That was the season that was
Red Bulls left everyone else standing as Sebastian Vettel continued to shine brightest, while former luminary Michael Schumacher lost more of his lustre
Monday 28 November 2011
Best race: Canada
This one had it all. First there was the terrible weather at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, then the crash between McLaren team-mates Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton which put the latter out. Then there was a drive-through penalty for Button for speeding behind the safety car, followed by stoppage of the race for two agonising hours because of the conditions. Then, as he fought back from last place after the restart, Button collided with Fernando Alonso, caught and passed a duelling Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher, then relentlessly pushed runaway leader Sebastian Vettel into a slide on the final lap which enabled him to slither by to snatch a sensational victory after one of the greatest wet-weather drives in history.
Best driver: Sebastian Vettel
The German made fantastic use of his skill and machinery. Time and again he took pole position – beating Nigel Mansell's seasonal record of 14 in Brazil, and then lit off into the lead after judging exactly how hard he dared to push his tyres before they were fully warm, yet still managing to conserve them. Races such as Korea and India indicated just how beautifully he judged such things, as he had them won from the start. He made few mistakes in races, too, and showed that he is now a complete racer capable of getting the best from himself and his equipment every time out, and justly became the youngest-ever back to back champion.
Best car: Red Bull RB7
If Vettel was the best driver, the Red Bull RB7 created for him by the genius of technical director Adrian Newey and painstaking attention to detail of chief designer Roger Marshall was the best car. It lost out to the Ferrari once and the McLarens several times, but it was almost inevitably the fastest in qualifying and the most competitive in races, as well as being phenomenally reliable. Webber had some early KERS issues, and Vettel's tyre failure in Abu Dhabi may have been down to one of Newey's innovative exhaust system tweaks, but otherwise it was bulletproof from the start.
Best rookie: Paul di Resta
He doesn't say an awful lot at the best of times, but the 25-year-old Scot let what he did at the wheel do all the talking for him. Straight away he came into Force India and started to outqualify Adrian Sutil, himself one of the fastest men over a single lap. Di Resta also beat him in races, showcasing the talent that Mercedes-Benz and manager Anthony Hamilton had seen in his F3 days (when he used to beat Vettel) and when he won the DTM championship in 2010. His confident and mature performances made you wonder what he might have achieved in Michael Schumacher's Mercedes.
Best innovation: Fast-wearing Pirelli tyres
At the start of the season Pirelli took over from Bridgestone as the sole supplier of Formula One tyres. They had listened intently to everything that team bosses and drivers had to say to them and acted on suggestions, even though on the face of it they were not the greatest marketing philosophy for a tyre manufacturer, and deliberately created fast-wearing tyres. As a result, drivers had to be careful how they used their rubber, knowing when to push and when to preserve it. Formula One races suddenly became a whole lost more interesting in consequence.
Most disappointing driver Michael Schumacher
When Michael Schumacher made his much-vaunted return to Formula One in 2010, people cut him a lot of slack, even though as a seven-time champion and supposedly the greatest driver the sport had ever seen he failed to perform the miracles that might reasonably have been expected. It would all be better in 2011, we were assured many times, when he had more input into the car and more track time. But he failed to rekindle the magic and got blown away again by Nico Rosberg, himself a driver still difficult to assess with complete accuracy. As disappointments go, Schuey was the biggest and most expensive. Again.
Luckiest driver Pastor Maldonado
Pastor Maldonado caused an accident by not knowing when to surrender a corner to Lewis Hamilton in Monaco, then pulled a silly manoeuvre on him on the slowdown lap after qualifying at Spa. But it was his antics in Abu Dhabi that really sucked. He held up faster cars and got a drive-through penalty, then did exactly the same thing very shortly afterwards and got given a stop and go time penalty added to his race time afterwards. He then got aggressive with the race stewards. Why lucky? If I were a steward I'd have banned him for a race.
Biggest farce: The blown diffuser saga
At Silverstone there was wholesale confusion over the vexed question of whether teams were still allowed to blow exhaust gases over their cars' diffusers, to generate more downforce and thus grip. Could they just do it when the driver had his foot on the throttle, or have a clever means of maintaining the downforce when he lifted off? It was one of those arcane arguments that meant nothing to the man in the street, was ridiculously complex to explain, and ultimately meant little. And there was so much confusion that the FIA reverted to the previous rules and are still arguing over them for next year. Enough!
Funniest moments: Jordan's humble pie and Button's Chinese pitstop
In Melbourne Ron Dennis interrupts a live BBC broadcast to hand Eddie Jordan some humble pie, after the McLarens had qualified second and fourth and Jordan had predicted the team were in for a terrible year after poor testing form. Later, on the 14th lap of the Chinese GP, Button accidentally pulls into Vettel's Red Bull pit instead of his own. "I lost out to Sebastian at the first pitstop when I mistakenly pulled into his box," he said sheepishly. "I was looking down at the steering wheel to adjust a switch: when I looked up, I saw the Red Bull pit crew in front of me!"
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