F1 gets set for 2012

Peter Shaw gives you a preview of this years F1 season. More drama than Eastenders!

With the F1 2012 opening race in Melbourne finally upon us, fans are already looking forward to leaving some of the rather unsavoury events overshadowing the sport in recent weeks behind and seeing the new cars, drivers and circuits that this year has to offer.

New McLaren F1 car

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton admire the new McLaren

This year there will be a total of 20 circuits in the race calendar; the Turkish Grand Prix is being replaced by the United States Grand Prix, based in Austin, Texas, and the Bahrain Grand Prix is also back on the calendar following its cancellation last year amongst the civil unrest in the country.

2012 has started in controversial circumstances. Adrian Sutil, who drove for Force India in 2011, was convicted of grievous bodily harm for an incident after the Chinese Grand Prix last year, in which he injured the chief executive of the Renault F1 team owners Genii Capital, Eric Lux, in the neck with a champagne glass, after an altercation in a nightclub. He was fined 200,000 euros, and given an 18-month suspended sentence, but was allowed to keep his Formula One licence.

The Malaysian owned Lotus F1 team from 2011 has been renamed Caterham for 2012 following a dispute with Renault over the naming rights; this year Renault will be known as Lotus instead. The Virgin F1 team has also been renamed Marussia F1.

There are also a number of new drivers entering F1 this year; a mix of rookies and returning drivers will hope to challenge Sebastian Vettel’s recent domination of the sport. At Force India Nico Hulkenberg has won a seat, replacing Sutil, having been the reserve driver in 2011.

The biggest name returning to the sport for 2012 is the 2007 World Champion, Kimi Raikkonen. Having failed in his attempt to crack the World Rally Championship, the ‘Iceman’ returns with the intention of rebuilding his reputation that was tarnished somewhat when Ferrari decided to terminate his contract a year early and employ Fernando Alonso in his place. He takes the lead drivers seat vacated by Vitali Petrov, and is alongside Romain Grosjean, who also returns to the sport with the same team he had an unsuccessful stint with in the 2009 season, having just won the GP2 2011 series. Pedro De La Rosa also returns as a full time driver with HRT, following a season spent as test driver for McLaren, and is alongside Karthikeyan, who raced 9 times for HRT last season.

Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne are the two new rookies entering the sport this year. Both Frenchmen will be hoping to make an impact in the sport; Vergne will be driving for Toro Rosso, effectively the feeder team to Red Bull, in the hope of impressing enough to earn the seat of Mark Webber when he leaves. Pic will be driving for Marussia F1, a team already behind its rivals this year having decided to skip the first test at Jerez in order to carry on development of the 2012 car.

For British based fans, one of the most significant, and disappointing, changes for 2012 is the change in television coverage that F1 will receive. For the first time Formula One races will not all be on free-to-air television, following the purchase of the rights by Sky. Instead, the BBC will show only half the live races and qualifying sessions.

Despite this, having been starved of racing since late November, the first testing session to see the new cars put through their paces in Jerez is a welcome distraction for fans. With 6 former World Champions on the grid, we can only hope this season lives up to the high expectations!