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2012 Formula 1 preview: Season 3 of the ‘Sebastian Vettel Show’?

With the 2012 F1 season set to start this Sunday, Joel Peterson has a look at the changes during the offseason and who are genuine contenders for Sebastian Vettel's crown.

This weekend marks the start of the 2012 Formula 1 season, with the QANTAS Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne this Sunday.

After a busy offseason involving signing drivers, testing, conforming to the ever-changing technical regulations and refining the designs of their cars, all 12 teams are ready and raring to go.

This season is a bumper year for Australian Formula 1 fans with two Australians in the field driving full time: Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo. After impressing in his stint with Hispania Racing Team last season, Ricciardo signed on for a drive with Red Bull’s development team, Toro Rosso alongside.

While there are no massive changes as far as technical regulations go, new tyres will create a lot of intrigue and unpredictability. Last year, Pirelli made their tyres out of a softer compound rubber than the previous tyre manufacturer, Bridgestone, and it took a long time for some drivers to adapt. In their second year as the official tyre supplier of Formula 1, Pirelli have made all their tyres out of an even softer compound rubber.

This gives the tyres an extremely short lifespan, especially at the start of races while carrying a full load of fuel on board. Managing these obstacles in order to maximise their wear will be a huge challenge, and will definitely throw up a few curveballs to start off the season.

The championship favourite is still undoubtedly Sebastian Vettel. The German ‘wunderkind’, and youngest reigning back-to-back champion, wrapped up the title with four races to spare in 2011, and looked virtually unbeatable. His mix of precision and pace is unrivalled in the pack, and his meteoric rise has somewhat turned watching the races over the last few seasons into episodes of the ‘Sebastian Vettel Show’. The prodigious talent, who is still only 24, hasn’t even reached his peak yet, which is a particularly scary thought for his rivals.

On the other hand Vettel’s fellow Red Bull driver, Webber, struggled last year. While managing to finish third in the championship, he only had one victory throughout the season. He struggled with the change to the Pirelli tyres, but after a year of running them he needs to be competitive. He should be hugely motivated, knowing that at age 35 this could be his last chance at a title that has thus far eluded him.

Even with Red Bull not having the huge advantage they did last year, due to the outlawing of the ‘blown diffuser’ system that they employed so well in 2011, Vettel and Webber’s Milton Keynes based outfits still look the frontrunners this year.

The pack has closed in on them though, with the biggest threat coming from the all-British McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Their pace picked up dramatically over the course of last year, and their stocks seem to be rising following a largely drama free testing period this season.

The other factor working in the favour of McLaren is that they have the driver who seems best suited to the tyres. 2009 World Champion Jenson Button, known for his smooth, efficient driving style, will be able to manage the grip levels of the tyres better than most. This could prove to be a huge boost for his title hopes after finishing a distant second to Vettel last year.

Ferrari is the next team in the pecking order and is another team who looks to have made inroads on Red Bull. They do, however, have a constant threat in Spaniard Fernando Alonso behind the wheel. The relentlessly competitive two-time champion is coming off a disappointing campaign by his standards, and will be looking for an improved performance from his car and himself.

The two dark horse teams are Mercedes GP and Lotus. Mercedes look to have taken big strides forward after underperforming the last two years in the shadows of the McLaren team, seen somewhat as their big brother.

However, with the ever youthful Michael Schumacher coming to terms with the Pirelli tyres and Nico Rosberg still improving, the Ross Brawn led Mercedes squad look to be in for their best season to date.

Lotus has been born from the ashes of the fallen Renault team. Their testing pace has been quick, but this cannot be taken for granted as a lot of the time teams are trying different setups and parts in order to strike the right balance. The biggest challenge for the UK based team will be to keep Kimi Raikkonen motivated and hungry to win. As he showed in 2007, he has the talent to match the world’s best. However, after quitting the sport in 2009 and participating in the World Rally Championship before returning, there are question marks over the Finn’s desire.

While by seven o’clock Sunday we will know the winner of the Australian Grand Prix, it will take until the very early hours of the morning on the 26 November to see who is crowned the 2012 Formula 1 Champion.

I suggest you strap in tight folks, because it could be a wild ride.


Joel Peterson is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism (Sport)student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter:@joelbpeterson

Picture of Sebastian Vettel by Luca Barni (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

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