A scorching Hungaroring sent Formula One into its midsummer break gasping for air. Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes garage can now breathe easier as they look forward to the remainder of the season with renewed optimism after the British driver controlled the race to record a maiden victory for his new employer. Over at Ferrari however, the heat was raising tempers. Another disappointing result left Fernando Alonso voicing his concerns about where the team was headed, a relatively mild show of frustration but one which earned a stinging rebuke from President Luca de Montezemolo. The Italians are closing rank. This is one cooling off period which has arrived not a moment too soon.
A new Formula One season gets underway in Australia this week. It will be the last using the current engine configurations, so ending an era which has been dominated in its latter stages by Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel will be aiming for a fourth consecutive drivers’ title but with the opposition breathing down his neck a close contest is probably assured. Some much-discussed moves, five rookies joining the fray and the usual internecine politics have kept the pot boiling during the winter cessation. And the new campaign has plenty to live up to. The first seven Grands Prix of 2012 were each won with a different racer behind the wheel, five of them for different manufacturers. The final act in Brazil was one of the most dramatic and thrilling spectacles of recent times. So just what can we expect in the coming months, and who will be the biggest winners and losers?
After just five full seasons in Formula One, Sebastian Vettel is a triple World Champion. If Michael Schumacher tore up the record books, his young compatriot threatens to put them through a shredder. The same streak of arrogance, a single-minded determination and a haughty aloofness unites the two men, the elder showing genuine patrician pride at his protégé’s latest success, confirmed in a dramatic final Grand Prix of the year in Brazil. Schumacher, who was taking his final bow, one which this time is certain to be inviolate, spent most of the time he was accumulating titles clearly head and shoulders above his rivals, regardless of the car he was driving. Vettel resides in a more competitive era, one in which designers, mechanics and the vagaries of fate may have the crucial role, and he has been fortunate to enjoy impeccable support in this respect. He may have the garland, but he was not the best driver of 2012; that accolade should have been Fernando Alonso’s.