After Sebastian Vettel's all-conquering success of 2011, many believed that we were in for more of the same this season. It all looked so easy at times for the whole of the Red Bull team last year. The regular pattern of a race weekend would normally go along the lines of pole, fastest lap and victory by a comfortable margin. Some were quick to predict this was a Schumacher like domination era beginning, only this time it was a different German driver doing the winning.
How wrong they were. After just four races, Formula One 2012 is looking to be a fantastic year for the sport. Nobody so far appears to be dominating, as seen with the fact that we've now seen four winners from four different types of car in the first four races of the season. That's certainly not happened before in my lifetime. Additionally, we've welcomed new faces to the podium in the shape of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean, as well as a new race winner in Nico Rosberg. Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen has quickly proved he has lost none of his speed in the time he has been away from the sport.
In truth, the writing was on the wall in pre-season testing. Winter testing is always a guessing game, but there were clear signs from early on that this would not be a repeat of 2011. Red Bull looked strong, but didn't look dominant. McLaren seemed their closest challenger, whilst Mercedes, Lotus, Force India and Sauber all looked like they could cause a surprise. But what had happened to Ferrari? The most experienced team on the grid looked to be really struggling, and they were quickly written off by the press.
Race one in Australia followed a script that most people expected – McLaren and Red Bull clearly the stand out teams with Mercedes and Lotus their closest challengers. It was perhaps – if I can use the words – the least dramatic of these opening four races, with Button never looking challenged after he beat his team mate Lewis Hamilton away from the start, but behind there were fantastic battles emerging in the midfield scrap, with Ferrari doing better than expected thanks primarily to the magician behind the wheel that is Fernando Alonso.
After the race, it looked ominous for the rest of the grid. McLaren first and third, Red Bull second and fourth. Button delighted, Vettel there again, Hamilton underwhelmed and Webber happy to have finished strongly at his home race.
But even the most experienced people in the paddock could not have predicted what followed a week later in Malaysia. The weather is always a threat on Malaysian Grand Prix weekend and despite a dry build up the rain duly played its part in proceedings on race day. Initially, it was once again a McLaren one-two with the Red Bulls chasing hard – but an inspired choice by Sergio Perez to pit for full wet tyres after just one lap saw him rocketing back up the field as everyone followed. Some great handiwork in the pit stops meant Fernando Alonso was able to get past the McLarens and Red Bulls and lead the race! The car that had taken so much criticism in the press was now leading, but only just.
It was the perfect thriller that had the fans on the edge of their seat all the way through the race. Fernando Alonso, the double champion, driving for Ferrari – chased hard by young Mexican Sergio Perez in a Sauber who may well be driving a Ferrari sooner rather than later.
In the end it was Fernando's experience and knowledge that prevailed in these tricky conditions – not that Sauber minded having just secured their best ever result since BMW pulled out. But both would find it trickier next time out in China.
It had been two long seasons since Mercedes entered the sport, and they still hadn't won a race. This year needed to be different – and so it proved to be in China. Rosberg secured his first pole position ahead of his more illustrious team mate Michael Schumacher – and the Silver Arrows proved their potential at last. After 111 starts, Rosberg took his first career victory, but it could so easily have been a one-two finish for Mercedes. A pit stop mistake saw Michael Schumacher retire not long into proceedings.
Rosberg had it easy for most the afternoon as he won Mercedes' first race since 1955, but behind there was a terrific battle for the last spots on the podium that proves how close Formula One is in modern times. Kimi Raikkonen looked like he had second, but dropped to fourteenth by the end of the race, whilst Button, Hamilton and Webber all got by Vettel when it looked as if Seb could be on for the second place on the podium. Any number of drivers could have ended there thanks to a mix of different strategies in the field, but ultimately it was Button and Hamilton to complete not only the next two places, but an all Mercedes powered podium.
Then it was on to Bahrain. The race that had been discussed by so many people meant that sadly the sport found itself under a cloud. There was global attention on the race and many secretly hoped the event would be cancelled – but history will show that the race went on. It was finally Sebastian Vettel's weekend as he proved that Red Bull is back to winning ways when he bagged pole position and the win. Despite this, he was challenged hard by close friend Kimi Raikkonen who avoided a repeat of the disappointment of China to claim his first podium since coming back to the sport. Elsewhere, Romain Grosjean – who didn't even complete ten racing laps in the first two races – silenced his critics with a brilliant third place.
So, what to expect from Spain in three weeks' time? In years gone by, it was perhaps easy to predict what might happen. This year however things are much more difficult – but it isn't out of the question that we could make it five different winners from five races. As seen so far this season – expect the unexpected.