• 2012 championship challengers

A five horse race

ESPN Staff
August 9, 2012
Fernando Alonso leads the championship by 40 points © Press Association

Fernando Alonso

Points: 164
Previous titles: 2
Odds: 10/11

The season so far: Even if Alonso's championship campaign tanks over the next nine races, and there are no signs that it will, his first half of the season deserves its own little place in F1 history. Given a car that was completely unbalanced, lacking traction and slow on the straights at the start of the season, the Spaniard kept his head down and continued to drive at his best regardless. Even after his victory at a sodden Sepang there were few that thought the Ferrari was capable of winning in 'normal' circumstances, yet he is the only driver to have secured three race wins from the first eleven races.

Looking ahead: His position 40 points clear at the top of the championship is entirely deserved, but there have been signs that Ferrari is still a little off the pace of its rivals. Even after Alonso's victory in Germany, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said he was "concerned" by the strength of Ferrari's opponents. Alonso may be clear on points but he is going to have to work just as hard and continue to avoid DNFs if he is going to hold off the chasing pack all the way through to the final race in Brazil.

Mark Webber has his best chance since 2010 to win the title © Sutton Images

Mark Webber

Points: 124
Previous titles: 0
Odds: 12/1

The season so far: After some pretty average performances, it's something of a surprise to find Webber in second place in the championship. But when he has been on form he has made the most of it and when he hasn't he has, more often than not, taken 12 points for finishing fourth. There really is no knowing what kind of performance Webber will put in before each race, but on his favoured tracks he has shown strong pace and his performances are certainly closer to his 2010 form than the Webber of 2011.

Looking ahead: His performances so far this year bear a remarkable similarity to his 2010 season where he could have won the title had it not been for an accident in Korea. If he can continue to follow the 2010 pattern he stands a chance of closing the gap to Alonso and passing him, but he needs to put the disappointment of just eight points from the last two races behind him. The Red Bull is clearly one of the quicker cars, but Webber needs to make sure he stays on top of the way the developments alter the car's behaviour, because on a couple of occasions he has failed to match team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

Pole positions have been harder for Sebastian Vettel to come by in 2012 © Sutton Images

Sebastian Vettel

Points: 122
Previous titles: 2
Odds: 3/1

The season so far: One win from the first 11 races was not what Vettel or the rest of the paddock was expecting after pre-season testing. In 2011 he was consistently able to qualify on pole and run away with the races, but he has only been able to employ that tactic twice in 2012. The first occasion was in Bahrain, but even then he was hauled in by the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, and the second was in Valencia, although his race came to a premature end when his alternator packed in. It will also be interesting to see how important his dropped points for passing Jenson Button off the track in Germany prove to be.

Looking ahead: Red Bull found a significant improvement at the European Grand Prix thanks to a new exhaust layout at the rear of the car. Several other innovations have been knocked back by the FIA, but the general trend has been towards a car that is improving race on race and is especially effective in Vettel's hands. It will be no surprise if he returns from the summer break and closes in on Alonso and it's worth remembering that he was 24 points off the lead with five races remaining in 2010 and still won the championship.

Lewis Hamilton goes into the summer break with a win behind him © Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton

Points: 117
Previous titles: 1
Odds: 5/1

The season so far: It's never simple with Lewis Hamilton. At the start of the year it looked like McLaren had the quickest car but Hamilton couldn't match his team-mate Jenson Button. Yet Hamilton remained calm and picked up consistent results with three podiums in the first three races ... then things started to go wrong. A slip up in the pits cost him in Bahrain and then his car was underfuelled ahead of qualifying in Spain and he was sent to the back of the grid after comfortably securing pole position. He eventually won in Canada but at the very next race he lost a possible podium when Pastor Maldonado punted him off the track. Even a conservative estimation of the points lost in incidents that were out of his control amounts to a massive 54 (an extra 8 in Bahrain, an extra 21 in Spain, 12 in Europe, 12 in Germany), which would put him clear at the top of the standings. It could well be another case of what might have been for Hamilton.

Looking ahead: His victory in Hungary will keep him in the fight and the improved performance of the McLaren should be enough to give him the motivation to continue to fight at the front. But as the first half of the season has proved, Hamilton has a distinct ability to attract trouble and just one more DNF could spell the end of his championship challenge. He now needs to rediscover his consistent early-season form and then pounce on any victories that present themselves.

Kimi Raikkonen is in form but has yet to win a race © Sutton Images

Kimi Raikkonen

Points: 116
Previous titles: 1
Odds: 11/1

The season so far: Raikkonen has exceeded most people's expectations since his comeback at the start of the year, even if his first win with Lotus remains elusive. The signs are that it's not far away after five podiums in the first 11 races and arguably one of the best performances of any driver at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Raikkonen has shown that he can still produce spates of unadulterated speed when it's needed, although he has not yet found his form in qualifying. Nevertheless, no one can knock his motivation and his results this year rather put Michael Schumacher's comeback efforts in the shade.

Looking ahead: The news that Lotus's double DRS has made good progress in its first two outings should mean the car will have an extra boost in time for qualifying at Spa Francorchamps. Raikkonen has won on four of his last five visits to Spa so will be in contention for victory when the cars return to the track in September, and if he can pull it off he'll be right in the middle of the chasing pack behind Fernando Alonso. Lotus has shown impressive pace this year and multiple victories are a real possibility in the second half of the season. Raikkonen's title challenge must be taken seriously.