Between November 29 and January 3, we’ll be reviewing the 2012 motor sport season month by month. Along with these features, Ed Foster will be assessing each Formula 1 team’s performance, starting with HRT. There will be galleries, competitions and Nigel Roebuck’s top 10 drivers. Finally, in the run-up to Christmas, each of our writers will talk about their highlight of the year, so keep checking back every day. This time we look at March.
By the time Formula 1’s testing schedule began in March, the world was already painfully aware of how most team’s cars would look. Only McLaren had kept a shapely front end (HRT too, but yet again the Spanish team wouldn’t have their car ready until the season opener) with the rest adopting a stepped-nose design in order to work around the new rules regarding front bulkhead height.
As always the tests were inconclusive, but a few things became clear. Kimi Räikkönen still had some pace after two years tumbling around the forests and Jarno Trulli would be replaced by Vitaly Petrov, after being allowed to complete the first test. Most significantly, Ferrari was in trouble.
After qualifying for the season opener in Melbourne, things looked dark indeed: Alonso 12th, Massa 16th. Räikkönen didn’t fare any better, starting 18th, while his young team-mate Grosjean lined up a giddy third. The HRTs failed to qualify.
The success story in Australia was McLaren. Hamilton and Button started 1-2, but it was Button who took the lead at the start. From there he was untouchable, but his team-mate fell prey to a strong drive from Vettel to take second place. Hamilton looked defeated on the podium and was quiet in the post-race interviews. The questions about his mental fitness continued.
Alonso fought hard – as much with his car as with other drivers – fending off Pastor Maldonado in the closing stages to finish fifth. He was praised for dragging the F2012 into a strong points-scoring position, but no one was prepared for what would happen in Malaysia.
The teams were thrown a curveball by Pirelli this year, and none of them had the tyres figured out for the first few races. Two-stoppers became three-stoppers and no one seemed to know when each set was ready to fall off ‘the cliff’.
In Malaysia the confusion continued. The McLarens again qualified 1-2, but a combination of driving and strategical errors meant that it was Alonso and the surprising Sergio Pérez fighting for the win around a soaked Sepang. In the changing conditions the Ferrari and Sauber took off, Pérez catching Alonso, clawing seconds back every lap. A momentary lapse of judgement ended his chance of victory, but it was an incredible performance nonetheless. Hamilton again finished a distant third. After Australia, it looked like a vague picture of each team’s early-season pace was forming. One race later and Alonso and Pérez had blown expectations out of the water.
World Endurance Championship
The start of the sports car season proper came in March, as Audi (and some other teams) opened the new WEC at Sebring. As well as the classic Florida venue, Le Mans was on the calendar; finally a sports car championship worthy of the name. The void left by Peugeot’s sudden departure was filled when Toyota announced an LMP1 entry for Le Mans.
The Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish/Dindo Capello Audi R18 surprised absolutely no one by leading home a dominant 1-2. Toyota’s new car wouldn’t make an appearance until later in the season and to be honest, as much as everyone hoped, the prospect of beating the German powerhouse seemed like a pipe dream.
IndyCar was in a buoyant mood at the season opener in St Petersburg. Dan Wheldon’s death at the end of 2011 left a huge hole in the sport and, with the new Dallaras he had been developing, everyone was keen to get back to racing.
Popular Brazilian Hélio Castroneves won for Penske ahead of Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Reigning champion Franchitti came home a lowly 13th, last of the unlapped runners. Rubens Barrichello made his debut for KV Racing, but struggled after 19 years in F1 and finished 17th.
World Rally Championship
Sébastien Loeb retook the championship lead in Mexico, leading Citroën team-mate Mikko Hirvonen home with Petter Solberg third.
In Portugal Ford scored a dominant 1-2-3, with Østberg, Novikov and Solberg on the podium after Hirvonen was disqualified and Loeb crashed after mishearing a pace note.
What we had to say
Nigel Roebuck said goodbye to Barrichello and Trulli:
“A great shame, this, for Trulli’s natural ability was way higher than most drivers’ – and he should have come out of Formula 1 with a lot of victories.”
Paul Fearnley looked at Lewis Hamilton’s team-mates:
“Jenson Button is different. Not only is Hamilton being beaten by him, the beating is being meted out in an infuriatingly polite fashion.”
Rob Widdows spoke to Alan Jones about modern drivers:
“When I was racing, if someone did the wrong thing by you, then you’d put his name in your little book and get even later on. Give him back something to think about.”
What you had to say
DDT chimed in with his view on modern drivers:
“Race car driving is a full time job, by which I mean the level of focus is like no other human activity. Yet, we are asking a lot more of our driver’s brains now.”
Greg Conchelos gave his perspective on Barrichello:
“I liked Rubens because he was Rubens. Sometimes just ‘nice’ is nice; it beats the robotics of winners and droids. I follow this sport for the nice guys as much as achievement.”
Tom made an interesting comparison after the Malaysian GP:
“I think it’s fitting that the season of Gilles’ anniversary has begun with a Ferrari driver dragging a lousy car to some unlikely results!”