The twelve months of 2011 have been twelve months of contrasts, a twelve months packed with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Now, having looked back over the previous year the writers of The Checkered Flag look forward at what the 2012 racing season could bring with new driver line-ups and regulations.
Intra-team battles ad Force India and Toro Rosso
The two midfield F1 squads have gone with potential over experience for their 2012 driver lineups. The stakes are potentially very high for the drivers at both teams, with Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg eyeing any seat that becomes available at Mercedes, while Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne will fight it out to become Mark Webber's replacement at Red Bull. All four are highly-rated, and it will be fascinating to see what happens at both teams.
Someone to match Vettel?
Sticking to F1, most fans will be looking for the emergence of a challenger to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Will one of the McLaren pairing, or even Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, be able to stop next season becoming as one-sided as it was in 2011? It will also be interesting to see how Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen and Romain Grosjean do at Renault, and how the exciting young talent – the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Jean–Eric Vergne and Charles Pic – manage in their first full seasons as F1 drivers.
Formula One 2012
I have two, so forgive me for being greedy. The battle at Toro Rosso between their new driver line up of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean–Eric Vergne will be extremely intense, particularly as one of them may land themselves a Red Bull seat if Mark Webber departs at the end of 2012. Secondly, I am optimistic of five teams challenging for the Formula One World Championship next season. Or maybe I am just a romantic? Merry Christmas readers!
NGTC comes of age
Nationally I think the BTCC is headed for another superb year. The second half of the year was the NGTC-spec cars coming out party, and in 2012 it will be interesting to see some more of the potential of the new cars when Honda roll out the new Civic. How their efforts – with Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden compare to the teams with a whole year of NGTC trouble-shooting behind them – is just another facet in a year that could bring even more manufacturers in even bigger grids.
Challengers to Team Vodafone
The V8 Supercars has again shown it's the best touring car series in the world, so more of the same please! Team Vodafone dominated the 2011 season, but I think teams such as Stone Brothers Racing and Ford Performance Racing will up their game and close the gap in 2012. Look out for the likes of Tim Slade, David Reynolds and in particular Shane van Gisbergen who this year won his first race at his home event in New Zealand and backed it up in Darwin to finish fourth in this year’s championship. These are the sport's new generation, young drivers who showed in 2011 that they have the talent and ability to pose a genuine threat to the more established stars.
The Young(er) Blood
Formula Renault 2.0 champion Alex Lynn and the imaginatively named Carlos Sainz Jr. join the ranks of British Formula 3 for 2012, and both could be potential headaches for the more experienced British F3 runners cracking their knuckles as they eye the 2012 title. Lynn has BRDC and FIA Excellence Academy support behind him, whilst Sainz Jr. comes ominously armed with Red Bull backing, adding pressure, removing excuses and drawing plenty of keen eyes onto the youngsters tipped for future stardom.
What To Look For Next Year – National racing and beyond
For me there are a number of things to look for next year. After the teething troubles of the new NGTC cars in the BTCC, a more level playing field next season and a big field should lead to an exciting championship. On the subject of touring cars, it will be interesting to see how Arena Motorsport and Special Tuning Racing cope with the step up to WTCC.
After an extremely close fought title battle in British GT, next seasons Championship will no doubt be an equally exciting and close fight. Look out for the new look Ginetta G55 GT3 and the Aston Martin V12 Vantage adding to the array of stunning cars throughout the field. For fans of endurance racing, the new World Endurance Championships should be something to look out for too.
Also, with driver moves and deals still being confirmed within Formula One, an exciting new driver to keep an eye out for is Jean Eric–Vergne. The Frenchman showed true class in the 2010 British F3 Championships on his way to the title and runner up at the end of a season in formula Renault 3.5 has shown his ability. With the backing and support of Red Bull, could he be the new Sebastian Vettel?
What To Look For In 2012 – The World Endurance Championship
The emergence of the World Endurance Championship may not just be “the thing to look for in 2012”, but rather the biggest motorsport news of the decade. Since the WEC was announced at Le Mans, manufacturers have either thrown their hat into the ring or are weighing up future participation in a series that may – realistically – have far more relevance to the automotive industry than Formula 1 could ever dream of. Also, a nod to Tony Fernandes, who continues to raise the profile of motor racing in Asia, by organising national and club championships in emerging territories.
What to look for in 2012 -Ginetta Juniors
In 2012, I'm really excited for the Ginetta Junior Championship. 2011 saw the teenage racers once again produce superb racing and while Seb Morris dominated, the likes of Niall Murray, Charlie Robertson, George Gamble and Sennan Fielding emerged as top talent. With some of them returning to join the usual influx of exciting new rookies, it is sure to be a fascinating, must watch 2012 season in the G40’s.
Also something I’m really looking forward to seeing is Petter Solberg in a Ford in the WRC, taking it to the Citroens and hopefully picking up a second world title.
The 2012 season in British Superbikes looks set to be another great championship battle, defending champion joined by Isle of Man record breaker Ian Hutchinson, the Swan Yamaha team will be hard to beat. Although with that said that the PBM squad have assembled a strong team with the likes of Shakey Byrne and Stuart Easton. TAS Suzuki will also feature with Alastair Seeley looking to continue his momentum in the main class after securing the National Superstock 1000 and British Supersport titles in 2009 and this season respectively.
A New Era Begins
2012 sees the introduction of CRT (Claiming Rule Teams) in MotoGP and a glimpse into the future of the premier class of motorcycle racing. Don't expect too much too soon but this new philosophy had to happen, if anything to give us more bikes to look at. Moto3 will replace the 125cc class and unpredictability is the only certainty while EVO rules will now effectively be standard in the British Superbike Championship, surely producing another open season. 2012 will also be a huge year for Valentino Rossi. Surely Ducati will get it right this time?
New regulations in BTCC and MotoGP
In the BTCC, the NGTC cars that started to make a surge to the front of the pack at the end of this season should be a preview of what’s to come this season, and it should be an even better season for close racing than we have just seen.
In MotoGP, the withdrawal of Suzuki and the arrival of the CRT machines should herald the start of an interesting shakeup in the sport. With the addition of the new standardised Moto3 series replacing the 125cc Championship, I am expecting the same level of competition as we saw in the spectacular Moto2 championship this year.
As for a rider/driver to look out for, it has to be Marc Marquez. After a poor start to last season, I wasn’t expecting much more from the young Spaniard. However, as happens most times with myself, I was proved wrong, and Marquez started a brilliant resurgence which left him a position to possibly win the championship at the final race, only to be ruled out by injury.