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Monday, August 20, 2012

The view from afar: At the break

With a little more than a week to go in Formula 1's now traditional summer break, it is a good time to check in on what has been one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory.

Clearly, the big story has to be the shakeup on the grid. Podiums with new faces and a flock of new winners. Nico Rosberg and Pastor Maldonado. Sauber and Lotus threatening to take the top spot. McLaren and Red Bull struggling. Quite a few things have contributed. New aero rules and tires, in particular.

While some complain that the excitement is manufactured, specifically the tire situation, the argument is a bit hollow when considering we are dealing with what are supposed to be the chosen few, the best drivers and operations in the world.

Indeed, few seem to have gotten it so wrong at the start of the season than Ferrari, yet Fernando Alonso has consistently taken what he could get, and Ferrari has continued to develop the car, and have been so rewarded by leading the driver's championship.

On the constructor's side, the rules have done a bit to help reign in Red Bull, and we have watched Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber face some difficulties, yet who comfortably leads the table? The cream (and the cash) always rises to the top.

Certainly, some teams have been able to exploit the situation, getting it right in a perfect storm to snatch a victory that it might not have taken otherwise, but there are many arguments to the contrary.

Williams, for example. The team benefitted from "getting it right," no doubt, but it figured it out when others didn't. Maldonado drove a superb race (as we are discovering, no small feat). And when you consider the number of points Maldonado has let slip away this year, Williams would certainly be in a much different (perhaps deserving?) position and feel less of this criticism.

And if it were so darned easy to exploit the situation, wouldn't Lotus have a win by now? Wouldn't Sauber? No, I'll admit the odds fell in Williams' favor that day, but so did good racecraft. And Rosberg's win was no different.

Are the tires difficult? Sure. The window is small, and oddly does not reward the smooth driving style of a Jenson Button, but rather a driver who can get them quickly up to temperature. But again, shouldn't it be difficult? And, more or less, aren't we talking about drivers on a relatively even playing field at the front?

Would I prefer it were a little different? Yes. But, as I have stated before, this all was put into place by requiring teams to change tires during a race. How is this any different than requiring a team to fit less suitable rubber on the car in the middle of a race? The rules are the rules. Figure it out and get on with it. That's why you get the big bucks.

And the best seem to have done just that. Red Bull has gone about its business securing the Constructor's and Ferrari, handicapped by Felipe Massa's woes, will be pushing Alonso for the Driver's title. It'll be hard work, as Webber and Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen are breathing down his neck. As for the teams -- McLaren, and to a lesser extent Lotus, are going to have to hope they can find some kind of development to press their fading challenge. Mercedes? Better luck next year.

And, don't worry. The big boys may have started wrapping their brains around how to get the most out of this season's rules, but Sauber, Williams and Force India have a lot at stake and will be pushing hard to get any scraps left on the table. All ingredients for excitement as the season enters its home stretch.

The magic of Spa and Monza, the majesty of Singapore, and F1's return to the U.S. will be the stage. Bring it on!

Favorite moments so far: Nico in China, Williams in Spain. Webber taking it to Vettel and Fernando Alonso against all odds.

What I'd like to see: Big points for Bruno Senna, a Lotus win, and points for Caterham. All setting up for a brilliant F1 debut in Austin.

Who will be champion? Driver's: Alonso. Constructor's: Red Bull.

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