Normally after three races, it's clear which drivers will be in the reckoning at the end of the Formula One season. But with three drivers and three teams winning the opening races, it's not so obvious this year. Journalist Matt Youson provides some analysis of the early form in his blog.
The word being batted around the paddock this weekend is ‘consistency’. Most years it’s clear after three races which way the World Championship is going, maybe not in terms of who’s going to win but at least who’s going to be in the mix at the end. This year it’s wide open.
“It is very difficult to say,” shrugged McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton last night, when asked who he thought was going to be up there. “When you look at qualifying we’re competitive, Mercedes are now the quickest but it’s quite close between a lot of the cars – but in terms of race pace the Red Bull is very quick, the Mercedes is very quick, we are quick, even Sauber is quick. It’s a real mixture at the moment and it’s just about trying to stay consistent and trying to maximise every opportunity you have.”
'It’s a bizarre start to the season in terms of different people getting points here and there' – Mark Webber
So far consistency has paid off for Lewis, who leads the championship courtesy of finishing third in all three races so far.
In the practice sessions, the gaps between the top teams haven’t been that big but in the race there have been bewildering pockets of dominance – seven or eight laps here or there when one car suddenly looks like a thoroughbred among donkeys.
The information from the pitwall is the 2012 Pirelli have a slightly narrower operating window than last year’s model. There’s always a goldilocks zone of track temp, atmospheric conditions, corner profiles and driver styles etc., that turns the tyres on but this year finding that zone consistently seems to be like nailing jelly to a wall.
Nico Rosberg was clearly in that zone during the Chinese Grand Prix – but freely admits he might not face the same circumstances in Bahrain. “It’s just difficult to know where we’re going to be exactly,” says Nico. “In Shanghai we did very well but previously we had a few issues in the races, so it’s possible it’s going to be a bit more difficult here.”
Nico’s undoubtedly fed up of hearing how 30 years ago his dad won just the one race in his Championship-winning season, but he dutifully managed a smile when asked if he thought he’d now done enough to win the championship this year.
It’s actually not as risible an idea as it sounds. It’s unlikely that 11 different drivers are going to win races like they did in 1982 but it’s entirely possible we’ll have a five or six taking points off each other. Keke may only have won the one race that year but he bagged five other podium finishes and brought his Williams home in the points ten times in the 16 races. Back when DNFs were much more common that was good enough.
The modern equivalent is going to be scoring heavily when the car works well but scoring nonetheless when it doesn’t. It’s going to be those who deliver consistently, rather than the ones who take big risks to win, who will be fighting for the big pot. Even if one team does suddenly begin to dominate later in the year that’s not likely to be good enough if their drivers haven’t kept up in the leading pack in these early exchanges.
“It’s been up and down, we’ll see who gets what,” says Mark Webber. “We’ve been knocking on the door and we’ve accumulated some good points. It’s a bizarre start to the season in terms of different people getting points here and there but I think I’ve made the most of the situation so far.”
Hamilton leads the championship with three third places but Mark’s been right behind him every race and had three fourths. There’s nothing terribly glamorous about scrapping around for fourth and fifth but there’s every chance this year it’ll bring someone a championship – and then no-one remembers what happened in March, April and May.