The 2012 team-by-team season review
Assessing the 20-race campaigns of all 12 Formula 1 teams
By Mike Wise, Pete Gill and James Galloway
Last Updated: 07/12/12 9:20am
Points: 460; Final position: 1st
Basking in the glow of Red Bull's third straight constructors' title, designer Adrian Newey acknowledged that the success had been their most difficult yet. Not only were the team left scratching their heads like everyone else in understanding how on earth to get Pirelli's latest batch of tyres to work properly, they had also lost a big chunk of their 2011 advantage after the clampdown on the use of exhaust-blown diffusers. "It sort of bore out my pre-season fear that, having been on the side of exhausts for two years and really developed the car - the philosophy of the car - around that technology," Newey said in Austin. "We had that taken away a bit over the winter. That was probably a bigger step back for us than other people."
Lumped back alongside McLaren and Ferrari, they couldn't get their car working how they wanted in the first half of the season but nevertheless scored three wins. It's instructive that two of them were for Mark Webber, who could not fully exploit the grip advantage the exhaust had given the RB7 in 2011. Fast forward a few months and Vettel found himself having to unlearn the cornering technique that had recently sped him to 11 victories. Yet the "tricks" he used then were called for once more during a late-season surge when Red Bull finally had their car sorted, double DRS and all.
Given its lineage, the RB8 was always going to be a contender, even if its reliability was sometimes questionable. Occasional fragility, however, is an inevitable consequence of the team's desire to push performance boundaries; three title doubles in three years shows that they're firmly on the right side of that particular trade-off. Another consequence has been Red Bull's desire to explore the greyest of areas within the sport's technical rulebook. It's one that resulted in them having to backpedal more than once during the year - think back to the 'What is a hole?' debate in Monaco - but let's remember that looking for such loopholes is integral to the sport. Speaking of rules, there aren't too many changes in 2013 so fully expect the World Champions to be right there again. MW
Points:400; Final position: 2nd
There's two distinct approaches to take when analysing Ferrari's season. The first, the 'glass half-full' attitude if you like, is that they pulled off extraordinary feats to split Red Bull and McLaren in the Constructors' Championship and take the Drivers' title down to the wire given the competitiveness of the car they both started, and ended, the campaign with. Much of the credit undoubtedly goes to their Spanish matador Fernando Alonso, who scored 70 per cent of the team's points with his relentless fortitude all season. But the Ferrari operation as a whole was virtually error-free, while the F2012 boasted an extraordinary 100 per cent reliability record in races.
Yet on the flip side, rather like McLaren, Ferrari's historical pre-eminent status in F1 means that they're subjected to higher levels of scrutiny than most. That means there's plenty of 'half-empty' ways of viewing their season as well. Indeed, right from the F2012's first test the car's Achilles heel was its fundamental pace and, while the situation improved markedly with a big upgrade for the start of the European season, never at any point of the season were Ferrari clear top dogs. There was no doubting their development rate - new iterations of front and rear wing for example continued to arrive right into the final flyaways - but more often than not it failed to hit the mark amid ongoing wind tunnel correlation problems.
The tunnel will be temporarily shut over the winter while Ferrari attempt to finally get to the bottom of the problems and for all the positives regarding their operational and reliability work this year, it's the success of that particular process that will determine whether they can get back to title-winning ways in 2013. JG
Points:378; Final position: 3rd
Just how did McLaren make such a mess of 2012? Broadly speaking, McLaren's reoccurring problem through the course of their annus horribilis was that every time they fixed one they found another. First it was the pit-stops, then it was pace, then it was reliability. On their day, they were unbeatable. The fundamental flaw was that there were too many days when they didn't finish at all as reliability deserted them with chastening frequency towards the end of the campaign.
It is a damning reality that not only did Red Bull win the title with a race to spare, but, despite winning seven events, McLaren still managed to lose out to Ferrari's one-and-a-half-driver combo in the Constructors' Championship. That took some doing.
And, of course, to compound the wrenching sense of frustration at losing out with a winning car was the profound shock of Lewis Hamilton's departure for a team which has won just a single race in three years. Perhaps, as Hamilton himself has insisted, there was no more than the team could have done to retain him. But the sense lingers that McLaren could have handled negotiations better and that they should have been able to persuade Hamilton to stay once Mark Webber re-committed to Red Bull. The loss of their prized asset and fastest driver is a blow that will leave long-term, if not permanent, scarring.
Martin Whitmarsh thus ends the year as a team boss under mounting pressure. Still without a title during his tenure, he can't afford failure again in 2013. PG
Points: 303; Final position: 4th
The portents for Lotus were good right from the off and although there was a slice of luck in their victory in Abu Dhabi, it was richly deserved. It has been widely commented that the E20 always looked a fast car; a good paintjob always helps (a sponsorship deal with an anti-dandruff shampoo perhaps less so) but the engineering team led by James Allison responded to the failed gamble of last year's forward-pointing exhaust with something altogether more effective.
A slight hiccup with the integrity of the car's suspension came during pre-season but its speed was never in doubt. That much was apparent when Romain Grosjean qualified third on the grid in Melbourne and whilst the Frenchman's waywardness left him unable to convert, he backed up Kimi Raikkonen when both secured podium finishes three races later in Bahrain. Just four races into his F1 comeback, the Finn might otherwise have given race winner Sebastian Vettel a real run for his money, but that performance nonetheless confirmed two things: firstly, that the Lotus was better in the race than in qualifying; and secondly, that it went particularly well in warmer conditions.
Grosjean finished second in Canada and also held that position in Valencia before retiring. Yet it was his third place behind Raikkonen in Hungary that really built anticipation; during the summer it seemed that a Lotus victory was a matter of when not if. It eventually came when F1 returned to the desert but only after the team had started losing ground, their DRS-type 'device' being one of the most intriguing developments of the season - albeit one they failed to make work properly. It will return in 2013, though, as will Raikkonen, with Lotus also confirming a major new sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola. All-in-all, a far better position for the former Renault team to find themselves in compared to this time last year. MW
Points 142; Final position 5th
What a bittersweet year 2012 must have been for the Mercedes team. On the one hand, it was a campaign which witnessed their first win since returning to the sport as a fully-fledged outfit three years previously. On the other, the team fell horribly off the pace as the season progressed, failing to score a point in five successive races and fortunate to rebuff Sauber's pursuit of fifth place in the standings.
The acquisition of Lewis Hamilton - a signing which effectively amounted to the team recommitting to the sport after a troubling period of introspection - swung the year back into a positive, but 2012 must nevertheless have concluded with a hefty amount of trepidation and anxiety amongst the ranks at Brackley.
Ross Brawn's troops must know that there will be no excuses and no hiding place if they don't deliver a competitive car for a proven race like Hamilton and it hardly bodes well for their prospects that 2012 ended with the team still struggling with the same issue of over-heating tyres that they first endured in winter testing and their innovative Double DRS device ultimately regarded as more of a hindrance than a help. Not well at all.
Mercedes remain, in summary, what they were this time last year: a team with everything still to prove. PG
Points: 126; Final position: 6th
Considering the mess Peter Sauber found his life's work left in when BMW made a hasty departure from F1 at the end of 2009, the turnaround achieved inside three years has been remarkable. Indeed, discounting their heavily-funded manufacturer era, Sauber's four podium finishes this year were only two fewer than the total number they had ever previously achieved as an independent. To finish 16 points behind another flattering-to-deceive German motoring institution reflected similarly well on the Hinwil team in 2012.
Yet looking back the outfit really should have capped what turned out to be their veteran team owner's final season in the Team Principal's hotseat with a race victory, with only Sergio Perez's small, late slip in his otherwise thrilling pursuit of Fernando Alonso in Malaysia scuppering what would have been an extraordinary victory. The Mexican's surge to second place at Monza, beating both Ferraris in the process, was similarly stirring and even when the team had stopped developing the C31, Kamui Kobayashi produced the performance of his career to make the podium in Japan.
For all the high points the team did have a number of races when their weekend didn't quite come together - Bahrain, Hungary and Austin spring to mind - or their two young drivers didn't manage to hit the mark in qualifying when practice had suggested another competitive showing was in store. The arrival of the arguably more consistent Nico Hulkenberg for 2013 may help in this regard and it will be interesting to see whether this year was the elusive breakthrough for Sauber, or whether 2012 was the exception rather than the rule. JG
Points: 109; Final position: 7th
The term 'The Squeezed Middle' has appeared in the political lexicon over the past couple of years and it's one that could be applied to those teams that occupy positions six through to nine in the Constructors' Championship. Without the income of the bigger teams and yet still aspirational, they consequently struggle to match the two.
Making the best of what you have is what matters, then, and whilst Sauber have proved the most adept in that regard this season, Force India have also given a good account of themselves. Unlike their rivals, they failed to scale the heights of the podium but were more consistent and failed to score on just four occasions. The VJM05 performed particularly well on street-type circuits such as Valencia and Singapore but in general lost out as other teams pushed forward with upgrade packages.With top 10 finishes in each of the final nine races, Force India had the chance to beat Sauber. Yet the fact they didn't sums up their situation perfectly. "There's been no development on this car since the shutdown effectively," Technical Director Andy Green said in Abu Dhabi. "Ultimately you need the money to invest in the team, in the hardware and in the people and ultimately that will increase your rate of development."
There is hope on the horizon, however, with owner Vijay Mallya having recently announced a £50m investment programme into the team over the winter. That alone offers encouragement that they can continue to make progress in the years to come. MW
Points: 76; Final position: 8th
Williams ultimately finished only one place higher in the Constructors' table than they managed last year, when the once all-conquering team scored a paltry five points. But that fact didn't do justice to the scale of their revival in 2012. Not only did the team end its eight-year victory drought when Pastor Maldonado claimed an assured victory in Spain but they featured towards the front of the grid on several more occasions courtesy of the Venezuelan with the FW34 in general proving a competitive package in both qualifying and race conditions.
That they finished in a relative 'no-man's land' in the standings, comfortably clear of Toro Rosso but not quite on the tails of Force India and Sauber, was largely down to the fact that neither Maldonado nor Bruno Senna could consistently string together a perfect weekend, the former getting involved in too many incidents while the latter struggled for single-lap pace. Had they possessed a more consistent performer then it's conceivable, given the package they had, that Williams would have at least been able to finish in seventh place.
With Frank Williams' sights set as high as ever, and the team seemingly finally back on the right development path, you would imagine another step up the table would be the minimum target in 2013 when the highly-rated Valtteri Bottas partners the fast but erratic Maldonado. JG
Points: 26; Final position: 9th
The final standings of the 2012 season reveal everything that needs to be said of how utterly underwhelming Toro Rosso's year was: the only teams below them in the final table were the three pointless 'newbies' and the team directly above them scored more than twice as many points. This was a year, in other words, when Toro Rosso were flattered by anonymity with proper scrutiny only exposing frustration and regression.
While neither Daniel Ricciardo nor Jean-Eric Vergne displayed obvious star quality, early confirmation of their retention for 2013 amounted to tacit admission from the team itself that they, and not their two young drivers, had fallen short. Rather damningly, that honest acceptance was arguably the most positive feature of their entire year. PG
Points: 0; Final position: 10th
When did it become so darn difficult to score a World Championship point? We might start to find answers around the time F1 cars started becoming so darn reliable. Then there's the competitiveness of the sport, which was at times mind boggling during 2012. Fernando Alonso may have started 11th prior to his stunning win in Valencia but it's worth remembering that he was all of 0.218s slower than the fastest car in Q2 at the European Grand Prix.
In such circumstances, it's more understandable that Caterham still have nothing to shout about. Yet if we look beyond the barest of statistics then progress has been made: armed with KERS for the first time this year, they continued to close up to the midfield in terms of outright pace and have also showed intent with the decision to move factory and settle in 'Motorsport Valley' to the northwest of London.
Even so, there was still a feeling that Caterham were not making the progress they had initially hoped for; and with Timo Glock's 12th place in Singapore allowing Marussia to sneak ahead in the Constructors' standings, one even sensed that morale was dipping. If that was the case, then Vitaly Petrov's 11th place in Brazil might give more emotional succour than it does financial. No-one ever said it was going to be easy. MW
Points: 0; Final position: 11th
In the end 2012 turned out to be an agonising near-miss for Marussia as they came within seven laps of beating Caterham to 10th place in the Constructors' Championship and with it the £10m+ prize money the position would have unlocked. Still, 11th represented the former Virgin outfit's best ever result after HRT had pipped them via higher one-off race finishes in 2010-2011.
Indeed, from unpromising beginnings - the new car didn't feature in official pre-season testing after it failed its final mandatory crash test - the season turned into something of a breakthrough for the Banbury-based team in terms of proving that they were finally heading in the right direction after several false dawns. Having ditched their much-derided all-CFD design approach, the new wind tunnel-led programme certainly appeared to pay dividends as the season wore on; developments allowed Marussia to close right up on Caterham, with their improved pace confirmed in Austin when both of their cars outqualified their rivals' for the first time.
All this was achieved without the continued access to KERS but that will finally change next year after the team signed a deal to race the same system as Williams. Yet for all the belated progress and promise, like Caterham, the elephant in the room remains the question of how exactly they are going to break away from the back of the field and become genuine midfield runners in 2013 and beyond. JG
Points: 0; Final position: 12th
There's been no official word from the Spanish team about their future but all indicators - such as an inability to stump up the $500,000 needed to submit an entry for next season - point towards oblivion. Is it justified? For some, HRT are little more than an annoyance: hopelessly off the pace and doing little more than getting in the way. For others, they represent something quite noble: David versus Goliath; passionate people working against the odds.
One might say the same about both Caterham and Marussia, but at least they have plans in place that make sense. HRT's owners, Thesan Capital, wanted to create a Spanish national team but in doing so, they relocated to Spain - in other words, far away from the F1 talent pool. Moving house was the priority at the start of the year and without the necessary infrastructure in place, the team's F112 car was late in appearing. Little surprise, then, that both Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan failed to qualify in Melbourne.
That never happened again and HRT did at times manage to close the gap to their rivals - de la Rosa in particular putting in a couple of stellar qualifying performances - but as the year wore on, the car began to wear out. Quite worryingly so on occasion, with brake and hydraulic failures prompting concerns the team's chassis were past their sell-by dates. By then HRT were up for sale and the writing, seemingly, was on the wall. MW