Before the first practice session for the Australian GP, uncertainty is in the air.
When Formula 1 drivers go out for their first practice session for the Australian GP, the opening race of the 2012 F1 season, the variables will be much higher than in the past. During the three test sessions, which ended 10 days ago, no clear favorite emerged. Two time champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull RB8 suffered from reliability problems, McLaren cars were fast though not very fast and Ferrari was in crisis from the first test session to the last.
The big and mid-size teams, such as Force India, Lotus and Sauber, set impressive lap times. The team in between the top and the middle, Mercedes-Benz, was quick with the old car but less so with the 2012 challenger. However, the cliche says that you ignore Michael Schumacher at your peril; so be aware of Mercedes this season. Despite the uncertainty, betting operator William Hill placed Vettel at the top of the charts to winning the championship with unusual odds of 10/11 odd on favorite to retain his titles. In second place is Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren driver on 6/1 and in third place are Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Jenson Button of McLaren on 8/1.
Those odds reflect the situation within the teams: While in Red Bull and Ferrari there are firm No. 1 drivers, Vettel and Alonso respectively, in McLaren everything is open and an all-out battle between Hamilton and Button is expected. And if that happens to be in the fastest car in the field, then we can expect for a few tense moments, on and off the track. The last time it happened to Hamilton was in 2007, his rookie year, when he battled Alonso all year long. He enjoyed preferential treatment from the team and lost the championship because of two costly mistakes at the end of the season.
Nowadays he is certainly more experienced but still prone to making too many mistakes and to public outbursts. In order to battle Button, who has the coolest head on the track, he will have to reduce his errors stats. Another driver to look out for is Kimi Raikkonen. If he gets the right car he will make a huge difference and will plant Lotus firmly at the top. It is hard to believe that he lost any of his instincts and although he is not as mechanical in his driving characteristics as Vettel, Alonso, Button and Schumacher, his driving style is more extravagant.
There's a contradiction between his ice-cool and phlegmatic personality to his on track performances, which will add a human touch to the sport that was lacking in the last two years. Six world champions, with 14 world titles to their names will line up on the grid come Sunday for the first of a 20 race season (unless the Bahrain GP is cancelled or the track in Austin, Texas is not completed in time). Following technical rule changes and the unpredictable character of the Pirelli tires, this is going to be a great season to follow.