F1: Guess the next race winner
AND F1’S NEXT RACE WINNER IS…: The 2012 F1 season has given fans seven different race winners in as many races, following Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Canada. Will we see the eighth in Valencia?
Author: Alan Baldwin
LONDON, England - Even Formula 1's chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, whose ideal season would be decided through the very last corner, could hardly have dreamed of a championship like this one of 2012.
With just over a third of the races gone and an unprecedented seven different winners from the first seven races, the ultimate winner of the 2012 Driver's crown is anyone's guess.
Even calling the winner of the next race in Valencia is tough, with two of the six World champions on the grid - Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher - yet to win in this most unpredictable of seasons.
DREAM FOR THE SPORT
A mere three points separate the top three drivers in the championship with the top five split by less than the 25 for a win and 13 races remaining. American former champion Mario Andretti said: "It's absolutely wide open. It's a dream for the sport.
"F1 for so many years has been quite predictable, that's out of the window now. Somewhere the rules are working, something is working. So don't fix it," he told Sky Sports TV.
Just when a team believed it had cracked the code, the Pirelli tyres made them think again.
After winning in Canada, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton said: "This is what is going to be normal for the season. That's just my feeling, but then again my guess is as good as yours. We're still trying to fully understand these tyres.
"Sometimes you're overheating them, sometimes you're not heating them up enough. We don't understand why sometimes a Lotus is quicker than us, or a Mercedes is quicker than us and then we're quicker than them but I think it's great for F1, it's great for the fans.
"Seven is now quite enough different winners.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, after watching his double World champion Sebastian Vettel qualify on pole for the second year running in Montreal, sounded confident enough. "I feel the Red Bull technical team is doing a great job to try to understand the new regulations," he said. "We're starting to get a better handle on what these tyres like."
At the Canadian Grand Prix, with Vettel finishing fourth after a late stop forced on him by tyre wear, there was less optimism: "Perhaps we were just a little bit too hard on the tyres."
The problem for teams and drivers has been finding the balance that allows them to extract the most from the tyres. The Canadian GP was ultimately a battle between one-stoppers and two-stoppers, with McLaren getting it right for Hamilton with a second stop while Ferrari kept Fernando Alonso on one and paid the price.
Grosjean and Perez did one stop each but were able to reel in Alonso's Ferrari on tyres that still had plenty of life in them.
McLaren's sporting director Sam Michael said: "We could be really smart here today and say that they messed up the strategy, Ferrari and Red Bull, but if you look at Lotus and Sauber, they made that strategy work. I think one of those cars had tyres that were more than 45 laps old."
Track temperatures play a big part in the equation, as do driving styles and the timing of the stops. Pirelli is still keeping everyone on their toes.
Canada's outspoken 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve: "I think it's good. The fact that you have to manage your car and your tyres is part of being a race car driver. The problem is that when the tyres do give up, it's too sudden, too strong, too much... The drivers feel the tyres are still OK so they stay out and the team makes the decision to try to make it work.
"But, instead of losing a second a lap, they lose four or five seconds a lap. That is wrong. You used to get four or five laps to figure out whether it is going off too much, now you get half a lap."
Ferrari had a brief window of opportunity, maybe one lap, where they could have pitted Alonso for a second time and kept Hamilton covered. Instead, perhaps reassured by the Spaniard feeling that his tyres were holding up, they took a gamble.
It failed, but nobody could say the team was entirely sure it had got it right.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said: "There were times in that race where you wondered 'have we got it right, are their tyres going to last?' All our analysis told us we were doing the right thing but until it unfolds you are never quite sure."
Your thoughts, F1 fans? Tell us who YOU think will win in Valencia in the Readers' Comments box below.