Imogen Reed delivers another interesting piece for us at www.allsportsdiscussion.com. I’ve actually had some folks at the day job ask for a write up on Formula 1 racing. This is for those folks!
The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on the 18th heralded the opening of the 2012 Formula One World Championship season. You may have watched it live, if you didn’t go to sleep on the couch beforehand because of the time difference. That of course won’t be the case with the penultimate race, which sees the return of Formula One to the US at Austin’s new Circuit of the Americas in Texas on November 18th, with the final race in San Paulo, Brazil on November 25th.
If recent history is anything to go by, there will no doubt be a good deal of drama and controversy both on and off the track before then. Last season may have been dominated by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, but in 2012 the young German is likely to discover that retaining the title will be a far more difficult proposition. Vettel’s teammate, Australian Mark Webber, and former champions Ferdinand Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, are all possible contenders for the throne, whilst Michael Schumacher is certain to want to prove that his return to Formula One is more than a nostalgia trip and that he still has what it takes to play with the big boys.
Formula One is not only a high octane sport it is also a high stakes global business driven by advertising and sponsorship, where the rewards for success are phenomenal. Ferrari traditionally outspend other teams in the pay table, and last year reported paid Alonso €30 million ($39.8M) for his talents; Hamilton and Button received €10 million ($13.3M) each at McClaren, Vettel and Webber €8 million ($10.6M) at Red Bull, and Schumacher along with Nico Rosberg are on a similar amount at Mercedes. That of course does not take account of the additional earnings they each could expect from advertising, endorsements and personal appearances, making Formula One driving amongst the most lucrative of sporting occupations.
No wonder then that competition in the sport is keen, not only between the different teams, but often between drivers for the same team. Success in the Championship more often than not equates to a much bigger bank balance. Lewis Hamilton has endorsement deals with the likes of Reebok and Tag Heuer (watches) and Santander (banking), and only recently Alonso added Oakley sunglasses to the list of those wanting to use his name and image to promote their products. Almost certainly the winning driver will come from one of four teams. So what prospects do each of them have of coming out on top at the end of the season?
Mercedes – Schumacher & Rosbburg
Michael Schumacher is by far the oldest of the leading group of drivers, and Mercedes have not set the world on fire in recent years, but his iconic status in the sport means that he can’t be ignored. At forty three he may have a wealth of experience, and may even still have the hunger for success, but he is sixteen years older than his teammate Nico Rosberg who managed a place above him at seventh spot in the 2011 driver’s table, despite the uncompetitive car they were both saddled with. Unless Mercedes are able to make radical improvements in the workshop this season, which seems unlikely, neither driver has a realistic prospect of taking the crown in 2012.
Red Bull – Vettel & Webber
With his win last year, at Red Bull Vettel can do no wrong, having already proven what a prodigious talent he has. However, winning races is usually as much about the car as the driver, and having lagged behind last year, McClaren in particular have spent the winter working hard in an attempt to stop Red Bull running away from the pack in the early part of the season in the way they did in 2011. Work that has already paid off with Jenson Button’s win at the inaugural Grand Prix in Australia. In addition, despite his laid back Aussie image, Vettel’s teammate Webber has the same competitive instincts that his compatriots seem to have for all sports, and probably has his own thoughts about his seemingly playing second fiddle to the new “Wunder-Junge” (Wonder Boy).
McClaren – Button & Hamilton
The all British line up at McClaren is supposedly entirely harmonious, with Hamilton and Button being the best of friends. That is probably true, but it doesn’t mean that that they are not also rivals. Both have past pedigree, each being former champions, but they are very different characters. Button is the man who thinks the race out in his head, which is why despite being behind Hamilton on the grid, he was able to win the race, with his teammate managing only third behind Vettel. Hamilton is more instinctive as a driver, seizing opportunities where he sees them, but over the past few seasons his opportunist instincts have led to accusations of recklessness, and a number of run-ins with the authorities and fellow drivers. If he wants to win, he needs to curb his enthusiasm with a degree of cunning and patience.
Ferrari – Alonso & Massa
At Ferrari Alonso remains their great hope. In 2008 Lewis Hamilton beat Felipe Massa by only a whisker to become the World Champion, and it looked to all that the Brazilian was set to be a serious rival for the next few years, but since his head injury in Hungary in 2009 he has never fully recovered his form, and his performance in 2012 could be make or break for his future at Ferrari. Alonso meanwhile remains capable of winning, but Ferrari still have work to do on the performance of their car if it is to have a hope of beating those put on the track by Red Bull or McClaren. In Australia the Spaniard was 21.5 seconds off the pace in fifth place, but more importantly 17 seconds behind the fourth placed Webber. The weather may have afforded Alonso a huge win last weekend but it’s unlikely this can be repeated with this year’s Ferrari in dry conditions.
Circuses and Publicity
If initial indications are anything to go by 2012 looks to be a more closely fought contest than last year’s was, with four and perhaps six drivers in contention for the crown of F1 World Champion. With luck, it may still be a matter for debate by the time the circus moves to Austin and San Paulo, and if it is then the final victor can be sure that the sponsors will be standing in line to get their endorsements, because nothing creates more publicity than drama, and more publicity equals more $’s, or is that €’s?