Formula 1 comes to Great Britain this weekend with the 2012 season finely balanced.
With Fernando Alonso's victory in Valencia last time out, the Spaniard became the first driver to record two race victories this year. One senses that, with the run of different leaders broken, now is the time for the main championship contenders to emerge.
Alonso is the championship leader (by 20 points) and at Silverstone – a track where he took victory last season (and in 2006) – the Spaniard has the chance to build his lead a mount a serious challenge for this year's title.
He was pulling sumptuous performances out of the bag even when the Ferrari F2012 was underwhelming early in the season, but now Alonso has a car that is beginning to look worthy of his considerable talents.
Will Alonso now begin to make big strides towards his third title, or can someone give him a fierce battle in the remaining 12 races? This next race – the British Grand Prix – will be the place for his rivals to mount a challenge.
Those who currently look most likely to deny Alonso this season are Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, despite both of these drivers retiring from the last race. Vettel had a dodgy alternator to blame for his Valencia disappointment, and Hamilton, of course, had the misfortune to fall victim to Pastor Maldonado. Mark Webber also looks to be in the title hunt, for it is he who currently sits second in the title standings.
Others could emerge as contenders of course – Nico Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean and potentially Jenson Button spring to mind – but all of these drivers will have to start capitalise on their potential soon if they are to mount a title challenge. The halfway point of this season is fast approaching.
It is Silverstone that hosts Round 9 then, a favourite amongst the British fans (obviously) and the drivers. The fast, sweeping corners that populate this track are clearly not replicated enough elsewhere on the F1 calendar, especially at the newer tracks, and one suspects this is a venue where drivers can really enjoy the speed and handling of these cars.
There will be a lot of focus, inevitably, on the British drivers this weekend. Hamilton will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of Valencia, where a good haul of points slipped through his fingers on the penultimate lap of the grand prix. He was the last British winner of this race, back in 2008.
Jenson Button, on the other hand, has very few fond memories of F1 races at Silverstone. He has never even been on the podium at his home race, but one feels that he must end this bad run of results this weekend if he is to keep his championship hopes alive this season.
And could Paul di Resta become the first Scottish winner of the British Grand Prix since David Coulthard in 2000? In a normal season, one would scoff at such a suggestion. Di Resta's Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg finished fifth at the last race in Valencia though, less than 20 seconds off the winner. With that encourage pace, and a large dollop of luck, victory might not be totally inconceivable in this bizarre year.
For the third year in a row, the British Grand Prix follows the race in Valencia. In 2010 and 2011, the European Grand Prix was not a particularly tough act to beat in terms of excitement, and the Silverstone race did not have to go far to beat the tedium that had taken place on the Spanish street circuit a fortnight prior.
This year, however, the British Grand Prix will have its work cut out to beat the previous race for excitement. The European Grand Prix had everything in 2012: heroes (Alonso taking victory after starting eleventh), villains (Jean-Eric Vergne and, of course, Maldonado spring to mind), serious disappointment (the alternator problems for Vettel and Grosjean), nostalgia (Michael Schumacher claiming his first podium since 2006), and the overtaking action that was taking place up and down the grid.
Of course, many people reading this, especially those in the UK, will be looking forward to their annual pilgrimage to a Formula 1 race. For those not going, it will still be worth watching. Even though Alonso is clearly the man with the momentum, and the driver to beat, this season continues to throw up surprises. We might even get an eighth winner in 2012â€¦
- Qualifying for the British Grand Prix begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday, and the race starts at the same time on Sunday afternoon.
- There will be full coverage of events at Silverstone on Sky Sports F1 HD, BBC Two (and BBC HD) and BBC Radio 5 Live.
- Check back here at thecheckeredflag.co.uk throughout the weekend for reports and reaction.