Will Gray

Year in Review: Victorious Vettel

We are asking all of our experts to give us their picks of 2012. Here Will Gray reviews the year in Formula 1.

Best race: Brazilian Grand Prix

So many races stand out this season: the nail-biter in Spain as Pastor Maldonado won for Williams; Fernando Alonso’s victory on home ground from 11th in Valencia; and Kimi Raikkonen’s return to the top in Abu Dhabi. But the title showdown in Brazil had drama for the two title contenders, spins, crashes, comebacks, retirements, rain and a three-way battle for the lead. Not just the race of the season, but one of the best in years.

Best moment: F1, Texas style

After concerns that the track would not be ready, the promoters would run out of money and the fans would not turn up to F1, Texas got it, and loved it. Pirelli’s switch from podium caps to wide-brimmed Texan Stetsons just demonstrated the spirit of the event. A triumph for F1 and maybe, just maybe, the sport finally has a place in the US to call home.

Funniest moment: Kimi Raikkonen’s Christmas Party

Lotus found comedy gold in Kimi Raikkonen when the Finn couldn’t make the team Christmas party because of the FIA awards ceremony. They put together this video showing that the Finn is actually up for a laugh – and proving that the straight man in a comedy act often delivers the funniest moments.

Best Driver: Sebastian Vettel

Lewis Hamilton was outstanding in qualifying and Alonso got more out of a bad car than anyone in races, but champion Vettel narrowly surpassed them because he handled so many different situations so well this season. He collected points and did not criticise when Red Bull struggled for pace; he had a handle on team-mate Mark Webber throughout; and when he had the car to do the job he quickly got back to his 2011 vintage.

Biggest Surprise: Kimi Raikkonen

When Kimi Raikkonen's name hit the rumour mill few could have imagined the impact he would have this year. After two years away in rallying and US racing, his return with Lotus was a gamble. But the relationship clicked and not only was he fast, focused and competitive, the team managed to step up a level too. His consistency was impressive - he finished every race - and it was only a matter of time before that victory finally came in Abu Dhabi.

Worst Moment: Maria de Villota testing crash

In a great season, there were actually quite a lot of bad moments. On the track, Romain Grosjean’s miscalculation that resulted in the first-lap wipe-out at the Belgian Grand Prix – and almost took Fernando Alonso’s head out – was one of the scariest crashes we’ve had for a while. But away from races, Maria de Villota losing her eye in a testing accident with Marussia was even more horrendous.

Biggest Disappointment: Williams

The return to Renault power was heralded as a chance for Williams to bring back former glories and the car was quick out of the box. When Maldonado won in Spain, the signs suggested a strong season but their return to form faded almost as quickly as it came. They could not keep pace with development and ended up down the wrong end of the midfield.

Unsung Heroes

When the Williams garage erupted in flames just after they had won the Spanish Grand Prix, it could have been a tragic disaster as the entire team were inside taking celebration photos. But the incident showed how F1’s community comes together in a crisis and among the unsung heroes who saved lives was a Sky cameraman who dragged members of the team to safety and Maldonado, who rescued his cousin Manuel on piggyback.

Who to look out for in 2013: Lewis Hamilton and Vergne/Ricciardo

A big name, but a big change; many people have already written off Mercedes-bound Hamilton for 2013. It was a big gamble to end his long-term relationship with McLaren and the move was based on better financial terms and expectations that manufacturer-backed teams will prosper with new rules in 2014. Even he admits he's not expecting wonders in his first year - but Ross Brawn’s team could get a new lease of life to prove the doubters wrong. Further down the grid, French star Jean Eric Vergne and Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo are worth watching – as both are looking to impress enough to secure a place with top team Red Bull Racing in 2014.

Best innovation: Red Bull diffuser

Red Bull tried all year to get their innovative diffuser to work, and eventually they got it spot on. Typically a diffuser is fed by air coming under the floor, but when the car gets too low to the ground it can start to stall and lose downforce. On the Red Bull, two tunnels were added around the rear of the sidepods to feed more air in, prevent stall and maintain consistency. That allowed a bigger rear wing with double DRS and enabled Vettel to set the car up with oversteer and use a heavy foot to blow exhaust air through the diffuser to counter it. It took a while, but when they finally got it, they were unstoppable.