Sebastian Vettel found another gear his rivals could not match but the season’s best piece of overtaking was by Mark Webber
RACE OF THE SEASON
The Canadian Grand Prix: a stone cold classic as well as being the longest ever to count towards the world championship at 4hr 4min 39sec. Jenson Button won after pitting six times and taking the lead on the final lap having been in last place with 30 to go. In a race that started in heavy rain, Button battled five safety cars, a drive-through penalty, contacts with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso and a two-hour break when the downpour became torrential. He came back with some brilliant overtaking to pressure Sebastian Vettel, who had led every lap, at the death. Pushing to keep him out of DRS range, Vettel lost the rear in the wet and Button took the flag. Breathtaking sporting theatre played out over a suitably operatic time scale.
MOVE OF THE SEASON
When Mark Webber overtook Alonso at the base of Eau Rouge. Coming up behind the Spaniard, who had just exited the pits, Webber caught a tow and decided to go wheel to wheel as the cars compressed into the track at 170mph just before the climb up the hill. Any contact would have put them both in the barriers but the Australian was confident that Alonso would read the move correctly and lift off, which he did. Winless all season, Webber conquered Belgium in a moment that made the stomach lurch and the head spin.
DRIVER OF THE SEASON
Vettel, all year. Assured, dominant and, with the exception of Canada, virtually flawless. He stepped up and into the role of world champion by finding another gear his opponents could not match. Arguing that he was in the fastest car will not wash. He demolished his Red Bull team-mate Webber (three poles and no wins), who was using identical equipment. Then, at Monza, he proved he could overtake as well – putting two wheels on the grass to skin Alonso on the outside of Curve Grande, a move unnecessary because of his points lead at that stage but which was an exuberant demonstration of guts, skill and confidence.
TECH OF THE SEASON
A combination of factors that made for far more intriguing racing than Vettel’s early title suggested. Tasked with livening up the action, Pirelli’s tyres more than delivered. Teams struggled to come to terms with the new rubber and had to adapt strategy to cope, giving us the “undercut” and drivers’ despairing calls of grip “falling off the cliff”. They were complemented by the DRS and Kers combination, unpopular with purists but that allowed fightbacks from the rear – witness Button at Spa – and gripping battles at the front – Hamilton and Webber in Korea. The drivers have enjoyed all three and Pirelli promises even more aggressive compounds next year.
DUEL OF THE SEASON
The seemingly magnetic attraction between Hamilton and Felipe Massa hogged the headlines but it was the British driver’s points defeat to his McLaren team-mate, Button, that had more significance. Coming into what was in effect Hamilton’s team, the incumbent was expected to dominate. Yet this year Button has outraced his opponent, completing Hamilton’s first defeat by a team-mate in single seaters. Button is relaxed, comfortable and has settled in with the team in a very short period of time. If McLaren can produce a competitive car in 2012, he is in the perfect position to take advantage of it.
SO FAREWELL, THEN …
First, endless debates over the exhaust blown diffuser, which is now banned. A huge relief to anyone not interested in the behaviour of hot gases – so pretty much everyone. Including the Lotus boss, Tony Fernandes, who said, in reference to a debate on the subject by McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh and Red Bull’s Christian Horner: “I don’t understand anything these two have just said, [so] God knows about all the spectators.” Also, the Turkish Grand Prix: off the schedule for 2012 – enjoyed by drivers and fans but largely ignored in Turkey. And finally to the BBC, sort of, which is showing only 10 races next year while Sky has announced a dedicated F1 channel for the full calendar. Latest rumours put Five Live’s David Croft and Anthony Davidson alongside Martin Brundle in the satellite hotseats.