Thank you, Ross Brawn
2012 has been a highly unpredictable season, but will it be the year of the underdog?
We're likely to see a bit of a see-saw situation over a season where, well, we're all still guessing, notes Raja Sen.
Come on, say it with me, out loud: Thank you, Ross Brawn.
For the prolific Englishman has done it yet again. Injecting the Formula One narrative with high drama takes some flair, and over the years Brawn has gotten used to churning it up, over and over: In the mid-1990s, as he took Benetton and Michael Schumacher to consecutive championships, championships built around Brawn's canny strategic calls; in the late 1990s, as he followed F1's winning driver to Ferrari where they lay low for five years before establishing their very own era of invincibility from 2000 to 2004; in 2009, when his Brawn GP beat everyone hollow; and now.
2012 has been a highly unpredictable season, but before Shanghai came along a few days ago, we could all make some significant assumptions about the top teams: That McLaren was the fastest, that Red Bull wasn't too far behind them when it came to race-pace; that this was not Ferrari's year; and that Brawn's Mercedes GP cars were crackerjack qualifiers but ate up their tires during the race. This was everything we knew before last Sunday.
What we know after Sunday? Nothing. None of the above completely qualifies anymore -- except perhaps that bit about how this clearly isn't Ferrari's year.
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Image: Michael Schumacher of Mercedes GP, Nico Rosberg and team principal Ross Brawn
Photographs: Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Will Schumacher's car finally go the distance?
Nico Rosberg won his first race on Sunday, after 111 starts, in his seventh year in Formula One. He started on pole, drove faultlessly and took the checkered flag with ease. And not a weekend too soon.
The what-has-he-done-yet question was snapping around his still-young ankles at a time when F1, with a grid cluttered by World Champions, is more of a proving ground than ever.
Before Shanghai, Rosberg's 2012 campaign looked in danger of being unravelled as his shrewd team-mate finally appeared to have the measure of him this year. And yet Mercedes wasn't in the points: on the verge of cracking the code but not quite there yet.
As if he spent the winter leapfrogging a phalanx of road-crossing black cats, Michael Schumacher continues to excel and to be let down.
This is the year the German superhero at last looks comfortable with the car, the year he proves his detractors wrong, the year his comeback counts.
This is also the year in which the awesome German has scored but one point in three races, his Sundays marred by luck and tires, by recklessly kamikaze drivers and, in Shanghai when he was in sniffing distance of snatching a win from Rosberg, pit-mechanics who couldn't bolt a tire on right.
'I haven't been this disappointed since Shrek 2," said Sky commentator Martin Brundle as Michael left the hunt to pull over by the side of the track in China.
Yet Michael himself is calm and ready to go. In the three races this year, he's qualified fourth, then third, then second.
Will Bahrain bring that pole? Or does the man responsible for more overtakes than any other driver in the last three years not need pole to win? And, most importantly, will his car finally go the distance?
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Image: Mercedes GP Formula One driver Michael Schumacher
Photographs: Dani Cardona / Reuters
2012: The year of the underdog?
On current form, it looks like it could. In Shanghai the notoriously tire-killing Mercedes actually handled its rubber better on two stops than their three-stopping rivals at McLaren, and it seems in colder temperatures the Mercedes has a distinct advantage.
On warmer tracks McLaren and Red Bull will take over, and so we're likely to see a bit of a see-saw situation over a season where, well, we're all still guessing.
The best thing about a Mercedes win, however, is just how it has upset the top-team applecart.
Reigning Red Bull ruler Sebastien Vettel, exasperated by his inability to keep up for long enough, is in danger of being run aground by team-mate Mark Webber.
Over at McLaren, Lewis Hamilton might lead the points standings after three third-places, but make no mistakes, Jenson Button has by far been the more impressive driver this season.
So then 2012: The year of the underdog? Bark, Mercedes, bark.
Image: Mark Webber
Photographs: Mark Thompson / Getty Images