Formula 1 is back and how we have missed it. Despite there being more races than ever before, the final race of the previous season seems like a lifetime ago. Was it Interlagos or Abu Dhabi? I haven’t the foggiest. For some reason the 2011 season failed to ignite and capture the imagination. While we can all admire a brilliant driver in a brilliant car (heck, Sebastian Vettel even found time to smash the lap record in the Reasonably Priced Car and demonstrate an impressive array of regional English accents on Top Gear), it simply does not make for a thrilling Grand Prix season.
The one stand out race (and to be fair it was an absolute corker) was the Canadian Grand Prix – undoubtedly Jenson Button’s greatest victory to date. Trapped in our cottage in Cornwall as the torrential rain beat down outside (much like in Montreal), we spent 4 hours gripped and entranced by this most surreal and dramatic of races. It really felt like a rite of passage – one of those races that made you fall in love with F1 all over again.
So what will we remember from 2011?
1. Aside from the thrilling Canadian Grand Prix, there were a lot of dull, dull, dull races. Valencia springs to mind though I literally can remember nothing at all about the race. Did Vettel win? Probably.
2. Red Bull blew the rest away (though only when driven by a German) and Adrian Newey is a genius. But then we knew that already.
3. To say the Williams team is a shadow of its former self is an understatement. It was a desperately poor season even by the mediocre standards of recent years.
4. The numerous Hamilton/Massa collisions – they took their random crash roadshow to Monaco, Silverstone, Singapore, Japan and India. Though this did throw up one of the more quirky yet memorable F1 moments of 2011 – Rowan Atkinson’s great ‘Mr Bean’ face after yet another coming together at the inaugural Indian GP. Maybe this year we will be treated to a ‘Blackadder’ face. But I digress (something I tend to do a lot).
5. Which brings me onto Hamilton’s season. The only driver to snatch a pole from Red Bull (at the South Korean GP) all year but by and large it was a chaotic and calamitous season. As well as the messy spats with Massa, he was out-performed by his own team-mate and petulant outbursts such as “maybe it's because I'm black…that's what Ali G says” and “it's an absolute frickin' joke…I've been to see the stewards five times out of six this season” (er maybe that’s because you keep crashing into people, Lewis) were reminiscent of Kevin the Teenager. But say what you like about Lewis (and many do, especially his long-suffering mechanics I would imagine!) he is never dull.
And so to Melbourne.
After the long winter of ‘behind closed doors’ car development (what will be this year’s secret-weapon diffuser?), the hours and hours of testing, the unveiling of the new cars, the great and the good and the not so good of Formula 1 (oh and Lenny Kravitz too) finally arrived in Melbourne for the start of the new season.
The Big Excitement (especially at Sky Towers) was the fact that SIX former and current world champions would be competing on the grid (Schumacher, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Button and Vettel) for the first time ever. And I have to admit that is pretty cool although my all-time dream race starring six champions (at the peak of their powers) would be Fangio, Jim Clark, James Hunt (well I had to sneak him in), Senna, Mansell and Schumacher.
I happened to stumble across the Sky commentators in one of the practice sessions debating which of the 6 drivers would win the title if they all had the same car. Rather disappointingly, they sat on the fence big style and waffled on about how any particular car would suit one driver more than another and so the ultimate winner would depend on the set up and design of the car etc. Yawn. Where’s Eddie Jordan with an opinion when you need him! Well for what it worth (precisely squat diddly) I think it would be a fight to the finish between Alonso and Vettel (10 years ago the answer would have been Schumacher no question). However, chuck a bucketload of rain into the equation and I think the Rainmeister (Schumacher) would still be the man to beat. Biased much?
Qualifying will reveal all. Or not as the case may be!