In a year when a record six world champions are taking field, F1 fanatics certainly aren`t complaining. From the legend of Schumacher to Red Bull`s blue eyed Vettel, the list comprises names that are bound to keep the 2012 season abuzz with endless discussions, speculations and predictions pouring in to decide who the best among the lot is.
If the first two races are anything to go by, one can expect a mouth-watering prospect of nail-biting contests throughout the year in the numerous F1 circuits spanning throughout the globe. Unlike the previous season, where a certain German was on his quest to rewrite history books, the Albert Park and Sepang circuit have brought in a much needed dose of excitement, thrill and a welcome break from the sheer monotony that was witnessed last season. The most exciting and possibly `The race of 2011 season` came in Canada where the inclement weather and inspired driving of veteran Jenson Button had everyone on their feet.
Not that Sebastian Vettel`s success or failure this year will solely dictate the fortunes of the sport, but unless he receives a strong challenge on his path to a third successive championship title, its continuance might come as a dampener. This is truly valid not only for the fans but for the organisers as well. The German`s performance last season meant that the world championship was already decided way before the season actually ended leading to somewhat loss in interest from the fans. Bernie Ecclestone has time and again publicly expressed his desire to see a new World Champion or at least a more closely fought season. But it is not in his hands to achieve the same. It lies squarely with the teams who are hoping to revive past glories that have been overshadowed, if not forgotten, courtesy an utter dominant show from Red Bull Racing team.
Australia and Malaysia have only shown us a glimpse of what the new season has to offer. The two qualifying sessions are enough evidence to the pace McLaren has added to its car during the winter pre-season preparations. Lewis Hamilton, who claimed to have cleared the cobwebs and is now totally focused on racing, took consecutive pole positions in a one-two qualification with teammate Jenson Button, leaving behind RBR`s Vettel and Webber. He has backed up his claims with two strong podium finishes and seems to be in fine touch.
Button brought his calmness to a perfect drive at Melbourne during the opening race and tamed the pace of the beautiful MP4-27 to register his first win of the year. Things didn`t turn out well for Hamilton though, who was unlucky to have pit-stopped just before the safety car was brought in and gave an enterprising Vettel a chance to sneak through. It won`t certainly be a smooth passage for the German though who is in search of another world title this season. Unlike 2011, his closest rival, McLaren began the proceedings on the right note having avoided the pre-season disaster that had kept them behind in the chasing pack previously.
The next race at Sepang was following a similar course but for the inclement weather on the race day that changed the fortunes of Ferrari and Sauber. Jenson Button had a pretty bad day in the office finishing at the back of the grid while his teammate finished third.
Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are having a contrasting start to their season. The Spaniard showed his excellent race craft finishing at fifth in Australia after starting from 12th position staving off a stern challenge from much quicker Williams. He followed that with a superb victory on a wet day holding off Mexican Sergio Perez to register a crucial, morale-boosting win for Ferrari considering their horrible winter testing.
On the other hand, Massa appeared struggling to adjust with the balance of the new Ferrari and it does not bode well for him considering the apparent ultimatum from team bosses- perform or perish. He was given a different chassis for the next race, after he complained of problems with the car, to leave behind any `doubts` but he again failed to finish within points.
Sauber`s Perez was a happy man after registering his first podium finish in F1 but must have felt a pinch as his mistake on lap 50 that cost him a potential win at Malaysia.
Other contenders, for the podium finishes, based on their performances during winter testing include the likes of Lotus-Renault and Mercedes-AMG.
Lotus boasts former champion Kimi Raikkonen and Frenchman Romain Grosjean.
Grosjean impressed with his third position during qualification but ruined it with second lap retirement. However the ‘Iceman’ Raikkonen clearly shows he has his F1 skills intact during the races despite his erroneous qualifying performance.
Michael Schumacher seemed to turn the clock back to his old racing days, setting pace during Friday`s free-practice session in Australia. A strong qualification raised expectations but a gearbox problem ended his race prematurely forcing him to retire on lap 11. The next race he qualified third—his first ever top- three finish since making his return. However, he was fortunate enough to finish in points as Pastor Maldonado`s engine blew off just before the final lap.
The improvement Williams and Saubers have exhibited will certainly have Sahara Force India on the edge if they harbour ambitions to continue with their impressive performance last year.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is a happy man with the way the F1 circus has unfolded this year so far and certainly will hope the season turns out to be as engaging and thrilling as the opening two races. Expectations are certainly running sky-high and it is just the beginning of an exciting year. Add to that the ambitious claims from the drivers and teams to have masterplan [read Red Bull] in their closet to come good as the season progresses. You cannot ask for more.