From the rain of the Canadian Grand Prix to the pain surrounding the Bahrain race that wasn’t
Canada – and I almost missed it. There was a two-hour delay because of rain and because of time differences and deadlines we all had to start writing halfway through the race. We had our heads down and weren’t even watching properly. And then we had to stop because we suddenly realised Michael Schumacher could win a race at last. Then we saw something even more astonishing was going on. Jenson Button was working his way from the back of the field to give himself the chance of an outrageous podium position. And then, right at the end, he closed on Sebastian Vettel, who twitched under pressure. This was Jenson Button’s greatest victory.
Valencia likes to think of itself as another Monaco, as the yachts bob on shimmering water. But it doesn’t quite pull it off. In fact it does not even get close. Nice city, awful track. There is always the whiff of anti-climax about this race.
No contest. Red Bull … again. The obvious stars are driver Sebastian Vettel and design wizard Adrian Newey. But, top to bottom, this is a thoroughly professional outfit under team principal Christian Horner. There is a great team spirit here and a thorough attention to detail. In 2010 they made more silly mistakes than Murray Walker in his pomp, which delayed their winning of both world championships. But this year they went from March to November virtually without a single error. Remarkable.
Williams. Forget the minnows, Lotus, Virgin and HRT, who never had the resources to compete with the big boys. But Williams are one of the big boys, or they were. They dominated Formula One for many years but this season they scored just five points. Awful.
Friendliest team: Virgin. Even in the bad times – and there were plenty of those – Virgin were always there with a welcome mat, a smile and a glass of something alluring.
Sergio Pérez. He was dismissed as another pay driver when he joined the team clutching a big bag of Mexican booty. But he was brave, fast and aggressive. He took a lot of chances and, mostly, they came off. A very impressive driver from one of the more imaginative midfield teams. Adrian Sutil was seriously good in the second half of the season.
Ferrari. When the horse isn’t prancing Formula One is diminished. Fernando Alonso was magnificent in an uncompetitive car. But Felipe Massa is lucky to have a seat here. He seemed too easily distracted by Lewis Hamilton and didn’t manage a fourth place, let alone a champagne-spraying podium position.
Best qualifying drive
Lewis Hamilton was the only driver to deny Red Bull a pole position all season. It happened in South Korea. And Hamilton put in a lap just to remind everyone that even when things are bad he is the most compelling driver out there.
Quote of the season
“I’ve been to the stewards so many times this year I should get air miles” – the rather mishap-prone Lewis Hamilton after another mistake in Monaco.
Disgrace of the Year
The Bahrain Grand Prix. It never happened, of course, but F1’s desire to push ahead with it despite appalling human rights issues saw the sport lose a lot of prestige. It brought back memories of the naive old days of apartheid in South Africa when politicians said sport and politics should not mix. The FIA president Jean Todt was lucky to survive after his ridiculous comment: “The information I have is that the situation is settled in Bahrain.”
What we missed most in 2011
Robert Kubica. The Renault driver missed the entire season after a nasty accident while rallying which badly damaged his right arm. He had proved to be the most consistent driver outside the top teams and looked set for a classier seat when he got injured.
Most important change needed for 2012
Qualifying on Saturday has often been more entertaining than the race on Sunday afternoon. But it was a bore this season, with too few teams running. They called it “strategic” as they conserved their tyres for the race. But it made a once attractive spectacle deadly dull. Bring in bespoke qualifying tyres next year, please.
Best overall moment of the season
Well, we’re talking Jenson Button in Montreal again here. But there are too many to pick just one so there’s also Flavio Briatore’s admission that he was wrong when he called Button “slower than a concrete pillar”, Lewis Hamilton’s vivid driving in Korea and Abu Dhabi and Paul Di Resta’s impressive debut.