Driver of the year
There’s no doubt this season has been a classic. Having six world champions on the grid has been immense – they’re two-a-penny, these world champions! I think it’s generally accepted, however, that there are three drivers ahead of the rest: Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Those three manage to outperform their cars almost every week. Fernando Alonso, in particular, has done an extraordinary job, while not even having the best car. Just compare his points tally with his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa, who has had the same fundamental opportunities.
Mistake of the year
I can understand exactly why Lewis Hamilton has looked around for alternatives. There’s no doubt about it: McLaren’s car problems have cost him a lot of races and the championship. He was being smooched very hard by Mercedes and had some powerful people in his ear suggesting that was the right way to go. Personally, I think he’s moved a year or two too early. He’s said he wants to make the Mercedes team great. Well, he could have made McLaren great. I’m confused by the rationale he’s given, though I can understand why he might want to look for pastures new.
Formula One is a fashion business – drivers go in and out of fashion very quickly. Teams are always looking for the next star. Sergio Perez is only 22 years old, but has shone at Sauber this season. He’ll be moving to McLaren next year to replace Lewis Hamilton. I can understand why he’s been given that opportunity, but now we’ll find out how good he really is. In a Sauber you can have races where you go on the missing list and nobody notices too much. At McLaren, you can’t.
Out with the old tracks, in with the new
Do I think that Formula One looks better coming from Delhi or Singapore compared to Magny-Cours or the Nürburgring? Frankly, yes, I do. I think it looks better for F1, the fans, the brand. It’s a bit uncomfortable at the same time, of course. These new circuits, as spectacular as they are – and they are quite supreme some of them – will never have the history and heritage of somewhere like Monza, Silverstone or Monaco. The drivers love a bit of peril, they want to challenge themselves against great corners like Copse and Beckett’s at Silverstone. Abu Dhabi is just perfection in terms of facilities, but it will never compete with seeing a car go through the Eau Rouge corner at Spa-Francorchamps, will it?
Bravest overtaking manoeuvre
I always look at the racing through a driver’s eyes. On the opening lap in India, the two McLarens of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were side by side with Alonso, and you would never have thought there’d be enough space for the three of them. The cars were interlinked, overlapped, yet somehow the drivers had the class to keep it nailed on the throttle without running into each other. You can never understand just how incredibly hard that is to do.
Grid walk of the year
I’ve been doing grid walks for more than 15 years now. They’re unique to motorsport – such a wild mixture of random people, celebrities and racing drivers. I mean, can you imagine me walking into the centre circle at Wembley before kick-off? I think I’d get pretty short shrift. Monaco was particularly crazy. I was about to talk to actor Michael Fassbender when I suddenly got doorstepped by Eric Clapton and Jools Holland. I had an orderly queue of A-listers!
Scariest thrill of the year
The first-lap crash in Spa when Romain Grosjean’s Lotus caused a multicar pile-up is deeply ingrained in my memory. What was a spectacular sporting moment could have been total tragedy. It could have taken Alonso’s hand or head off. It scares me and thrills me all at the same time. Those are the moments that turn the season on its head.
Looking ahead to 2013…
What made this season special was just how unpredictable the racing was. The first seven races had seven different winners; we never knew what would happen next. I’m very optimistic about 2013: the regulations are pretty static, and I can see the pack bunching even closer. I’m slightly concerned about 2014 when the new engines come in, but hey, let’s worry about that later. At the moment, we have Pirelli tyres, close competition, refined drag reduction system, changeable weather – all the ingredients for another great season.
Follow live practice at the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix from 12:45pm on SSF1 or 12:55pm on 5 Live Sports extra. Qualifying starts at 4pm on BBC1 and SSF1.