With the European stretch done with, and the Asian stretch (Singapore, Japan, Korea and India) coming up, the 2012 F1 World Championship is still wide open- in complete contrast to the one-sided 2011 season. Five Drivers, still in the reckoning, with 7 races to go.
Normally, listing the top 5 drivers of a season would involve plenty of numbers, and it'd be based purely on statistics till now. Here, we are going to list the drivers, their situations, and what could happen by the time we reach the Indian Grand Prix, by mid-October.
Fernando Alonso (179 points)
The Ferrari number One has arguably had the season of his career so far, despite winning 2 back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. He was saddled with a strong car back then, and was dethroning the fading legend of Michael Schumacher. Here, he is battling a field of young and old, ex and current Champions, all blessed with horsepower greater than his own, more often than not.
Still, he finds himself leading the Championship by 37 points, a healthy lead, at this stage- which could be stretched further with his favorite races to come. If 2011 saw him step up onto the podium 9 times with the worst of the top 5 cars, 2012 has seen him outdo himself- with his consistency still proving to be the difference between him and the younger guns. His heartbreak in his debut Ferrari 2012 season could just be a thing of the past now, and he looks extremely determined to prove to the world that he is, by no means, in the twilight of his career.
Tied on 3 race wins with Lewis Hamilton this year, yet only 2 poles, he remains favorite- especially after his scintillating 10th-to-3rd drive at Monza.
After all, 80 podiums in a career- definitely not a 2 year flash in the pan. He's always around. 2012 is his for the taking.
Lewis Hamilton (142 points)
The McLaren no. 1 (atleast for 2012) has enjoyed his usual erratic season, getting into trouble with his own team, the officials, and his opponents more often than Mario Balotelli. After a poor 2011 in probably the strongest car on the grid, Hamilton, through it all, has led Button back to oblivion- and has proven to be McLaren's flawed genius. 3 race wins, in between some horrendous accidents, has kept him in the race, only just. The master of pole positions, though, hasn't seen his conversion improve over the year- with McLaren now proving to be the fastest car once again towards the latter part of the season. If anything, he will have nobody else to blame but himself- especially after his disappointing 5th place (2011) and 4th place (2010). Still, it's a far cry from his horror 2009 season, where he stood at 10 points after 10 races. For once, though, he hasn't been clashing with his favorite mate, Felipe Massa, and has been stepping into the limelight at the right junctures in the season, not letting Alonso rest easily yet.
Kimi Raikkonen (141 points)
68 podiums in 170 races- not ordinary stats by any stretch of imagination. Who would have thought that this man is back from a hiatus of 2 years, from the most demanding sport in the world? He just got back, got into a new car, and has raced his way to a shock 3rd in the standings, without even winning a race. Five podiums could have a lot to do with that, and his consistency betrays any sort of rustiness or lack of routine after his World Rally stint. Ex-Ferrari World Champion, Raikkonen is the driver the sport needed in 2012, a familiar face that can rival Alonso in sheer driving skill, and turn it on when needed. He has put the gasp back in the Lotus team, and has partnered Grosjean to turn his team into serious contenders for the title. All he needs now is a race win, and it could turn into the 'return of the prodigal son'- with the Ferrari ranks shuddering at the very thought of watching the ice-cool Finn nonchalantly standing at the top by the end of the season. Effectively, he is going to be McLaren's greatest rival, and could stand between Vettel and his third title.
Sebastian Vettel (140 points)
A far cry from his 2011 form, the young German Champion is struggling to figure on the podium through 2012. He is going through the inevitable Djokovic syndrome, where there is nowhere to go but down after the dizzying heights of 2011. This only proves that he is human, and not a machine as many suspected- not an extension of his once-flawless Red Bull engine. The going has gotten tough, and Vettel has displayed remarkable poise under pressure- even rising to 2nd a race ago, before failing to finish at Monza. The hard yards are being put in after a dream 2 seasons, and this 2012 campaign out of all, could define his legacy as a driver, and could teach him a lot more than all his wins have. His only flawless race this year was at the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix- where he did the good old pole, start-to-finish- a signature run that has been cut short by the emergence of the rest of the field. One still feels that the boy will not go down without a fight, and has plenty of steam left for the next 7 races. He could be Alonso's closest and most realistic contender.
Mark Webber (132 points)
The eternal bridesmaid has never figured on anybody's favorite lists at the start, middle or end of any season. He has been created to be that figure that pushes the others towards the top of the list, and remains present for the sake of sheer numbers. There has to be a no.2 in every sport, and Mark Webber is a racing, walking and talking personification of the concept. Wins in Monaco and Silverstone had made him something he wasn't used to- the No. 1 driver in his team, but his genes took over, and now he is back to where he belongs. However cruel this sounds, he is a journeyman who symbolizes the passion, dedication and drive needed to be in that F1 car, and has never let his team down. It is also why Red Bull, double World Champions, are still leading the Constructor's title standings with 7 races to go.
As they say, in the top 5, there's Mark Webber, and the top 4. Maybe this time, he could beat tradition, and try doing a 2010- without the choke at the finish.