The season so far: What we have learnt

David Tremayne assesses the early races which have shown the Britons are in good shape, Red Bull are beatable and tyres matter

Circuit de Catalunya

Q What have the early stages of the season taught us?

A So far the season has demonstrated just how much influence tyre performance has on the quality of the racing. And that although the engineers in Formula One are extraordinarily clever, even they have yet to come up with consistent answers to the question of how to get the best out of their rubber. Pirelli's slightly revised tyres are a little less durable and fade quite easily. That is when there is a thermal performance loss due to their effectiveness declining with heat and wear, and why the word "degradation" has assumed such significance. The problem is that a car can work well within the tyres' narrow performance window in the right conditions of ambient and track temperature, downforce and track surface – yet be way out in others. It's a matter of waiting until the boffins find those answers, which Pirelli believe will happen in the not-too-distant future.

The races have also shown that some teams had a much better handle than others on how to maximise the effectiveness of their aerodynamic double diffusers at the rear of the car since they were introduced by Brawn. They have been banned for 2012, significantly levelling the playing field.

Q Will things change in Spain this weekend?

A Few teams are expecting it to, or for this race to be much of an indication of form to come over the rest of the season. That is interesting, because the circuit at Barcelona is always well known to the teams because of the amount of test mileage they accrue here during the winter, so usually what works here will tend to work at most places that follow on the calendar.

Q In Bahrain it looked as if Red Bull had found the magic bullet again, after being off their usual pace in the first three races. Are they top dogs once more?

A Certainly Sebastian Vettel was back to his imperious best in Bahrain, where only Kimi Raikkonen could get close to challenging him. Yet he had looked all at sea in Australia, Malaysia and China. Their performance this year has been far from dominant.

Q Have the other teams missed their chance after Bahrain and will Red Bull, and especially Vettel, romp home from here?

A It does not look like it. The times all season have been extraordinarily close, not just Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes, but Lotus and Sauber too. In yesterday's second free practice session the first 17 cars were covered by less than a second and a half, the top 10 by one second. No one can afford to relax, and their continuing competitiveness will now rely very heavily on the tyre situation and the pace and effectiveness of their technical development programmes.

Q What of the British boys? How are Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button doing?

A Pretty well. The McLaren is fundamentally the best car the team have produced since Lewis Hamilton won the championship in 2008 and it is already a winner – Jenson Button breezed the season opener in Australia and only the rain in Malaysia scuppered their chances after they dominated qualifying. Since then they have proved as vulnerable to changes in tyre temperature as many other front-runners, and McLaren's pit stops have left something to be desired after Button had wheel-changing problems in China and Hamilton did in Bahrain. But Hamilton is second in the title chase and Button third, so they have no need to play catch-up the way they have had to in the past three seasons.

Q Are the two British drivers still friends?

A Absolutely. If they were ever going to fall out, it would have been after their collision in Canada last year, where they talked in the rain-forced interlude and made their peace. One of the cornerstones of McLaren's strength as a team is that they both get along really well. Each believes he can beat the other, but there is great respect between them.

Q And what about Ferrari? How are they doing?

A Chairman Luca di Montezemolo hit the nail on the head last week when he said that the ugly F2012 was not performing the way he had been led to expect. So far the car looks like a lemon, but thanks to Fernando Alonso it has already won a race. You should never underestimate Ferrari because of their record and strength, but they have a mountain to climb.

Q Is Kimi Raikkonen a contender for success this season?

A You bet. He's kicking himself for bottling a pass on Vettel in Bahrain, which would have brought Lotus their 80th victory. Don't bet against him putting that right, sooner rather than later.

Q So go on, put your money where your mouth is: who will win it?

A It's still anyone's guess, but one from Vettel, Hamilton or Button.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin