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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A fan's view: Time to put up or shut up

Testing is over. Speculation is finished. In a little over a day F1 gets back to business in Melbourne. Will this be the year Caterham breaks into the midfield? Are Ferrari as off as it seems? Can anyone stop Red Bull?

The offseason was shorter than it has been in quite some time, but the beginning of the season comes not a moment too soon. 2012 has all the makings of something special. New rules. Champions galore. Vettel aiming for the hat trick. And for those of us on the neglected side of the pond, a US grand prix (please, please, please, please, please, don't screw this up).

So, heading into the first race of the season, here are five things I'm keeping an eye on:

  1. Can Ferrari be that bad? For a while, I was arguing the team was sandbagging, but enough pundits who have the benefit of being on the scene are saying this new car has its issues. Could the team have shot too high, overreacting to the conservative approach of the last few years? If so, we know Fernando Alonso can get more out of a car than the average driver, but is he good enough to keep the team in the title hunt until it can get things back into shape?

  2. How much of an edge does Red Bull have? Red Bull blew away the field most of last season. Have McLaren closed the gap? Is Mercedes ready to join the big boys? Can Lotus maintain a challenge over the course of a full season? Or are Red Bull's challengers in enough disarray to allow Vettel and Webber to run away with it again?

  3. Can Lewis rebound? Quite simply, Jenson Button was the man at McLaren last season. Lewis Hamilton suffered a terrible campaign, with mistakes and controversy following him all year. Has Hamilton put that behind him, and has the break recharged his batteries enough to take the challenge not only to Vettel, but Button, as well?

  4. Can Williams bounce back? Last year was perhaps the worst on record for Frank Williams' team. Can a return to Renault power, turnover in the hierarchy of the team and Bruno Senna help put Williams on the road to recovery? For the sake of the sport's romantics (self included), I hope so.

  5. Can Austin succeed where so many others have failed? Like many in the US, I met the news of a race in Austin with a certain amount of skepticism. But time proved the promoter was well connected to Bernie and looked to have pulled a coup in getting the state of Texas to help fund the race. Suddenly, last fall, it all looked revealed itself to be too good to be true as a power struggle erupted between the people with the money and the promoter. Now the promoter is out, Texas pulled its money, but somehow the race is on the schedule. Now another race is on, to build the circuit on time. It's a Hermann Tilke project, so it is the "right" guy for the job, and in many ways it looks to be one of his better designs. But eight months out, and no word on tickets for those of us who can't afford seat licenses. Most hotels are booked (at incredibly high rates). Fans are being asked to commit a lot of money in dire economic times on faith, and the good ol' boys have done little so far to inspire that kind of confidence. The prospect of two US races in 2013 is a salivating one, but as is often the case with anything involving F1 in the US, call me after the checkered flag drops and I'll let you know if it actually happened. Incredibly burned fingers crossed.

OK. Enough pontificating. Let's get this show on the road. As the great man would say, GO! GO! GO!

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