A wheel-to-wheel drive

Sebastian Vettel… always had his eyes fixed on the world title.-AP

The script could not have been better. It had a congregation of superstars, plenty of unexpected twists and turns, a notorious show-spoiler, a real hero who fought back in style and a challenger who won millions of hearts with his never-say-die attitude. By Y. B. Sarangi.

The 2012 Formula One season had all the ingredients of a Hollywood pot-boiler — six world champions in the fray, seven different winners in the first seven races of the year, a bullish Spaniard defying all odds to lead the title race, a gritty German leapfrogging him and narrowly claiming his third championship in a row, in a dramatic climax!

The script could not have been better than this. It had a congregation of superstars, plenty of unexpected twists and turns, a notorious show-spoiler, a real hero who fought back in style and a challenger who won millions of hearts with his never-say-die attitude.

One could witness an overflow of emotions as well as the exhibition of anguish. But there was hardly any villain!

In fact, the epic rivalry between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso emerged as the most fascinating aspect of the 2012 season. It had the promise to grow and establish itself alongside some of the greatest rivalries in sporting history — between Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert or Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

In a sport dictated by the performance of the cars, the Vettel-Alonso duel became all the more interesting as machines touched their limits and humans maximised their potential. Alonso, who grabbed three wins, defied the hurdles posed by a slow Ferrari car to stay ahead of the pack till the Japanese Grand Prix.

Two non-finishes in Belgium and Japan did not dampen his spirit as Alonso managed his starts and races well despite having less than desirable results in many of the qualifying sessions. Alonso’s superb performance in the Indian Grand Prix manifested his courage and driving skills as he took the second spot and closely chased Vettel in the run for the crown.

Former World Champions, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso (centre), Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen (left) and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher on the podium at Valencia.-AP

But the task was too tough for Alonso since he had to take on an irrepressible Vettel, who jumped to the lead after the Korean Grand Prix. Vettel, who became the youngest driver and the third man ever to bag three championships on the trot, thoroughly deserved the feat he achieved. He took the first 10 races to get used to the car before registering some commanding performances in the second half of the season.

Four straight wins and two miraculous recoveries in Abu Dhabi and Brazil helped him pip an aggressive Alonso by three points. These two races spoke a lot about the mental strength of the German. Even after being pushed to the back of the grid to serve a penalty (for a mistake in the qualifying), Vettel overcame a broken wing in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where the safety car had to be deployed on several occasions.

Like the all-odds-defying hero in a blockbuster, Vettel, who had a collision with Bruno Senna in the first lap in the slippery and drama-filled race of Sao Paulo, made an extraordinary comeback to end up sixth and barely lay his hands on the championship crown.

Besides these two main actors, Lewis Hamilton, who signed for Mercedes for the next season, had a decent year. He had some fine moments, including four wins, but failed to finish in five races. His team-mate Jenson Button, who claimed the opening and closing races, ended the year with three victories.

The McLaren team, despite having the fastest car of the season, could not make the most of its advantage and had to be satisfied with the third place in the constructors’ championship, behind Red Bull, which captured its third title, and Ferrari.

Kimi Raikkonen, who emerged victorious in Abu Dhabi, led Lotus’ good run. With a little support from the other car, he could have helped his side climb the podium.

Williams and Mercedes, which last won a race 57 years ago, posting victories in Spain and China respectively, Sauber challenging for a victory in Malaysia and Sahara Force India leading the race in Brazil spiced up the season and provided some hope for next year.

The year saw Lotus driver Romain Grosjean playing spoilsport for many fellow competitors. He triggered a big crash in Belgium and was banned for the next race in Italy. Grosjean, who was also involved in several other incidents, had nearly crashed while overtaking Pedro de la Rosa of HRT in Brazil.

Narain Karthikeyan, the lone Indian in the competition, faced reliability issues throughout the year and managed to complete 12 races in his HRT car.

The end of 2012 saw the legendary Michael Schumacher hanging up his helmet for the second and final time.

The one-time king of Formula One finished amongst points in the last race of his career in Brazil, after failing to score in six consecutive races.

With 20 races lined up for the next season, 2013 promises to be another entertaining year for one of the most keenly followed sports in the world.