F1 » 19 January 2012
Hill tips Vettel, Button, Hamilton as title contenders
Damon Hill has followed the general trend when it comes to picking likely F1 world champions for 2012.
Damon Hill may be expected to come out with a few more radical thoughts as Sky Sports' new pundit, but can be excused for not veering too far from a well-trodden path when it comes to predicting likely F1 world champions for 2012.
Despite claiming at the time of his announcement as the newest member of Sky's F1 team that the sport was the most competitive it has ever been, Hill still plumped for previous champions Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button as the most likely to take the crown in 2012. Indeed, the German will start the year as favourite in Hill's eyes, with the two McLaren drivers the most likely spoilers if he is to be denied a rare title hat-trick.
"My hunch is [the main opposition] is going to be from McLaren," Hill told journalists, "Although they are different styles of drivers, Jenson has matured into his place in McLaren and seems to be suited to these technical regulations and the tyres. Perhaps Lewis is going to have do some work on that, [but] I think it will be one of those three that will finish as world champion."
There will be no fewer than six current or former champions on the grid in 2012 - the most ever - and Hill reckons that that will make the title harder to win, even if he is not considering the likes of Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso among his list of contenders. Throw in the possible threat of race winners such as Mark Webber and Felipe Massa, as well as coming man Nico Rosberg, and it is clear that there is potential for points to be widely distributed at the front of the field.
"The drivers in the top teams are there because of their experience and talent – you don't get near to those drivers unless you are very, very good," he acknowledged, before reflecting positively on the latest additions to the grid, "The new guys coming through have been put through more of a test than the drivers in the past. Jenson went straight from F3 to F1, now these guys are spending time in GP2 and DTM. These guys are tested before they even get to F1."
Button finished the 2011 campaign as runner-up to Vettel, who followed his surprise snatching of the 2010 title by romping to a second crown by more than 100 points. Although there are some noticeable tweaks to the rulebook for the coming year, Red Bull is expected to start the year as favourite, with Adrian Newey likely to have reworked the RB6-RB7 evolutions into a competitive RB8, while McLaren and Ferrari continue to play catch-up. Of course, opposition could come from an unexpected source, with Mercedes and Lotus F1 the most likely candidates to take a step forward, but Hill hopes that the Woking concern can do its bit to push Britain's finest towards a title shot.
"It is important that we have two British guys at the top, [so] what we need now is a little more speed from McLaren," he noted, "They need to have that spark of inspiration they seem to have at Red Bull, [but] we will [have to] hold our breath because we don't know what they have been up to during the winter."
Hill also called on Hamilton to regain the sort of focus that made him such a determined competitor in the first four years of his F1 career. Well-documented off-track issues deflected the 2008 champion's attention away from racing, leading to a mix of below-par performances and unnecessary on-track skirmishes that resulted in him appearing before the stewards at many of the 19 rounds. The 2011 campaign was the first in which he was beaten by a team-mate, as he trailed Button in fifth place overall.
"My view of Lewis is that he's starstruck," Hill, the 1996 champion, claimed, "It was a bit of a transition stage for him last year, and I think it affected his concentration on F1. I am sure that he would have worked that out by now and he'll be able to be 100 per cent on the job.
"It seemed it was almost easier for Jenson last year. Lewis can see that someone who has got stability in their life can concentrate on their career. I think he would have learnt from that. He will be the first to admit that he had some distractions last season, but he is learning all the time and is an intelligent boy. We need to remember that he has had an unusual life, [but] he's had time to take stock [of what happened in 2011] and we'll see how he pans out this year."
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