I've been watching Formula One since 1955 and, I have to say, this year has been one of the best, if not the best ever.
The season started with a different winner in each of the first seven Grands Prix. Kimi Räikkönen's win in Abu Dhabi made it eight different winners for the year. And, we saw six different teams score victories. How different this was from the monotonous Michael Schumacher / Ferrari years.
The season came down to a nail-biter of a final race after points-leader Sebastian Vettel was spun around on the first lap and fell to the back of the field with a damaged car. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso, who started in seventh place, was working his way forward. Either driver could have won the championship but in the end, despite Alonso finishing second, Vettel's sixth-place finish gave him the title by a mere three-point margin.
After years of processional races, they seem to have gotten it right. They've got all four components of good racing – lots of very good drivers (many past champions and some talented rising stars), well-engineered cars that are closely competitive, passing and race strategy playing a big role in the outcome of the races.
The race strategy comes down to the spec tires. Pirelli has opted to provide tires that need to be up to temperature to work well, are somewhat fragile and which go off fairly quickly. So, despite the absence of the old danger-fraught refuelling pit stops, pit strategy – “Will it be a one-stopper or a two-stopper?” – has usually left the outcome of the race in doubt until the closing laps.
I know these recent developments have rejuvenated the interest of many flagging Formula One fans – not just me.
The new U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas seems to be the right place at the right time. We have seen too many American GPs suffer for lack of a decent race circuit and decent promotion. Austin looks like a world-class circuit, one of the best of the current style. For sure, this is an expensive race to attend, catering the Rolex set, but what modern Grand Prix does not fit this description. The rest of us may have to be content to watch from home on the telly.
With the inaugural Austin Grand Prix coming as part of this exciting 2012 season, they stand a good chance of bringing the first year sell-out crowd back again and building an actual F1 fan base in the Lone Star state. Let's hope that Austin can sustain its momentum and that the New Jersey Grand Prix (now scheduled for 2014) can be equally successful.
With only two or three F1 races in this hemisphere (and hence in midday viewing time frames here) Formula One will always have a hard job competing with the local product (i.e. NASCAR) but perhaps it's not too much to hope that we are entering a period of across-the-board good F1 racing supported by a solid fan base in Canada and the United States.