The inaugural Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit last year was pretty much a microcosm of the 2011 season. Besides all the hype surrounding the first edition,from the racing perspective,it was unspectacular,drab and a procession led by the undisputed champion.
Having comfortably sealed the title in Japan,Red Bulls Sebastian Vettel came to the Indian leg,sleepwalked to pole and galloped off the blocks on Race Day to leave everyone else scrambling for the leftover. McLarens Jenson Button the distant second best driver of the season finished a distant second while Fernando Alonso held off Mark Webber for the third place on the podium.
More than the proceeding on the track,it was the novelty factor that made the event a success.
In a striking contrast,the second edition is likely to be more than just an event its promising to be a race,an unadulterated,pure F1 race. Quite like the season so far.
Defending champion Red Bulls Vettel and Ferraris Alonso come to Round 17 locked in an engrossing duel for what could be a third World Championship title for either of them. Only six points separate the German (215) from the second-placed Spaniard (209) with four more races to go. Lotus Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen (167),who is third,too has a chance,albeit a strictly mathematical one. Among others,Lewis Hamilton (153) and Mark Webber (152) dropped out of the hunt only recently.
Its,however,Vettel and Alonsos rivalry that has lit up the season,pretty much like 2010 where the former pipped the latter on the final day to win first of his back-to-back titles. This year,it took these two to restore normalcy to what was turning out to be a freak season. Mind you,normalcy and not boredom.
The 2012 season began with a never-heard-before six former and current world championship winners Michael Schumacher,Seb Vettel,Fernando Alonso,Jenson Button,Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen on the grid. What followed was unprecedented as well,although no one couldve foreseen it when Button took a third chequered flag in Australia in four years. His win and Hamiltons pole position,though,did indicate that McLaren have narrowed the gap that existed between them and Red Bulls last years. But the result didnt indicate was that a few others teams too were catching up with the Red Bulls and McLarens.
That it would be a closely contested championships became clear soon enough when Alonso won the race in Malaysia,barely holding off Saubers Sergio Perez the Mexican driver who has been the find of the season,driving what has been a remarkably improved car.
In the next five races there were five more different winners Mercedes Nico Rosberg in China,Vettel in Bahrain,Williams Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado in Spain,Webber in Monaco and Hamilton in Canada.
A combination of a few rule changes and new tyres had made the playing field far more level than it had ever been in recent years. And as Force Indias Paul di Resta says: Clearly one driver and one car were not good enough.
It took the most complete driver on the circuit to break this freak streak. At the European Grand Prix in Valencia,Vettel led from pole but his engine failure midway though the race put Alonso in front – both in the race and the world championship.
Fernando Alonso,the next big thing after Schumacher following the twin world titles in 2005 and 2006,hasnt been able to add any more to his tally since. But that doesnt take anything away from him; pound for pound,he is still the best driver out there.
And he proved it again by clinching a third win of the season with an off-the-pace Ferrari in Germany. A Ferrari so slow that at times seemed a parody of itself a stubborn donkey more than a prancing horse.
Its a tribute to Alonso that he had only one DNF in 37 races. Up until the Belgian GP,that is,where he was taken out by a reckless Romain Grosjean,who caused a massive four-car pile up on the first corner. Then came another retirement three weeks later in Japan where Raikkonen punctured Alonsos tyres soon after the start.
These two DNFs and a resurgent Vettel,who has now won the last three races,ate into and overhauled Alonsos lead that was an imposing 40 points after Germany. What it also did was to breathe life into the fag end of the season. Every race starting Sunday becomes crucial. With both Vettel and Alonso not the kind of drivers to blink,its likely to be a thundering climax. And this fight to finish begins in India.