What made the 2012 Formula 1 season so special?


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"It was a season like no other, an unfolding story of twists and turns, it could have been a product of Hollywood. A script that brought together flesh and metal, emotion and power, the greatest car chase ever. It dealt in fantasy, in impossible happenings, unpredictable at every scene."

-Eddie Jordan

There’s little doubt that 2012 delivered a thrilling season of excitement and unpredictably that culminated into one of the greatest F1 seasons ever. Every race was part of a story, the story of twenty-four drivers, on the limit pushing for personal and worldwide glory. Through streets and tracks we raced, watching in disbelief as the 2012 season unfolded into one of the greatest ever season endings ever experienced. It truly was a season like no other. But what made the 2012 Formula 1 season one to remember?

Before the season even began the prospects for an entertaining 2012 were bright. Many were already contemplating the effects of EBD bans and the lowering of front nose heights would have. Additionally Pirelli's 2012 tyres were changed, heightening the likelihood of a close start to the season. Furthermore DRS zones would be revised for 2012 increasing chances of wheel to wheel racing rather than the easy passing of 2011. The abolition of exhaust blowing onto diffusers, a practice that had been much more developed by the wealthier teams like Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari greatly reduced the margins between the three and the midfield. The move also brought the backmarkers of Caterham, Marussia and HRT closer to the midfield, allowing the prospects of a backmarker having the ability to hold up a faster car for more than a corner as shown with Fernando Alonsos scuffle with Charles Pic in Catalunya where Fernando could not overtake for a whole lap. The lowering of front noses and the teams ambitions of keeping their chassis high to increase airflow under the car created the ugly stepped noses that featured on 10 of the 12 teams with wind tunnel buddies McLaren and Marussia opting for a smooth, better looking front nose. As all the teams had to redesign their front noses this led to changes in other parts of the car affected by the change; effectively levelling some of the front end aero advantage held by some teams to create a closer field. Pirelli also made significant changes in 2012 to their tyres which rendered all previous knowledge of how the tyres worked useless. Teams therefore were charged with understanding the new tyres as fast as possible in order to make them last for as long as possible while still travelling with pace. As this situation was the same with every team the field was brought closer for the opening races before tyre knowledge developed. In 2012 the FIA, armed with the experience of 2011 rethought their DRS zones and provided better racing in 2012. Before Grand Prix weekends fans waited anxiously to see if the FIA could sort out where the DRS was too powerful and when it was useless but did the revisions to DRS actually provide better racing? Well instead of the near impossible passing we saw in Australia 2011, 2 DRS zones made passing more of a possibility as overtaking numbers went from 29 in 2011 to 41 in 2012, commendable given the closeness of the field. Other standout performances of the system were in Europe where nearly all 79 overtakes were perfect, not too hard but not too easy unlike last year where essentially all 47 overtakes were boring and Abu Dhabi where with last year’s DRS zones meant a car overtook only to be re-passed on the next straight. This year passing was no guarantee but it was a possibility and it was this fine line that caused so many incidents at the chicane at the end of the second straight with drivers caught with indecision. 2012 DRS focussed more on creating close passing rather than 2011's 'press button to overtake comfortably'. Quality over quantity was shown as even with 1 extra Grand Prix and less wet races in 2012 we 'only' had 1135 passes compared to 1152 in 2011. New technological and engineering changes ensured a close season between teams.

2012 got off to a blinding start of excitement and thrilling highlights in the first 8 races. Unpredictably reigned as shock winners emerged in Alonso, Rosberg and Maldonado. Tyres provided good racing with no extreme degradation and the rule changes had massive effects on the closeness of the field. While the top three remained the best they had no guarantee of just having to worry about pit stop windows as the midfield, aided by fortune and their cars characteristics could mix in with the top teams on occasion. So it was with these factors that the 2012 F1 season began with the first seven races being won by seven different drivers. It was this result that caused controversy in the F1 paddock as well as with fans with claims the sport was too unpredictable and that race winners had become a lottery. Others considered this is a good thing for the sport as it brought out new talent and created a much closer championship. Indeed by Canada the top four were separated by just nine points. It wasn’t all good news however as fans had several reasons for disliking 2012's unpredictability: inability to see whose best and the lowering of Formula 1's reputation with the thought anyone can be a winner were chief among these. However Mark Hughes opinion seemed the most plausible commenting, "we all like to go to a race or watch the races and you want your expertise to be flattered and it didn’t flatter anyone’s expertise and I think that quickly builds up as a frustration." It appeared that the journalist had hit upon a true point, unfortunately very few would ever admit to having such a frustration. However debate creates interest and drama and this makes a season like 2012 more memorable. Ignoring the debates there is no question that the races were entertaining and even Monaco had provided a good race as the sight of the top six, racing single file through the swimming pool section, glancing across the kerbs of the chicane at 175mph/280kph was a view to behold. 2012 therefore began with one of the most special starts to a season where teams trying to find a solid footing in 2012 often featured prominently in one race only to fall back the next. To have seven winners in seven races triggered debates but more importantly created the excitement of unpredictability that seemed to be missing in 2011 among fans.

Of course one cannot put the season’s success down to a couple of rule changes and some luck. A mention must be put out to the drivers whose skills captivated audiences throughout the world from March to November. 2012 saw Lewis Hamilton return to form after an abysmal 2011 in which he lost to a teammate for the first time in his career. Fernando Alonso too hit peak form as he dragged his dog of a car, sometimes 1.5 seconds off the pace, to gain many valuable points, podiums and wins. It was the success of these two drivers in their 2012 campaign, put up against the might of Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull that set the scene for a massive three way fight for the title and saw several close encounters between these top drivers like in Canada (Sebastian, Lewis and Fernando), Germany (Lewis, Fernando and Sebastian), Great Britain (Fernando and Lewis) and United States (Sebastian and Lewis). Also with these three drivers came many debates as to the best, leading to greater interest in the tumultuous 2012 season. It wasn’t however just about the top drivers driving their best. Underdogs coming out on top also created enthusiasm and excitement. Instances such as Sergio Perez's gallant chase on Alonso and his first place in Malaysia will no doubt be remembered for time to come. Also mentions must be made to Pastor Maldonado and his high pressure win which was beautifully controlled and never once did falter despite being chased by a double world champion. His daring rescue of his nephew from the Williams garage fire, risking his life was simply what any worldwide icon or celebrity should be, inspirational. Also Romain Grosjean’s performance in Valencia where he nearly took the win from Alonso before his alternator gave up proved to be a high point as well as Canada and Bahrain’s podiums, however inconsistency and spacial awareness let him down but there’s strong evidence he is incredibly fast. Nico Rosberg’s first win after 111 starts was another highlight in a amazing race as he dominated qualifying and the race. There’s also Kamui Kobayashi's home podium much to the delight of the fans. Finally Nico Hulkenberg’s excellent first half of the race in Brazil was pure class and he made the right strategy calls and overtook Jenson Button whose McLaren was the fastest car that weekend. Despite half spinning, crashing into Lewis and getting a drive-through penalty there’s no doubt that he had displayed impressive skills that had nearly seen him take his first win in Interlagos.

In 2012 it was the circuits themselves that sometimes stole the headlines, producing widespread talk of such matters throughout the globe. After its abandonment in 2011, Bahrain had a race scheduled for 2012, still amidst the civil unrest that had plagued the country ever since the Arab Spring began. Many journalists condemned the move as inconsiderate and irresponsible but the race still went ahead with a heavy police presence. However this did not stop a Force India team personnel car on its way back from the circuit nearly being blown up by a petrol bomb. The later abandonment of FP2 by the team and complete lack of coverage in qualifying fuelled speculation as to how the race would proceed or whether or not it would be boycotted. Eventually all drivers fell before Bernie and raced but it was a race that should not have happened and looked nothing more than a snub to rioters. Politically charged slogans didn't help either such as "UNF1ED". On a more positive note, Formula 1 returned to the United States of America for the first time since 2007 in Austin. The race was a great success and saw some of the best racing of the year with an excellent DRS length, great track for racing and a conservative tyre choice that meant drivers could push as hard as they wanted without running out of grip. The event sold many tickets with 117,000 tickets sold for the race and 265,000 for the weekend. The Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas was a resounding success that provided great racing and marked what looked to be a strong, solid association between Formula 1 and the USA. Circuits themselves became key reasons as to why 2012 F1 season was special for both good and bad reasons.

Most important of all in determining why the 2012 season was special is looking back and recalling the epic story of the drivers’ championship and how the final three point margin represented so much about the season. As the season commenced in an unpredictable and tumultuous fashion, interest in who exactly the drivers fighting for the championship was piqued and by the mid season break Alonso held a 42 point lead over Webber who on 124 points leading Vettel-122, Hamilton-117 and Raikkonen-114. It was clear by this point that Alonso generally had the slowest of these cars and that in the final nine races these four would hunt him down and that given Alonso's consistency, taking the championship lead off him would come late in year. Spa Francorchamp's La Source carnage changed the face of the championship as Vettel drew to 24 points of the DNF'ing Alonso while Webber and Raikkonen made smaller inroads into gap. For Lewis Hamilton however he would remain 47 points from the lead after also being involved in the carnage as well. A massive task for him to win the world championship despite at the time having the fastest car. Italy and Singapore came and went and by Japan Alonso still had his lead, a mixture of solid consistent performances and good fortune as Vettel and Hamilton retired in Italy and Singapore respectively. It was also becoming apparent that Kimi did not have a car fast enough to win the championship and Webber was faltering and had rapidly fallen out of contention. The F1 circus travelled to Japan with Fernando Alonso in the lead, 29 points in front of Vettel and it was widely agreed on that all Alonso had to do was hold and keep scoring podiums and the championship would be his. Much easier said than done. As in Formula 1 'anything can happen and often does' and as Alonso retired after a racing incident with Raikkonen at turn one and Vettel went on to win the race the championship points race was narrowed to just four points and it was known now that it was a two horse race between the prancing horse of Fernando Alonso and the raging bull of Sebastian Vettel. Korea and India followed in procession both in terms of the calendar and the races as Vettel led every lap and had done so since Hamilton’s retirement in Singapore. Ferrari's development could not develop the car fast enough to match the Red Bull which left Alonso fighting for places below Vettel. With November came the climax of the championship, the final three races, it was do or die for Alonso and play it safe for Vettel. Unfortunate for Vettel it seemed as his fuel levels in Q3 Abu Dhabi proved risky enough to mean he ran out of fuel three corners from the pit lane and that he would start 24th. Sunday, race day and it appeared that today was the day Alonso would make a significant dent into Vettel’s thirteen point lead as his rival, after overnight modifications, started from the pit lane. The race started with a first corner incident between the Force India’s, Vettel damaging his front wing with Senna and Rosberg nearly taking off Karthikeyans head. Not your average Abu Dhabi Grand Prix it seemed. While under the safety car Vettel even managed to sufficiently damage his front wing enough for a pit stop on a DRS board, caught out accelerating while Daniel Ricciardo was braking. From there it seemed that Alonso aided by Hamilton’s retirement was to still at least bring the lead down to around six points but Perez, Grosjean and Webbers clash meant a safety car was called into action, bringing Vettel in fourth from ten seconds behind Button and unlikely to catch him into directly behind him on fresher tyres. When Vettel eventually passed Button many fans wishes of a close ending to the season hopes vanished as Alonso only outscored Vettel by three points despite starting so far ahead. Formula 1 2012 headed then to the penultimate round of the championship at the all new Circuit of the Americas in Austin its surface so new that grip levels were near that of ice. The weekend proved to be a massive exaggeration of how far ahead McLaren and Red Bull were from Ferrari as Hamilton and Vettel spent nearly the whole race at a pace beyond the rest of the field. Vettel looked to have the whole championship sewn up as he was fending off Hamilton and Alonso was a distant third. Had Vettel won, his 20 point advantage in Brazil would be near insurmountable: 'anything can happen and often does'. Lap 42 began as nearly all the other laps had, Hamilton closing in Sector 1, gaining still with DRS in Sector 2 only to lose the whole advantage in Sector 3 where Red Bull dominated. However as traffic began to start for the frontrunners the inevitable happened. A backmarker faced with nowhere else to go was forced to hold up the cars behind until the esses of the first sector finished. Ironically it was Karthikeyans car that held up Vettel. Hamilton sailed pass in the DRS zone while Vettel screamed into his radio about of the unfairness of it all, cursing the so called cucumber. Hamilton and Vettel finished the race line astern some 30 seconds ahead of Alonso. How on earth could Alonso win the World Championship in a massively slower car from thirteen points down with one solitary race left in the captivating 2012 Formula 1 season? To start off the weather forecast seemed to guarantee an unpredictable race as practice was scorching reaching 50°C track temperature only to be significantly cooler in qualifying before a wet, dry, wet, dry and finally wet race. Also to make preparations more difficult was the introduction of 2013 Pirelli tyres meaning that Alonso and Vettel needed to test those as well as prepare for the decider. Qualifying gave us insights into the pressure of this race as both drivers qualified behind their teammates and both McLarens would score their sixty third front row lockout and fourth of the season. The race began on slicks but on a damp track, a recipe for crashes. For those expecting some spectacular crash at turn one were left sorely disappointed as all the drivers funnelled in turn one before following each other out of the Senna S where the action began. All Vettel needed was a simple race, left alone running third to fifth would be enough to settle the championship with him content. Alonso however needed disasters, a race of attrition and for tragedy to befall Vettel. Turn 4, Lap 1 was the moment that shocked fans as Senna taking a look up the inside of Vettel was crashed into by Vettel as he seemingly unaware of Senna’s presence as he turned in. Trailing at the back of the field and with a ruined floor and exhausts Vettel hunted down the field and not long after was back in a championship winning position. However rain appearing intermittently and Vettel stuck with a broken radio leading to poor pit stop co-ordination and as Hamilton retired and Hulkenberg returned to the race behind in fifth, Alonso moved into a position that could see him win the title. However Vettel after a few "overtakes" (Schumacher) found himself snatching the provisional title back where he held onto it through the final stages of that afternoon. And just like that Vettel was crowned a three time world champion fittingly by just three points. It was epic title race filled with many candidates in the first half of the season that transformed into a two horse race between two of the best drivers on the grid that led to the 2012 title race and season being so special

The 2012 Formula 1 Season was made special because of the factors that together resulted in the culmination of one of the greatest ever Formula 1 seasons. Never before had a season been so complete: tragedy and drama, hope and recklessness, precision and erracticness, a season to remember. The seasons rule changes, unpredictability, entertaining driving, new and controversial circuits and thrilling title race left fans loving every moment of the 2012 season. It was motorsport perfection, a once in a lifetime season and that is why Formula 1's 2012 season was so special.
Overall this season was great, I agree, and you've frankly reminded us of that fact. Lets hope you're wrong with the "once in a lifetime" stuff, eh?
Great article Abnash24 made me want to get my hands on the official season review dvd all the more so I can rewatch it. Might have to agree to disagree with you about this years Monaco GP though which I found a complete bore. The 2011 Monaco race was a classuc though! Go figure!
teabagyokel i intended for this to be a collection of my thoughts and readers of this could share opinions and speak about their reasons as to why they liked/disliked the 2012 season. Sorry for the confusion
There were numerous great moments during the championship, but ultimately were it not for Alonso's extraordinary season Vettel would have been crowned champion with three races to spare, which would have taken the bite out of the final three GP's so the answer to the question, Alonso and Vettel made this a great season.
There are a few things that made 2012 fantastic, and much had to do with the unpredictability. Certainly in the beginning, but still also in the end, you never knew who was going to be fast the next race. Alonso and Vettel got themselves in championship positions because they picked up the points when they had a car that allowed them at the front, and salvaged the points when one or more teams passed them the next race. Even when some bemoaned the championship was over after Vettel's 4-streak, those who knew their F1 knew it was a matter of time before McLaren got the upperhand again, and so they did. It was never a done deal.

Also, when was the last time we saw so many top drivers fight their way through the field? Hamilton in Spain, Alonso in Valencia, Vettel in Belgium, Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

Wow, what a year it has been. And for it to end the way it did in Brazil, in a scenario no one could have written. Just wow.:popcorn:
but ultimately were it not for Alonso's extraordinary season Vettel would have been crowned champion with three races to spare

Easy to pick out one moment but you could say the same like with Hamilton's car problems. Don't forget after Monza Vettel was third in the Championship
A bitter sweet season for me. My favourite driver back to his superb best- Thats the sweet bit :D but let down by his machinery and sometimes his team - that's the bitter part. But overall I enjoyed the season. The racing is more important for me than the result and I was not disappointed by Lewis' racing. After the end of seasons I often muddle up what happened when and which race was which (so thanks Abnash24 for the reminders). The standout race I can remember without any trouble is the US and Hamilton and Vettel going at it lap after lap like quali laps. Hugely satisfying. I loved the outcome of course, but I also felt as though I'd seen a real race.
Lovely article :ok:
MCLS.......My posting did say there were numerous great moments during the year but I only made reference to what actually happened, not what might have been were it not for car problems or racing incidents (and accidents) so ultimately it was Alonso who remained in the fight and kept Vettel honest right up to the last lap of the last race. One or both of the McLarens should have been there but due to a multiple of what if's they played no part in the championship outcome. I'm quite sure both Hamilton and Button would admit that they were reduced to spectators in the last few races.
The season is about more than the title race though, surely? For me the excitement was far deeper than that this year, and it was only in the last few races where the tension of the title race actually registered.

Trying to establish form, and predict winners was the interesting bit.
The Pits......F1 is always about far more than the title race. It's a technology driven sport so it'a also about development programs and which team gets the most out of the regulations, but ultimately a season is remembered by which driver is crowned champion, over and above which team wins the constructors championship. That's always been true of F1 and always will be.
The Pits......Your quite right. My house damn near needs it's foundations strengthening to hold up all the books i have on motorsport, F1, American oval track racing and my greatest love the European Championship of the thirties. The title of this thread though lead me to single out one memorable feature of 2012 and for me it was Alonso. I feel a little sorry for Vettel though. He's just captured three titles in a row, yet all the seasons reviews from Autosport, the drivers choice and the team principles choice, have Alonso as the number one for 2012. I'm not a great Vettel fan but it seems unfair that despite his third title and the record books showing him as the 2012 champion the year will be remembered for Alonso. I know I've just contradicted myself on my last posting but it's very unusual for the driver who came second to receive the accolades as has happened this year.
The Pits.......I know this is a little off topic but I'm hoping Alonso can get his third title next season. Yes I'm an Alonso fan but my reasons run far deeper than that. I would love to see them enter 2014 on three titles each. It would lay a foundation for the coming seasons to see who can become a four times Champion. There are other drivers that could achieve it but Alonso or Vettel would be the most likely and it would turn into a great battle.
Sorry, Abnash24, don't think I intended to use the word 'frankly'. My excuse is that I was on my mobile...

Great article!

One thing that I think stands out from 2012 is the coming-of-age of Hermann Tilke. His most criticised tracks - Valencia and Abu Dhabi - both came up with stunners, as did Sepang, Shanghai and his new construct in America. F1 seems to be moving in a direction to allow great racing on Tilkedromes, and I think that's a good thing because we certainly won't be getting less of them!
teabagyokel I think it was simpy that Tilke had designed pretty good tracks but the rules didnt allow much excitement. Ever since DRS Abu Dhabi has had good races and since the field was closed up the other tracks have had great races. What i dont understand is why India's race is so boring. Maybe because its so different to the other Tilkedromes with few hairpins and many fast corners?
I still haven't seen a good race at Abu Dhabi. It has even been said that the circuit was due to have changes made to try to improve it but that these were put on hold in the hope that a false method of creating cod-excitement could save them the expense.
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