Victor R. Caivano/AP/Press Association Images

F1 Report Card: Invincible Vettel streets ahead of the chasing pack

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull set the world alight as Formula 1 remembers one of its fallen heroes…

FORMULA 1 HAS always been divisive.

Motorsport enthusiasts speak of the ability and passion of drivers, the expertise of design teams and the adrenaline that being up close to some much power and noise brings. People with little time for it, on the other hand, will debate whether F1 can even be considered a sport and point to the millions and millions of euro spent by teams each year.

Hollywood has failed miserably to capture Formula One’s essence. That is until the release of Asif Kapadia’s ‘Senna’ documentary last year, which took on a whole new life of its own through 2011. It is perhaps fitting then in a year where a great young talent continued to find his feet in the sport, the movie business would finally realise that the best way to portray the sport is through reflecting it as it really is.

Driver of the Year: Sebastian Vettel

Clearly only one winner here – the new double world champion. Having claimed his first title by just four points in 2010, this past season was a completely different story.

Starting as he would continue to race throughout the year, Vettel was in impressive form at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix – coming home 22 seconds ahead of rival Lewis Hamilton – and once he re-established his car’s credentials at the next outing in Malaysia, there was little doubt that he was the man to beat.

Few could have predicted what followed, however. Vettel was utterly dominant despite the efforts of a number of teams. He became the youngest ever double world champion in winning his second title and was the youngest driver to score what’s known as a Grand Chelem (pole, race victory, fastest lap and leading the event for every lap) at the Indian Grand Prix.

The records didn’t stop there though. He set new markers for Most Championship points earned in a season (392 points), Most front row starts in a season (18), Most pole positions in a season (15), Most laps led (739) and Most wins from pole in a season (9).

Those stats sat nicely alongside 11 Grand Prix wins and for those about to argument that he had the fastest car so all he needed to do was keep his Red Bull on the road, check out this overtaking move at the Italian Grand Prix. After all, drivers can only race what’s in front of them…

YouTube credit: Raikkonen7301

Team of the Year: Red Bull

Gone are the gremlins that destroyed the team’s title challenge in 2009 and in its place are an organised, hard-working outfit which is prepared to go to every length to give their drivers an advantage. Besides Vettel and Mark Webber, key personnel include car designer Adrian Newey and team boss Christian Horner. The rest of the grid will have to raise standards considerably in 2012 to compete with Red Bull, as there’s no reason we won’t get more of the same from the 2011 Constructors’ champions next year.

Race of the Year: Canada

This race had everything – excitement, overtaking, last-minute action. Unfortunately, the biggest factor was rain! A two-hour delay because of heavy downpours in the Montreal area meant that the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix was the longest ever in the history of the sport at just over four hours long.

The event began under Safety Car conditions and once the track dried a little, Vettel was able to establish a decent advantage – having held off early attacks from his closest rivals on the grid.

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton clashed on lap seven (YouTube credit: 86Destruction), ending the latter’s involvement, and the arrival of the Safety Car out on track following that clash allowed Button switch to Intermediate tyres and make up some lost ground.

More rain led to a red flag on lap 25 and when the action resumed, racing fans were treated to some wonderful driving from Michael Schumacher, who has always excelled in wet conditions in the past. It, genuinely, was another lesson in driving from the German and a much-longed for return to form for the seven-time champion.

As the track began to dry further, Schumacher was hunted down and passed by quicker rivals and it was Button that eventually mounted a serious challenge to Vettel’s position at the front of the field. The reigning champion had been almost faultless to that point of the championship but, under pressure from the McLaren, he drifted slightly off the racing line on the final lap of the race – handing victory to Button and showing the world that he’s still human.

YouTube credit: MrTurboPaule

Overtaking move of the Year: Mark Webber on Fernando Alonso

Drivers and fans alike will often talk about Eau Rouge, one of the most feared and loved corners on Formula 1′s calendar. Respect then to any driver who dares to overtake someone on the run down to Spa Francorchamps’ best-known element, never mind a two-time world champion (Fernando Alonso) driving a Ferrari. Don’t blink around the 13 second mark or you’ll miss it.

YouTube credit: alexmolchan

Spat of the Year: Lewis Hamilton & Felipe Massa

Every sport needs a good rivalry and Formula 1 has always been at its most popular when two (or more) of its racers are at each other’s throats. No doubt frustrated by their own lack of success on the track, this year’s most interesting verbals occurred between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.

Fill in on some of the background here but the on-track crashes and exchanges came to a head in Singapore when Massa had a few choice words to say to his counterpart in the media paddock. They appear to have kissed and made up since, but we won’t hold our breathes…

YouTube credit: Superocean2011

Rookie of the Year: Paul di Resta

A decent first year in the relatively-competitive Force India, there is plenty more to come from this Scot. Sixth at the Singapore Grand Prix was his season’s highlight and he ended up 13th in the Drivers’ Championship with 27 points.

YouTube credit: Formula1Arab

What’s to look forward to in 2012?

Despite Vettel’s dominance in the championship, the rule changes introduced at the beginning of 2011 did lead to better racing over the entire season. DRS has proved interesting, even if a final verdict remains under review for the time being.

McLaren would hope to have Lewis Hamilton back at the top of his game next year – he is, perhaps, the man best placed to challenge Vettel along with Fernando Alonso – but as Jenson Button’s performances showed, the team’s 2011 car wasn’t all that bad in spite of the Briton’s frustrations.

2012 will see the return of Kimi Raikkonen to Formula 1. With one title to his name, the Finn’s comeback is hardly on the scale of Schumacher’s but he was always proved entertaining and is a talented driver. As the man Raikkonen replaced at Ferrari has demonstrated though, it won’t be easy.

READ - The casting couch: here’s who would play who in ‘2011 – The Sports Movie’

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