By Mridubha Kumar
Results reflect this year was all about Sebastian Vettel. But there were other key moments despite F1 being a one-man show. www. espnstar.com takes a look back at the highlights that made the 2011 season:
Vettel combined his splendid driving with the vastly superior challenger, Red Bull’s RB7 and set the tone from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix itself. With a pole to podium win in Melbourne, the German lifted the gloom brought by the cancellation of the Bahrain GP due to political unrest.
A third-place finish in Japan saw Vettel becoming the youngest double world champion. He went on to break Nigel Mansell’s record of most pole positions in a season with his 15th in Brazil.
Vettel and Mark Webber ensured 18 pole positions for Red Bull out of 19 races, Vettel winning 11 of them. His win in Korea saw Red Bull defending their Constructors title as well.
Formula One’s Indian debut
There were all sorts concerns as the sport ventured into yet another unexplored venue. The stakes were high as F1 stormed into a cricket-crazy India. Despite last-minute touch ups, the inaugural Indian Grand Prix was a phenomenal success. While only 5,000 people were in attendance for India’s ODI cricket series against England days before the Grand Prix, the turn-out at the Buddh International Circuit was about 90,000 people. The track was hailed by drivers as one of the best, while the hospitality of Indians had Vettel especially inspired. The FIA Gala was also held in New Delhi at the end of the year.
Karthikeyan’s F1 comeback
Narain Karthikeyan made a surprise comeback to the sport after five years and the timing couldn’t have been better. But his comeback was cut short when he lost his HRT race seat to Daniel Ricciardo after the European Grand Prix in June. However, Karthikeyan raced during the Indian GP, where he finished 17th, much to the delight of his home fans.
McLaren plays the chase
While Red Bull’s success was unparalleled, if there was a team that came close on a few occasions, McLaren was it. Button and Hamilton won three races each as the team played catch up with Red Bull. McLaren finished second, 153 points behind Red Bull and 122 ahead of Ferrari.
Force India’s best finish
By far the most improved team over the course of 2011, Force India managed their best finish, ending sixth in the Constructor Championship. Rookie Paul Di Resta did justice to the faith showed in him by the team. Though he finished 13th in the drivers, his sixth-place finish in Germany was enough to impress all. Adrian Sutil was the more consistent driver, ending ninth in the list.
Towards the end of the year, Sahara's association with the Vijay Mallya-outfit saw the team being rechristened as Sahara Force India. Another major announcement by the team was to promote reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg to a race seat for next year, leaving Sutil out in the cold.
This rivalry brought a much-needed spark to a rather dull season. There were collisions, blame games, olive branch and most of all, a contest! Their six on-track incidents sometimes made the two drivers more interesting to watch in the races, the result of which was often not very hard to guess with Vettel clinching the win, more often than not. After their five collisions in Monaco, Britain, Singapore, Japan and India, the duo finally made peace at the year-ending Brazilian GP.
Schumacher completes two decades
The most successful driver in F1 history, Michael Schumacher, reached another milestone in his career. The German completed two decades in the sport at the Belgian Grand Prix, the same race he made his debut at in 1991. Schumi notched up a fine performance and finished fifth at Spa.
Webber finally gets a win
Despite three pole positions, Aussie Mark Webber was unable to replicate Vettel’s formula of building an early lead as a foundation for a win. Webber failed to manage a single race win until the very end. Webber finally won his only race of the season at the season-finale in Brazil and finished third in drivers' standings.
Ferrari’s battling soldier
It was a rather forgettable season for Ferrari. The team managed only one win, courtesy Fernando Alonso, who was the team’s saving grace all year. Ferrari failed to top a single qualifying session and Felipe Massa’s poor form only made matters worse. Alonso won a controversial British GP and made the podium consistently, but the team was never a threat to Red Bull or even McLaren.
Kubica’s horrific crash
For Renault driver Robert Kubica, the season was over before it could even begin. In February, the Polish racer suffered a fatal crash in rally racing in Italy that ruled him out of the entire 2011 season. His team got Nick Heidfeld back to F1 to fill Kubica’s seat but there was no success. Bruno Senna replaced Heidfeld but he failed to fire as well. Still recovering from injury, the 26-year-old Kubica even ruled out a return in 2012.
Return of the Iceman!
After his shocking retirement three years ago, the announcement of his comeback in 2012 was one of the biggest moments in F1 this year. The 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen announced his comeback with Lotus Renault, ending months of speculation. That makes it six champions on the grid next year – the most in a single season. The Finnish racer is all class and pure entertainer, one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen. Kimi’s comeback comes as a whiff of fresh air for fans as well as critics, who suggested F1 was rather boring due to lack of competition this year.
By Mridubha Kumar