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Formula One 2011: our highlights

  1. Formula One never stops. No sooner had the last of the stragglers arrived back from Sao Paulo than the first big story of 2012 breaks; Kimi Raikkonen will be driving for Lotus Renault. That means six world champions on the grid next year and that’s never happened before.

    What’s Kimi’s motivation? Nobody was surprised he wasn’t available for early breakfast interviews on the wireless this morning. Dawn starts aren’t his style. Schumacher is already on record as saying at least next year’s parties will be more fun now that F1’s last playboy is back. It remains to be seen what impact he’ll have on the racing.

    Not that F1 needs him. Let’s not ignore the BIG STORY of F1 in 2011; despite a runaway winner, it was a fantastic season. So, journey with us as we take a look at the stories of the season and how they might develop until it all kicks off again in Australia; a place Kimi couldn’t be bothered to travel to as part of his 2011 WRC campaign.

  2. The rise of Jenson Button

    The continued rise of Jenson Button - racer, gentleman, icon - was the big story for us. It would not have come without the equal decline in fortune for Lewis Hamilton, but we’ll come to that.

    Just as he never fails to forget to be enthusiastic on camera about simply being an F1 driver, he will be in two minds about second place in the championship. As a former champ, driving for a team that knows how to win, he’ll see it as a fail.

    And he beat Lewis, the first time F1’s most competitive man has been put in the shade by a teammate. That’s gold, especially as everyone thought he would be blown away.

    His superb drive in Canada is especially important. It was the only time all year that Vettel was put under any pressure. And look what happened? JB will take that, and the fact that McLaren now feels like his team, into the off-season and smile that smile.

  3. The trials of Lewis

    Oh, Lewis, what to think. Here in Top Gear’s Internet services division we’re torn. We like his honesty; it does take guts to admit you’ve lost it a little bit. But to blame it on getting dumped? Blimey Lewis, we know you’re young and all that. But there are plenty more fish in the sea for a cute, gazillionaire, F1 champ. Nicole’s in danger of becoming F1’s Yoko Ono.

    But Germany and that move on Alonso summed it all up because that’s what he does; it’s beneath him to be failing to get by Alonso’s largely useless teammate without falling of the track or making a visit to the stewards.

    And nobody in F1 seems to like his manager, Simon Fuller. As far as we can tell, he made most of his money pedalling those largely devoid of talent. Maybe he just doesn’t know how to handle people who’ve actually got it. And you have Lewis. By the truckload.

  4. DRS

    Adjustable front wings was never the answer. Opening the rear flap, now part of the F1 vernacular, is. And there’s been more overtaking in F1 this year than in the rest of F1 ever. Probably

    So Brundle wasn’t a huge fan. But then again he’s not a fan of run-off areas either. He has a point, it is artificial. But there was nothing artificial about the sense of anticipation that, one car having caught another, it might actually pass it.

    Sometimes it didn’t work, sometimes it was spectacular. Best of all, nobody’s system seemed to be the best. Yes, we’d like to see coloured kerbs or even coloured track sections so you can always see when a car is ‘in the zone’, but, armed with KERS and DRS, there is a tangible sense of excitement when one car gets close to another now.

    Wonder how often Fernando Alonso thought how different his life would have been had they had DRS in 2010…

  5. Pirelli

    What happened to Pirelli? At the start of the season we got our heads around the fast-but-fragile/slow-but-certain tyre dilemma and decided it was a Good Thing.

    But the two compound rule never got going. There was never a moment where one fast car on shot tyres was swallowed up by one on solid rubber. By the time we got to Brazil, there seemed little difference between ‘option’ and the ‘prime’ (Oh, and can we have some different names and a better way to know who’s running what?).

    If selling tyres is your business, it’s not in your interest to have a leader’s inside-rear falling apart on the last lap.

    Pirelli has promised to start over with softer compounds for next year, with the promise of crazy, super-glue coated qualifying tyres. Those old enough to remember Senna heading out in the dying minutes of practice with a set of ‘qualies’ bolted on will anticipate that with baited breath.

  6. Adrian Newey

    We heard some good stories about Adrian Newey at the Goodwood Revival. The first, his lightweight Jaguar E-type had some discreet aerodynamic re-profiling. The second, when he had his huge shunt in his GT40, marshalls swept up carbon fibre shrapnel. Mr Carbon and Mr Fibre had not been born when the GT40 was designed.

    The ultimate racer, then. And what of his Red Bull Racing RB8, probably underway? Well, there is hope for the rest. When it comes to securing the driver’s championship, Newey-designed cars have never made it three on the trot.

    Mansell and Prost won back-to-back titles in 1992 and ‘93, and Hill and Villeneuve in ‘96 and ‘97 with Williams and then, when Newey left to join McLaren, Mika Hakkinen duly delivered in 1998 and 1999.

    Of course, if you look at the constructors championship Newey dominated with Williams winning in 1992, ‘93, ‘94, ‘96 and ‘97…

  7. Lotus

    So at last it’s clear. Next year the black and gold cars will be Lotus, the green and yellow cars Caterham. The essential ‘wrongness’ of Caterham being an F1 brand is for another time. Let’s look at Lotus in 2012.

    Last week Lotus had four drivers in the frame, each with complications. Petrov is rich, but not fast. Kubica is fast, but not in good shape. Romain Grosjean has shown he can’t cut it in F1. And Bruno Senna, sadly, isn’t Ayrton.

    What Renault needed was someone without complications. Enter Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari, don’t forget, found his presence in the team so malignant, they paid him millions not to drive its cars, and he hardly fixed his reputation with the WRC. But he now says he motivated.

    One can’t help but sense the hand of Lotus CEO Danny Bahar here. He does love his celebrity friends.

  8. Massa

    When it comes to destroying teammates, Fernando Alonso makes Michael Schumacher look positively uncommitted. And make no mistake, Alonso has destroyed Felipe this year. You don’t drive a racing car that badly unless your confidence is utterly shot. Lewis needs to take his fair share of the blame for the collisions this year, but there was something so inept about Massa’s racing. The very wonderful Stefano Domenicali will need to ponder whether Alonso’s MO is a net gain for the team, as he lines up new lambs for the slaughter.

    Ferrari is being uncharacteristically sentimental about Brazil’s Peter Pan, although Luca de Montezemolo has already put him on notice. One can’t help but think he’ll be lucky to make the European season next year if he doesn’t shape up in the faraway races. You do see a lot of Jules Bianchi hanging around, don’t you?

  9. Red Bull 'driver academy'

    Ok, so we like the idea of the top team in F1 investing in new talent. But haven’t they got too much talent and not enough seats?

    12 months ago Daniel Ricciardo was all the buzz after the young driver test. This year it’s Jean Eric Vergne. And yet it’s no change at Red Bull, Seb and Webber at A-Team, Buemi and ‘Christina Aguilera’ at Toro Rosso. There’s talk Ricciardo might race for Caterham, but honestly, will that do him any good?

    For the scheme to work, somebody has to move on, but who should go? Would Toro Rosso really suffer if Buemi or ‘Christina’ moved on? They could both make a good living modeling.

    Which of course brings us to the big question… how did Mark Webber keep his drive? 134 points is a long way behind your teammate. And it would have been even more had Seb’s car not developed that curiously non-terminal, terminal gearbox problem.

  10. HRT/Virgin

    The best that can be said about HRT and Virgin is they made it. To every race, every practice and every qualifying session. And will be back next.

    That aside, it’s hard not to wonder why. Sure, we believe that an F1 car, any F1 car, is a thing of wonder, but after a year and no evidence that they might even begin to close the gap to the cars in front, you have to wonder whether the ‘new teams’ experiment will ever work.

    Both teams will get a makeover during the winter. Virgin becomes Marussia and is set to regroup now its handling design and engineering itself. HRT is gathering around the Spanish flag, moving HQ and rebranding itself a Spanish national team with former McLaren test driver and occasional locum F1 driver Pedro de la Rosa as the team’s number one.

    It’s hard to knock ‘em. But its even harder to see them ever doing any more than fighting between themselves to be the least slow.

  11. The BBC team

    Impossible not to detect a bittersweet mood among Jake and the gang at the premature end of the BBC’s coverage. A power cut in the middle of the Forum show was not the end anyone wanted.

    Brundle is off to Sky and, while sad, his reasons are compelling and rationally expressed. It’s sad because he and DC were a great pairing, even if DC did sometime seem like a much younger gun than Brundle.

    Eddie stays. We’ve come to love his pit lane buffoonery, which reached an apogee with him ambushing Ferrari’s post-race press conference on Sunday.

    And then there’s Jake himself. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else so comprehensively nailing a job. Brilliant work. Just ten live races and highlights next year won’t be the same thing, but faced with the choice of losing the Beeb’s take on F1 altogether, a compromise we’ll settle for.

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