Season review: November/December

by Alex Harmer on 31st December 2012

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 November and December.

Formula 1

In Abu Dhabi, Hamilton and Webber started on the front row, but there was real intrigue as Sebastian Vettel coasted to a halt after setting the third fastest time. Having run out of fuel, he was excluded from the results; faced with the option of starting from the back of the grid or from the pitlane, Red Bull chose the latter.

Their usual strategy saw them set up their cars for optimum pace on Saturday, but in this scenario they could make any adjustments they wanted, giving Vettel the advantage in the race.

At the start, Kimi Räikkönen made a good start from fourth to reach second by the first corner, deposing Webber and Pastor Maldonado. He would harry Hamilton until the McLaren’s gearbox gave up the ghost on lap 19, giving the Finn a lead he would not lose. It was the result that seemingly everyone wanted, putting an exclamation mark on an incredible comeback.

Vettel’s storm through the field was sometimes lucky, sometimes clumsy, but often brilliant. He finished third behind – no surprises here – Fernando Alonso. With only 10 points separating them heading to Austin’s first Grand Prix, the title fight was still very much on.

The first Grand Prix on American soil since 2007 was a huge success, but started with controversy. Felipe Massa was truly back on form, starting seventh, two places ahead of Alonso. Rather than see him starting on the dirty side of a still-green track, Ferrari took action and broke the seal of Massa’s gearbox to incur a deliberate penalty. Alonso made the most of the advantage to finish third behind Hamilton and polesitter Vettel. Aside from the intensity of their battle for the championship, it was generally agreed that the Circuit of the Americas was an excellent track that could host a world-class event.

The final round in Brazil was a nail-biter. Hamilton and Button started 1-2 with the Red Bulls of Webber and Vettel behind them. Alonso was back in eighth having again been outqualified by his team-mate. It looked like a foregone conclusion but on the opening lap the outlook was bleak for Vettel. After making a poor start and dropping back to seventh, he was perhaps too keen and got involved in an accident at Turn 4 with Bruno Senna. The Brazilian retired, but Vettel was miraculously able to continue, albeit with some sidepod damage. Up front Nico Hülkenberg was having the race of his life from seventh on the grid, making smart strategy calls and overtaking everyone in sight as the rain started to fall. He led from Button on lap 19 and looked a solid bet to win.

That was until Hamilton stormed through to take the lead after a mistake by the German. While trying to regain first, he slid into Hamilton, damaging the McLaren and ending his race. He was given a harsh drive-through for the error and finished fifth.

Vettel had managed to claw his way back up to sixth, enough for a third consecutive World Championship. His advantage over Alonso was a scant three points. Button won ahead of the Spaniard with Massa an emotional third at his home race.

There was some controversy in the week following the race as footage surfaced of Vettel passing cars under yellow lights. The resulting penalty would hand the title to Alonso. Under the rules, the FIA were obliged to investigate, but it was noticed that a marshal was waving a green flag just before the incident in question. Vettel retained his well-deserved championship.

When the season ended, talk turned to driver line-ups for 2013. Pérez was going to McLaren, Hamilton to Mercedes, Hülkenberg to Sauber, where he will be paired with rookie Esteban Gutiérrez. Valtteri Bottas earned a promotion at Williams and Charles Pic will make an incremental move up the grid to Caterham.

At the time of writing, Kamui Kobayashi, Bruno Senna and Heikki Kovalainen are out in the cold, with little hope of changing that situation. Sadly, HRT missed the cut-off to sign up for 2013 and along with their drivers, will not compete.

WRC

In Spain, Sebastian Loeb said farewell to full-time rallying by winning ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen. He will compete in four rallies next year while contesting a whole GT season in a McLaren. Dani Sordo will return to Citroën to take his place.

MotoGP

At the last round in Valencia, Jorge Lorenzo crashed out while overtaking a backmarker. Dani Pedrosa won with Katsuyuki Nakasuga finishing second in a one-off ride replacing the injured Ben Spies at Yamaha. Casey Stoner finished third in his final Grand Prix.

Taking his place in 2013 is blindingly quick rookie Marc Márquez. Valentino Rossi will return to Yamaha from Ducati in a switch with Spies. Even with Stoner’s retirement at age 26, it will still surely be a season to remember.

What we had to say

Following the death of Mercedes legend John Fitch, we posted Simon Taylor’s Lunch with...
“Even if John Fitch had never sat in a racing car, his extraordinary life would still be the stuff of legend. Fighter pilot, sailor, inventor, farmer, prisoner of war, car designer, safety campaigner, race track director...”

Paul Fearnley named his top 10 F1 drivers of 2012:
“Yes, points mean funding, but I like to think that the racers at Williams would swap any number of what-if fifth places for that unexpected victory at Barcelona.”

Mat Oxley looked back on the “voodoo” year of Ben Spies in MotoGP:
“I’ve been working the GP trail for a quarter of a century and I’ve never known a rider suffer so badly, week in, week out.”

We recorded two special evenings for our podcast. Ed Foster sat down with Richard Attwood and David Piper to talk about their careers and we launched the 2013 Hall of Fame with a readers’ evening with Sir Jackie Stewart.

What you had to say:

John Markey defended Schumacher’s legacy:
“Yes he was ruthless but he is still castigated for this whilst Senna – even more ruthless and dangerous – is revered and his misdemeanours carefully whitewashed in print and film.”

Dave Cubbedge made his case for oval racing:
“I follow all kinds of motor sport and get frustrated by the comments coming from the Euro school of thought regarding US oval racing. There is a lot more to ovals than meets the eye."

Chris Wright remembered the 1982 World Sportscar Championship finale at Brands Hatch:
“Great days when F1 stars could be seen in these amazing cars. Frankly, motor racing has never been as good since the demise of Group C. The track was treacherous and it ranks highly as one of the most memorable races I ever attended.”

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