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Rediff.com  » Sports » F1 column: The next winner is... anyone's guess!

F1 column: The next winner is... anyone's guess!

Last updated on: April 24, 2012 14:16 IST

'It's a much more interesting championship right now'

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Alan Baldwin

Four separate race winners, four different constructors on the top of the podium and no one driver managing to hold the championship lead for more than one Grand Prix weekend.

Formula One teams headed back to Europe on Monday after the opening long-haul phase of the championship in Asia and the Middle East with plenty to mull over and the next race winner, let alone the ultimate destination of both titles, anyone's guess.

"It's a much more interesting championship right now than I would like it to be, it really is," observed McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh after Sunday's controversial Bahrain Grand Prix.


Image: The start of the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix
Photographs: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

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Hamilton started the first two races on pole

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Last month, it had looked like McLaren could be on for a year of Red Bull-like dominance.

Lewis Hamilton started the first two races on pole with McLaren team mate Jenson Button completing the front-row sweep in Australia and Malaysia.

Button won the opener in Melbourne but rain-hit Malaysia was a race against all the odds, won by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso in a car that everyone thought was off the pace but that was good enough to make the Spaniard overall leader.

Then, in China, Mercedes swept the front row, thanks to a grid penalty for Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg took the first win by a works Silver Arrow since 1955. Hamilton, still without a victory, was championship number one.


Image: McLaren's Lewis Hamilton (left) next to his team-mate Jenson Button
Photographs: Clive Mason/Getty Images

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Vettel won for Red Bull and toppled Hamilton

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In Bahrain, a race held against a backdrop of nightly clashes between police and anti-government protesters with tear gas and petrol bombs, world champion Sebastian Vettel won for Red Bull and toppled Hamilton.

For the first time since 2003, no one driver has managed to take a repeat victory in the opening four races while new faces have emerged.

The sport has witnessed Rosberg's first win in 111 starts, Sergio Perez taking the first podium finish by a Mexican in 41 years and Romain Grosjean putting France back in the top three for the first time since Jean Alesi in 1998.

The one constant, apart from Red Bull's Mark Webber racking up four fourth places in a row, has been the influence of the Pirelli tyres on proceedings.


Image: Sebastian Vettel celebrates after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix
Photographs: Ker Robertson/Getty Images

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'If you get in the sweet spot then you are in great shape'

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Mercedes managed to find the 'sweet spot' in Shanghai, and McLaren were completely unable to put their finger on it in Bahrain where they punished the rear tyres and Red Bull and Lotus suddenly looked very quick.

"Clearly we did something wrong," said Whitmarsh, whose team are now second behind Red Bull in the constructors' standings.

"You look at our (race) pace by comparison to the long runs on Friday and we were a second slower. A second slower is 30 or 40 points of downforce. Well, we didn't lose 30 or 40 points of downforce.

"These tyres are very challenging. If you get in the sweet spot then you are in great shape and if you are out of it you are in for a pretty tough time."


Image: Nico Rosberg
Photographs: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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'You can't rest on your laurels in Formula One'

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The next race, the Spanish Grand Prix at the familiar Barcelona circuit on May 13, could see yet another different winner.

Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion in his comeback season after two years out, came close to passing Vettel for victory on Sunday in his Lotus, while Hamilton has yet to win.

Australian Mark Webber, in the second Red Bull, and Michael Schumacher for Mercedes both know they have winning cars and so too, for that matter, does Ferrari's Felipe Massa. Even Sauber could spring a surprise.

China showed how little separates the leading teams but the next three weeks, with teams testing at Mugello in Italy before Barcelona, could bring another shift in the paddock pecking order.

"You can't rest on your laurels in Formula One," said Whitmarsh. "The four races now have all been very different in complexion. Who knows what's going to happen in the next one? That lack of predictability is great for fans."


Image: Kimi Raikkonen
Photographs: Clive Mason/Getty Images

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