Season Preview: F1 2012 Driver Previews

By on Thursday, March 8, 2012
Here's the line up and how they might fare...
1. Sebastian Vettel (Deu) | Red Bull Racing

Sebastian Vettel re-wrote the record books after an astonishing 2011 season that saw him sweep to a second world title. Remaining with Red Bull for a fourth season, all eyes will be on whether he can sustain his impressive form and resist pressure from his rivals. As with last season, getting a good start to the year will be vital in order to squander the hopes of McLaren and Ferrari. The RB8 looks to be a strong machine, even if it hasn’t undertaken as much running as liked. A third world title beckons, although expect a greater challenge from McLaren – and possibly Ferrari - than in 2011.

Prediction: World Title number three but not in completely dominant fashion.

2. Mark Webber (Aus) | Red Bull Racing

While his team mate was unstoppable last season, Webber struggled with the Pirelli tyres and took the best part of half a season to understand them. A lot of the time in 2011, Webber’s problem was getting dragged into a battle with the McLarens and Alonso, which meant that he was wearing his tyres faster than was wanted. Nevertheless, he still took several podiums, a win and more points than in 2010. For 2012 he must close the gap to Vettel and try and finish second when his team mate wins. After all, Helmut Marko is increasingly desperate to place either Daniel Ricciardo or Jean Eric Vergne at Red Bull. Webber needs to prove that he can still cut it at the top for another season.

Prediction: An improvement on 2011, but unlikely to fight for the title like in 2010.

3. Jenson Button (GB) | Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

In a year where Sebastian Vettel rightly took many of the plaudits, one man whose reputation rose significantly was Jenson Button. For the first time in F1 history, someone had beaten Lewis Hamilton in his own team, while he also impressed McLaren with his professional approach to the sport. The battle at McLaren is a mouth-watering prospect, as Jenson will be out to prove that he can fight at the top consistently and be the driver to lead McLaren’s title charge. Whenever it rains you know Button will make the correct call while even in the dry the 2009 champion’s form in 2011 suggests that he has what it takes to win. Qualifying still needs improving though.

Prediction: Overcoming Vettel will be difficult, while he also has to resist a likely recharged Hamilton. May have to play second fiddle at McLaren this year, but it’ll be close.

4. Lewis Hamilton (GB) | Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

You could write a book about Lewis Hamilton’s 2011 season, such was the ‘emotional rollercoaster’ that was the Brit’s life last year. So far in winter testing, Hamilton breezes confidence and appears to have put his 2011 troubles behind him. Whether that will last is another aspect altogether, but the MP4-27 seems suited to his driving style and he knows that he cannot afford a repeat of last year – even though he took 3 wins and was Sebastian Vettel’s closest challenger until his mid-season troubles began. Lewis Hamilton at his best hasn’t been seen too many times recently, so many hope he’ll be back in 2012.

Prediction: More wins and a fight for the title – as long as he learns the art of tyre preservation.

5. Fernando Alonso (Esp)| Scuderia Ferrari

You know that at the start of every race, Fernando Alonso will give 100% and be there, hounding the driver in front for the duration of the running. 2011 may have yielded just one win, but there were ten other podium finishes for the Spaniard, whose relentless speed combined with his racecraft makes him one of the most formidable drivers of his generation and of all time. The F2012 may seem a less-than-satisfactory machine at the moment, but no-one can accurately predict the running order until the first race of the season. Even if the car can’t fight for the title, Alonso will do his best to confound expectation and deliver the goods. One target for 2012 will be to qualify higher than 5th, but that is an issue down to the car rather than the driver.

Prediction: It depends what the F2012 is like but you know that Alonso will fight for every tenth of a second.

6. Felipe Massa (Brz)| Scuderia Ferrari

While Fernando Alonso continues to drive the Ferrari team forward, Felipe Massa is under pressure. Without Robert Kubica’s terrible rally accident it’s difficult to imagine a situation where the Pole wouldn’t already be in Massa’s seat. The Brazilian could not string a race weekend together in 2011 and was absent from the podium throughout the season. Having Fernando Alonso as a team-mate is difficult, but Massa has been beaten into submission and doesn’t even have enough pace or consistency to be a suitable Number two driver. In 2012, Massa simply has to start taking podiums and closing the gap to Alonso early in the season. If he doesn’t, then his confidence will remain low and Ferrari will have no choice but to seek a replacement for 2013.

Prediction: Before last season we said it can’t get worse than 2010 for him, but it did. Now, surely 2012 can’t be even worse?

7. Michael Schumacher (Deu) | Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

There were times in 2011 when the world caught a glimpse of Michael Schumacher returning to the top. When they did, they liked what they saw. Unlike in his first career, the majority of fans seem to be willing Schumacher on to return to the podium and eventually the top step. In terms of pace, Schumacher was far closer to Nico Rosberg in 2011 than he was in 2010 and the final points total mirrored that. If Mercedes has built a good car, then Schumacher should be eyeing the podium again. To improve he needs to work on qualifying and avoid silly incidents, as in 2011 he frequently lost time after contact with midfield runners. There were also weekends where he was simply abject (Turkey, Europe) so he needs to be finishing in the points in every race.

Prediction: More points and more assured performances. That podium can’t be far away but a win might be too much.

8. Nico Rosberg (Deu) | Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

Nico Rosberg was hindered by a car that quite simply didn’t work in 2011 and was thus unable to get anywhere near a win. His best moment of the season was in China, where he led before being slowed by having to save fuel. Rosberg’s career recently has seemingly been plagued by the number 7. His debut saw him storm back through the field to seventh place and for each of the last three seasons he has finished seventh in the championship. He still hasn’t won a race although he has rarely had the chance to do so. Improvements have to happen at Mercedes this season.

Prediction: Podiums are a must for Rosberg this season and he has to have his sights on at least 6th in the championship

9. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) | Lotus F1 Team

Even throughout his self-enforced absence from Formula One, Kimi Raikkonen was headline news. A comeback with Williams fell through, but he then started negotiations with Lotus – despite heavily criticising the team in 2010 when they were Renault for using his name. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with the comeback of Michael Schumacher, but the circumstances are rather different. It may take a couple of races for Raikkonen to get back into the racing mode, while a lot will depend on how good the E20 is. Podiums will be expected later in the season, although the Finn will have to show his motivation is still high as the questions will inevitably fly his way if there is even a hint of him flagging. Has to watch out for Grosjean as well.

Prediction: Quick and committed. Should fare well with podiums a target.

10. Romain Grosjean (Fra) | Lotus F1 Team

After two years in the wilderness of GT1, AutoGP, GP2 Asia and GP2, Romain Grosjean finally gets his F1 return with Lotus. Grosjean competed with the team back in 2009, although his world fell apart thanks to a team in disarray, Alonso as his team mate and a far from impressive attitude that left his career in tatters. There will be high expectations for Grosjean to perform well although the intense media focus will be on Raikkonen – something which could be a blessing in disguise for Grosjean. If he can get near his team mate’s pace it will give him enormous confidence. If he can beat Kimi, then his profile will be raised greatly. It’s an important season for the Frenchman.

Prediction: Needs some assured drives and to collect points. If he curbs an erratic driving style, then he could match Kimi.

11. Paul di Resta  (GB)| Sahara Force India F1 Team

He may not have scored as many points as team mate Adrian Sutil, but he gained many admirers in 2011 with his mature and sensible approach to racing. Mistakes are expected from rookies and there were a few, so he will be keen to iron these out this season. One lap pace is strong and this is combined with good race-craft – his drive to 6th in Singapore was exceptional.

Prediction: More points than in 2011 and he needs to be aiming for points in every race.

12. Nico Hulkenberg  (Deu)| Sahara Force India F1 Team

After a year out of racing Hulkenberg’s promotion to a race seat ensures that the scrap at Force India will be one of the most anticipated team-mate duels in Formula One. Both drivers have a year of F1 behind them, although Hulkenberg will be at a slight disadvantage having not raced the Pirelli tyres. He has an absurd amount of talent – just check his junior career – but he now needs to unlock this at the top level.

Prediction: Gathering the points he can to ensure he stays on in 2013

14. Kamui Kobayashi (Jap)| Sauber F1 Team

One of Kobayashi’s main assets – his overtaking prowess – was dimmed slightly in 2011 as the introduction of Pirelli tyres, KERS and DRS meant passing a rival was simpler than it had been before. Nevertheless, some bold early season drives saw Kobayashi secure several Top 10 finishes including an impressive 5th in Monaco. His season tailed off and he’ll be hoping to rectify that at the start of this season. He’ll hope that the C31 is kind to its tyres as that was the main reason why the team beat STR in 2011.

Prediction: A fruitful mixture of banzai moves and silly errors.

15. Sergio Perez  (Mex)| Sauber F1 Team

A heavy accident in Monaco blighted Perez’s season as his pace relative to his team mate was closer than the points tally suggested. As in football, Perez will be hoping that he doesn’t suffer from second season syndrome as 2012 could be a big year for the young Mexican. Beating his team mate will be crucial if he is to continue to impress the F1 paddock. Next in line at Ferrari? Probably. As with Kamui, he’ll be hoping the C31 has good tyre preservation. Form improved towards the end of 2011 so he’ll want to carry that over from last year.

Prediction: The C31 looks like a handy car, so maybe Perez will be the surprise of the year?

16. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) | Scuderia Toro Rosso

Ricciardo starts the season as the senior figure at STR after his 11 races with HRT in 2011 and thus the early season focus will be on the Australian. His laid-back attitude helped him see off Vitantonio Liuzzi, while his mature approach saw him stay out of trouble bar a Lap 1 scrap in Singapore. Has to prove he is the long term option for a Red Bull team that is becoming increasingly swayed towards Vergne.

Prediction: Scrapping for the minor points positions

17. Jean Eric Vergne (Fra) | Scuderia Toro Rosso

Vergne wasn’t meant to make his debut until 2013 but his rapid progress in FR3.5 meant that STR had little option but to promote him. They were even keen to keep Alguersuari and send Ricciardo out ‘on loan’; such is their opinion of Vergne. Now the Frenchman has to prove that he is the one to join Vettel and show that some of his slightly arrogant statements ring true. He is known for his slightly erratic race craft, so that is something that will need to be ironed out early on

Prediction: Could be a tough start to the season, but he should get the better of Ricciardo

18. Pastor Maldonado (Ven) | Williams F1 Team

Maldonado may only be at Williams courtesy of his sizeable PDVSA sponsorship package, but he performed well in 2011 in difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, there were too many silly incidents as well as him losing his head once or twice. He now has to prove he can lead the team into a new era as it’s hard to envisage the FW34 being a worse package than last year.

Prediction: Surely he’ll score more than the single point he amassed in 2011.

19. Bruno Senna (Brz) | Williams F1 Team

Senna was thrown in at the deep end in 2011 and performed relatively well in a Renault car whose performance was deteriorating rapidly. He was a match for team mate Petrov and now he finally gets his chance to prove his worth over the course of a season. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with his famous Uncle, but people should view Bruno as his own man who is worthy of a place on the grid.

Prediction: Should perform well although he has to beat Maldonado

20. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) | Caterham F1 Team

If any racing driver deserves a point this year, it’s this man. Having been utterly demoralised by his experiences at McLaren, Kovalainen has rebuilt his career through his leadership of Team Lotus since the start of 2010. The Finn’s best result in two years may still be twelfth, but he’s taken the fight to the midfield whenever he can. With the CT01 hopefully capable of mixing with the midfield consistently, Kovalainen should reap the rewards of his hard work.

Prediction: He has to score a point and prove this squad can be a proper F1 team.

21. Vitaly Petrov  (Rus) | Caterham F1 Team

After a winter of rumours, Vitaly Petrov arrived at Caterham prior to the second test. It was hardly ideal preparation as not only did he miss one test, but much of the next one was spent getting the tall Russian comfortable in the cockpit. Petrov’s 2011 season was disappointing, so he’ll be hoping to iron out minor errors. Achieving this could be possible in a team where exposure will be lower.

Prediction: May take a while to accustom to a slower car, but he could be a match for Kovalainen.

22. Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) | HRT F1 Team

Karthikeyan is often seen as the token pay driver, there to make up the numbers. Nevertheless, he is a competent racing driver and impressed on a few occasions in 2011 most notably during his home event in India. He undoubtedly brings Tata sponsorship to the team but he should be respected nonetheless.

Prediction: Qualifying will be the first step, then trying to take advantage of any slip-ups from Marussia

23. Pedro De La Rosa (Esp) | HRT F1 Team

The announcement of De La Rosa’s move to HRT came as a bolt from the blue last year but it helps the team’s aim of becoming as Spanish as feasibly possible. However, in the current climate that may not be the best business model. De La Rosa has a two year deal with the team although, and this applies to Karthikeyan too, it remains to be seen whether the team will actually see this through.

Prediction: Should have a tenth or two on Karthikeyan and has experience to pick up the pieces in a chaotic race.

24. Timo Glock  (Deu)| Marussia F1 Team

After qualifying for last year’s German Grand Prix, Timo Glock vented his frustration with events over the team radio. He later brushed this off as a joke, but you get the feeling that Glock’s patience is running low. Virgin’s involvement in the team is all but zero, whilst pre-season has been a disaster. Glock is the team’s greatest asset, yet it’s hard to imagine the German not looking for another team for 2013.

Prediction: More frustration, Q1 eliminations and reliability problems. Beating HRT a must.

25. Charles Pic (Fra) | Marussia F1 Team

The latest GP2 graduate to join Virgin/Marussia is probably the one with most talent. Pic may only be 21, but his GP2 season last year was impressive but hampered by misfortune. Sadly for the Frenchman, 2012 looks set to be a struggle as he has yet to even test the MR-01. It’s hard to get noticed when running at the back of the grid except for when you crash, something which is inevitable for a rookie driving an unstable car.

Prediction: Running at the back and fighting to stay on for 2013.

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