole in the rules.

After further investigations, the Formula 1 government body has agreed to outlaw the device, since it breaches article 3.15 of the technical regulations, according to which

                      “Any device or construction that is designed to bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground is prohibited under all circumstances.”

 The system consists of a hydraulic cylinder that connects the front brake calipers with the relative suspension; when the driver brakes, this cylinder pushes the braces of the front suspension upwards, reducing the rocking of the car’s nose (and therefore improving the overall car performance).

However, given that

                      “any aerodynamic effect created by the suspension should be incidental to its primary function,”

the inspectors have found this system to be primarily an aerodynamic device and, therefore, illegal.

Ferrari had already built a similar device, and it would have been followed by all of the other top teams, before this announcement came.

This is just the last of a long series of rethinks made by the FIA every year before the championship starts; in 2011 the matter was focused on the blown diffusers (forbidden this season) and, later in the year, on Renault’s reverse exhausts.

Two years ago there was uncertainty towards the McLaren’s innovative F-duct system, while in 2009 three teams used the so-called “double decker” diffuser, gaining a lot of advantage towards the rest of the teams, which did not.

Renault already had a similar device, called “mass damper”, banned in 2006; it was built on the same purpose and was considered illegal when the season was already in its last stages, and the team was fighting against Ferrari for both of the championships.

Comments on the 2011 F1 season

This year’s Formula 1 championship ended yesterday, with a Red Bull 1-2 to conclude a championship which has been largely dominated by the Austrian-British team. Let me analyse the protagonists one by one, with my personal marks to the drivers.

Sebastian Vettel, 10: the undisputed leader and winner. 15 pole positions (new record), 11 victories and 17 podiums in 19 races; the younger double world-champion of history. He is only 24. Do I need to say anything else? Many Italian journalists still do not recognise his talent, but they are deliberately lying, and they know. Maybe they will change their minds once he jumps on a red car.

Mark Webber, 6: the great absent. Last year he fought for the title, this year he has scored more points than 2010, but with just one victory in the last race. Thanks to that, he could finish in third position ahead of Alonso for just one point. He has never been into this championship and he knows it; next year will be his last chance to drive for a competitive team.

Jenson Button, 9: considering what his ex team manager Flavio Briatore said about him in 2009(“He’s a concrete post” –“paracarro”, in Italiano), well, he has shown his best performance this year. He won the 2009 championship but, honestly, this has been his best year so far. He simply put his team mate Lewis Hamilton in shadows, and the final second position is there to prove it.

Lewis Hamilton, 6.5: where to start from? Maybe we (and he) will remember this year for his love/hate affair with Felipe Massa. They have come into contact five times, and they were so close again yesterday, before his gearbox decided to break down. His worst season so far, his vote should be 6, the plus is for amusing us with his style.

Fernando Alonso, 8: he also has had the best season of his career. He scored the only victory for Ferrari (thanks to that, it has been 18 years consecutively with at least one victory), with a car which was very far under the expectations after last year. When he realised that there was nothing to do but suffering, instead of getting depressed he gave the best of himself, showing the fighter he really is.

Felipe Massa, 5: was he actually part of the group? It has not been the same since his accident in Hungary 2009; last year, at Hockenheim, when he had to let Alonso pass, put a mark in his behaviour. He has been constantly depressed since then, and we can understand it. But a 30-year-old Ferrari driver who has been World champion for five turns in 2008 must react as soon as possible.

Nico Rosberg, 6.5: it is now for him to win a race. He has been part of the circus since 2006, but he has never had a truly competitive car (except in some races last year); Mercedes was supposed to be competitive since its return in 2010, but it has not shown its potential yet. Is it going to end like BMW did two years ago? I hope for Nico it is not.

Michael Schumacher, 7.5: the 8th position in the championship, just 13 points behind his team mate, is there to show that he can still have his say. He is an old lion, he is not giving up; God bless such old-school drivers. Same issue as with Rosberg: this year he has shown great things with great fights (Canada, 4th, and Belgium and Italy, 5th), but since Mercedes is like this…

Rapidly through some of the others:

Kamui Kobayashi, 7: a consistent first half of the season, then, as tradition, Sauber lacks of updates and the results can hardly come. He is more like an old-school driver (like Hamilton is), always ready to try. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not, but this is the right attitude.

Sergio Perez, 6: the best deb for me, but not according to the championship points. He has shown pretty good things, but his problem was that he has not been constant. He is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy to seek for new talents to bring to Maranello: he is on the right way to make a good impression, we will see next year how he will have improved.

Rubens Barrichello, 5: this year’s Williams has been one of the worst ever, but he has not been better than his car. Often behind his deb team mate Maldonado in qualifying, he has never shown the will to react. He is looking for a seat next year, but honestly, where can he go other than Williams? HRT? Better to retire then, Rubinho…

Jarno Trulli, 5: the Lotus-Renault (the green/yellow one) is not the best of the field, but it is the best of the rest. However, he has not shown his best attitude this year, often being beaten by his team mate Kovalainen. According to some rumors, he is going to be replaced by the deb Daniel Ricciardo, from HRT and supported by Red Bull, although he has another contract year with Lotus.

Renault Lotus (the black and gold one), 6: they started the season brillianty, but after a while they decided to replace the overall-good Nick Heidfeld with the not-so-reliable Bruno Senna. The result? Petrov brought 37 points in 19 races, Heidfeld 34 points in 11, Senna 2 points in 7 races, and the team could hold the 5h position ahead of Force India for just 4 points. They suffered the lack of Robert Kubica, maybe next year Kimi Raikkonen will bring some more to this once-winning team.

That’s all, folks!

Picture: http://www.flickr.com