Some of you may have noticed the absence of any predictions ahead of the 2012 season.
Many of you may have been relieved that I did not attempt to read the tea leaves, bearing in mind how far wide of the mark I was last year.
Just for fun, however, I had a wager with a friend on the Australian Grand Prix because I was convinced that I knew what might happen in the opening race of the season.
Believe this or not, I predicted that Hamilton would be on pole and that Button would win the race. Yes, really, I did.
Bolstered by this success, I now predict that McLaren will win the Constructor’s title this season and that Jenson Button will win his second Driver’s World Championship.
Yes, yes, I know it’s very early days and we cannot predict the price of oil in six months time. And yes, we know that we must never underestimate the genius of Adrian Newey, the skill of Vettel and the resources of Red Bull. Not to mention Ferrari, who were shamed in Australia, and will be galvanised to take radical action.
These caveats aside, I believe that McLaren has built a very good car, and one which is very driveable. I further sense that Button is absolutely at the top of his game. Very fit, very confident and very much loved by his team. On the contrary, I sense that Hamilton is somehow on the back foot and that the love affair with McLaren is over. These are tough guys, not prone to much self-doubt, but something is not right in the Hamilton camp, his life is – for whatever reason – out of kilter, and his demeanour after the first race was less than positive.
I have said this before, and I say it again. I have no truck with those who tell me that motor racing is boring, just cars going round and round. Grand Prix racing, in particular, is never boring because people are more interesting than cars. People are not (yet) designed and controlled by computers. Team dynamics are not planned on spreadsheets. It will be the people, and the relationships, that govern the outcome of what appears to be such a close season. Button and Hamilton at McLaren is the most intriguing example. There is also Alonso – can Ferrari satisfy his ambitions? And Vettel – will he adapt to fighting for wins? And Räikkönen – will Grosjean bring out the best in him?
Ferrari may recover rapidly, but Massa is not on good form, his head is down. Red Bull will get on terms, but the odds are stacked against Vettel taking three titles in a row. The field is too closely matched, the blown diffusers have gone, and Red Bull can no longer use the highly sophisticated Renault engine mapping which helped to make their diffuser so effective. They will win races, as probably will Ferrari (with Alonso), and Lotus look competitive, but overall I think the McLaren will deliver what it promised in pre-season testing.
I have, as some of you will know, been proved wrong in the past. But I think that a highly competitive, and closely matched, season will suit Button’s approach and new maturity. He won’t be on pole too many times, he won’t win every race, but he will be right there all year when it matters. Calm and consistent may be the key this year. He has both qualities, plus talent to spare, a tactical brain and huge confidence both in, and out, of the car.
You will have your own ideas after the race in Malaysia. Things change so fast in F1 these days, the cars constantly in development, but I’d like to be right this time.
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