2012 F1 season review
Guest writer @Greg-Morland has crunched a huge amount of data to bring you this look back on how well we predicted the 2012 season.
One word regularly used to describe the 2012 F1 season was “unpredictable”.
With eight race-winning drivers, seven pole sitters, six winning teams, thirteen drivers on the podium, a string of thrilling races and a title decided by just three points, it was certainly a breath of fresh air after the somewhat sterile 2011 championship.
But was it really so unpredictable? Before the first race of 2012 back in March, almost two hundred F1 Fanatic readers answered a pre season questionnaire on the upcoming season, and their responses offer an intriguing insight into how we thought the campaign would pan out.
Best surprise of the season
The revival of Lotus was foreseen by the F1 Fanatic readership, with the team and lead driver Kimi Raikkonen widely backed to shine. But while Mercedes’ first race victory as was widely anticipated, their otherwise dire season came as a surprise to the large numbers who voted for the team and their two drivers to excel in 2012.
Force India were tipped to enjoy a breakthrough season in 2012, yet only four people predicted Sauber, the stand-out midfield outfit of the year, would shine. Race winners Williams too received little backing, while Caterham were widely expected to make progress.
Only four people suggested the returning United States Grand Prix would be the highlight that it was, while @TommyB89 deserves credit for having the audacity to predict that the Valencia street circuit would finally host an exciting race.
Worst surprise of the season
Ferrari´s dreadful pre-season form ensured they were a common nomination, but Fernando Alonso ended up taking the battle for the drivers’ championship down to the last race.
Of course, Ferrari were in no position to challenge for the constructors’ title thanks to Felipe Massa’s disappointing campaign, which is perhaps why so many readers feared he would be handed another new contract for 2013. Ferrari took their time over it, but eventually rehired Massa for 2013.
There were widespread doubts over the futures of Force India and HRT. Both completed the season despite financial concerns, but while the former have been promised a cash injection by owner Vijay Mallya, HRT’s lack of funding proved terminal.
And, thankfully, the widely predicted loss of an annual Grand Prix at Spa did not come to pass after the circuit secured a new three-year contract.
Six teams – Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus, Mercedes and Williams – took race victories in 2012, the most different winning constructors in a season since 1983 while Sauber and Force India both came close to their first ever Grand Prix success.
Such close competition for victory caught out the readers, more than three-quarters of whom had expected four or fewer winning teams, with just 4% correctly predicting six.
First failure to qualify
For the second consecutive year, both HRTs failed to qualify for the Australian Grand Prix in March having missed the entire pre-season testing schedule.
Surprisingly, although both HRTs had been more than 7% off the pace in the two previous season-openers they had taken part in, only a small minority of readers anticipated Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan would fail to make the cut again, with almost half of the readers choosing instead to single out the latter.
Rookie Charles Pic received significantly more support (32%) than de la Rosa to fall at the first hurdle, perhaps reflecting Marussia’s inability to get their 2012 challenger on the track in official pre-season testing.
Alonso may have taken his world title tilt all the way to the final weekend of the season, but it was a challenge based more on a relentless stream of podiums – 13 in 20 races – than race victories, of which he took just three.
But given how low expectations were for Ferrari after the winter testing struggles, he overachieved in the eyes of F1 Fanatic readers. With a third of the vote, most people expected him to win twice. More people tipped him to fail to win all season (17%) than to win more than three races (11%).
Raikkonen’s best result
Kimi Raikkonen’s fine comeback year was expected by most readers – 84% predicted he would make it onto the podium, and just over a third expected him to win for Lotus.
Interestingly, though the question asked only for the result, many readers took it upon themselves to suggest Raikkonen’s best result would be at Spa! Although he was unable to take a fifth career victory in the Ardennes, he did finish on the podium.
Caterham’s finishing position
Heading into the penultimate race of the season it looked as though the one person who predicted Marussia to beat Caterham to tenth in the constructors’ championship had it right.
But that all changed when Vitaly Petrov overtook Pic with four laps to run in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. That netted the vital 11th place which restored Caterham to tenth in the constructors’ standings, where 60% of those polled predicted they would finish.
While this last ninth or higher in the standings, but the team seldom had the pace to challenge even the tail end of the midfield.
New contract for Schumacher?
One of the more contentious questions in the survey was whether Michael Schumacher would extend his F1 comeback.
The majority view was that he would be back again in 2013, with the remaining 38% tipping the 2012 season to be his last – and few foresaw who would take his place when he did hang up his helmet.
There was little expectation amongst readers that FOTA would be bolstered by the return of former members during the season, with only 4% expecting the group to contain all 12 teams by the end of the campaign.
FOTA ended the season as it began it – a seven-team alliance, as was predicted by 31% of voters. Fingers crossed that sense will prevail and the teams are able to reunify for the good of the sport in the future.
First driver to lose his seat
In a season of uncharacteristically few driver changes, every driver who entered the opening race of the season was still on the grid when the curtain closed on the campaign in Sao Paulo.
In the intervening races, Romain Grosjean was the only driver to sit out an event, the Italian Grand Prix, after the FIA threw the book at him for causing the infamous first corner shunt at Spa. Grosjean’s departure – though surely not the reason for it – was predicted by just two readers.
Over three-quarters of those questioned predicted that one of the HRT drivers would be first to lose his seat. Of the two, Narain Karthikeyan was thought to be in most danger, with 65% tipping him to depart the Spanish team mid-season for the second consecutive year.
With so many votes for Karthikeyan and De La Rosa to lose their places at HRT, it was inevitable that the most popular choices for the vacant role were drivers affiliated with the team. HRT test driver Dani Clos was backed by 35%, while a further 20% predicted Vitantonio Liuzzi would return to his former team.
Liuzzi was not the only driver dropped in 2011 tipped to make a comeback. Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, Jarno Trulli and Adrian Sutil were all well-backed, and one person thought Rubens Barrichello would make a return from IndyCar.
But in the end it was Jerome D’Ambrosio, dropped by Virgin at the end of the previous season, who was handed a cameo appearance at Monza while Romain Grosjean was confined to the naughty chair. Congratulations to Hamilz0rs, the only person to predict this.
Given their erratic form in 2011, it was no surprise that Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado dominated the poll for the most-penalised driver. Over a third of voters predicted Hamilton would extend his much publicised feud with F1 judiciary into 2012, with a further 27% choosing Maldonado, who narrowly pipped Hamilton at the top of the penalty table the previous season.
However, while Hamilton upped his game and gave the stewards a wide berth in 2012, Maldonado’s undimmed penchant for trouble saw him penalised no fewer than ten times over the course of the season, far more than any other driver.
Return for Kubica?
By some distance, the most unequivocal agreement of the poll was that Robert Kubica would not make a return to the grid in 2012. The 93% who predicted he would remain on the sidelines were sadly proved right.
Though doubts remain whether he will ever be fit and strong enough to return to F1, Kubica’s slow and steady recuperation is putting him behind the wheel of a racing car more and more regularly. A future in rallying looks likely providing his recovery continues.
Picking the first retirement of the season is largely an exercise in guesswork, which explains why all but one of the twenty four drivers to start the season were tipped by the readers to take the first DNF of the season. The one exception, Michael Schumacher, succumbed to a gearbox failure after just ten laps.
But he was beaten to the ignominious accolade by Nico Hulkenberg, who crashed out on the first lap of the Australian Grand Prix for the second time in as many appearances. His early demise was predicted by five readers, one of which, Browny, deserves extra credit for correctly naming the cause of his retirement.
The most popular choices were Maldonado and Pic, who each took 16% of the vote. While debutant Pic made it to the chequered flag, Maldonado crashed out on the final lap while hounding Alonso for fifth.
United States Grand Prix winner
Unsurprisingly, the five drivers to have won every race of the 2010 and 2011 seasons – Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – dominated the poll, with over 90% of the vote between them.
Vettel and Hamilton, who fought a race-long duel for victory at the Circuit of the Americas, were as closely matched in the poll as they were on the track. The pair took 28% of the ballot each, with Vettel pipping Hamilton by a single vote yet losing out to him by 0.7 seconds on race day.
Biggest political story
Uncertainty over the status of the event overshadowed much of the early part of the season, and put F1 under the scrutiny of the world’s media for all the wrong reasons. And with Bahrain back on the calendar in 2013, the whole sordid affair is likely to be repeated again next year.
The new Concorde Agreement negotiations proved the most common choice in this category, with around a third of the readers suggesting it could prove contentious. Thankfully, against all expectations the discussions have for the most part remained civil and have seldom diverted attention from the on track action. Car legality disputes too were generally low-key despite many readers’ expectations of more technical bickering.
Other predictions which did not come to pass included another bout of inter-team data theft, the sacking of Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicalli, and even a return to F1 for Flavio Briatore.
The corruption allegations against Bernie Ecclestone continues to develop in the background, and could well prove to be the big controversy of the 2013 season should charges be brought against the F1 boss.
The season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix was voted by readers as not only the best race of 2012, but the best since F1 Fanatic’s Rate the Race was introduced back in 2008. Yet, presumably because of the uncharacteristic dull races Interlagos served up in the previous two editions of the race, just 5% of the electorate had predicted this.
The two stand-out predictions for the best race were the Canadian and Belgian Grands Prix, with 37% and 24% of the vote respectively, though by their high standards neither event was particularly memorable this year.
Winning driver’s points
Vettel won his third world title with 281 points, 72% of the points total he had managed in the nineteen races of the previous season. In stark contrast to 2011, though, most readers were able to predict the title-winning score with an impressive degree of accuracy: more than half of those polled were within a race win either side of Vettel’s tally.
However, not one reader predicted Vettel’s total correctly – commiserations to the nine people who chose either 280 or 282! Oddly, there was more than one suggestion of ’25′.
Despite a stuttering first half of the season, with just five podium finishes before the summer break, Red Bull’s lateseason push saw them take a fairly comfortable constructors’ title, their third in succession.
However, despite their previous successes, only 38% of F1 Fanatic readers had tipped them for the title. With 55% of the vote it was McLaren who were backed for their first constructors’ success since 1998, but after a tumultuous season the British outfit slipped to an underwhelming third behind Ferrari, who had a mere 4% support in the poll.
Interestingly, while McLaren were favourites amongst readers for the constructors title, Vettel was thought more likely than either of their drivers’ to win the other championship, with 35% of the vote compared to Lewis Hamilton’s 26% and Jenson Button’s 19%.
Although he was unable to prevent Vettel taking the championship, Alonso came agonisingly close to a third career title of his own, and one which few anticipated before the season – the Ferrari driver took just 8% of the vote.
Over to you
How accurate were your pre-season predictions? Look back on them here and have your say in the comments.
2012 F1 season review
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- What F1 Fanatics thought of 2012: The year in polls
- The drivers and cars of 2012
- F1 Fanatic’s 50 article highlights of 2012
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Browse all 2012 F1 season review articles
Images © Lotus F1 Team/LAT, Williams/LAT, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Mercedes/Hoch Zwei, Lotus F1 Team/LAT, Red Bull/Getty images, Red Bull/Getty images