With the first four ‘flyaway’ races of the year behind us, Formula 1 has taken a three-week break and is now set to begin what they call the ‘European season’. Seven races are packed into the next 12 weekends. Anyone who hasn’t got their car sorted soon can kiss goodbye to their hopes of winning the championship.
It bears pointing out just how much closer this season is than last year. Four races into 2011 Sebastian Vettel was already far enough ahead in the drivers’ championship that he could have taken a weekend off in the certain knowledge that no-one else would overhaul him in the meantime.
Vettel’s dominance meant slim pickings for those looking to place a bet. He won three out of the next four Grands Prix, and the odds on him to keep winning and setting pole position shortened with every passing race.
Twelve months later and once again Vettel is on top in the championship - but there the similarities end. His margin over second place is just four points, and one of seven different drivers could take his place at the top of the table by Sunday evening.
This year’s championship could not be much more different to last. No team has won more than once, and we’ve had three different cars on pole position More drivers have finished on the podium in the first four races of this year than in the whole of last season. The reason for this is that the cars are much closer on pace than they were last year: The performance gap covering the top nine teams has halved.
Early tips for the Spanish Grand Prix:
As a result there are some surprisingly long odds on drivers who have already won races this year to repeat their victories this weekend. Fernando Alonso, the winner in Malaysia, is priced at 12.0. Nico Rosberg, who scored his maiden F1 triumph in the Chinese Grand Prix, is even longer at 15.0.
Kimi Raikkonen charged to second in the last race, finishing just 3.3s behind Sebastian Vettel. He’s priced at 8.0 to win in the car which set the fastest time during testing last week.
A promising early tip for qualifying is Mark Webber. He set pole position in the last two races at the Circuit de Catalunya, and is priced at 10.50 to repeat the feat this weekend. Team mate Vettel put the Red Bull on pole position last time out, Webber having beaten him in the three previous qualifying sessions.
The closer competition in F1 this year has produced some exciting racing. The much-criticised lack of overtaking seen in F1 a few years ago increasingly seems to be a thing of the past. Mercedes have produced new data which shows the steps taken by F1 to produce better races seem to have worked.
There were 215 overtaking moves in the first four races of this year – and that figure does not include changes of position due drivers making a pit stop, cars slowing down due to damage, or passes made on the six slowest cars (of Caterham, HRT and Marussia).
While the debate goes on over the merits of some of the methods use to achieve this, such as the Drag Reductions System and softer new tyres, it’s clear that the changes made in F1 in recent years have made the sport more unpredictable – and closer.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic