Hello! It’s back! Finally! I have been desperate to summarise the goings on in some of the UK’s and Europe’s most glamorous locations and preview the 2012 season, so here goes…
From Milton Keynes to Woking to Norfolk, a far cry from the glitz of Monaco, Valencia and Singapore but that is where the wonderful world of Formula 1 retreats to during the winter months to toil away on their 2012 chef-d’oeuvre behind closed doors.
We saw in late January (Caterham) and early February (everyone else apart from Marussia and HRT) what the 2012 challengers, that will compete in this 20 race season, will look like. On the whole the designs can only be described in a similar way to their places of origin: ugly.
There will be much debate, and has already been, about the technical rule change (aimed at improving safety) that has led to the variation in appearance for so many of the cars that will line up on the grid this year but one conclusion that can indubitably be reached is that the aesthetics have not been improved. I am going to park this issue for the time being as it is not one that I feel will enhance your enjoyment of this article. Instead a brief team-by-team summary of the goings on over the winter months, any clues about performance from pre-season testing and predictions for the coming year which I hope will enhance your enthusiasm to read on…
Just before I get embroiled in specifics, I would like you to think about the following as you read what the teams have been up to: Which teams are the innovators changing the face of F1, who has through the development of their car advanced our sport and finally who is maintaining their already established direction with minimal impact.
McLaren Constructors’ Prediction: 1st
It is hard to believe that McLaren haven’t won the Constructors’ Championship since 1998 and that hurts a team steeped in such a prestigious Formula 1 history. As a result they have invested heavily in team personnel including the appointment of Sam Michaels as Sporting director, a former Williams’ technical director and consequently their car has taken on a more traditional design this year.
It is the best looking car on the grid, without the unsightly “stepped” nose and they have scrapped the revolutionary ‘u-shaped’ side pods they ran last year as well as ‘narrowing’ and ‘tightening’ the rear bodywork to improve down force through the high speed corners, where they lost out so heavily to Red Bull in 2011. The results appear to have left the team in a very strong position and for me they have the best balance in their driver line-up with raw pace from Hamilton and consistent precision from Button, all that remains to be seen is which of those two can wrestle the F1 Drivers’ crown from Vettel.
Red Bull Constructors’ Prediction: 2nd
The design team that created the pace setting RB6 and RB7 in 2010 and 2011 is hardly likely not to have something inventive up their sleeve and already there are two obvious differences on their car. Firstly the “step” in their ugly nose has a hole in it. When quizzed Adrian Newey tried to convince the media it was simply for “driver cooling” – what happens when it rains Adrian? I can’t imagine the current World Champion being too happy with a moist crotch as he tries to negotiate eau rouge in the wet. Secondly, they bought a new chassis to the final test inBarcelona, which appears to have played with the exhaust exit…here we go again!
Red Bull are an excellent team and Vettel is without doubt the favourite for the World Championship this season but I don’t see good things for Webber again this year and hence they may have the Drivers’ Champion in their midst but not the Constructors’.
Ferrari & Mercedes Constructors’ Prediction: 3rd & 4th
Ferrari have made the most obvious technical changes to their 2011 car. They are running a push rod suspension system at both front and rear as well as some revolutionary aerodynamics to include a repositioning of the exhaust exit, which they had to abandon part way through winter testing. There is no doubt that Ferrari’s noticeable departure from their 2011 competitor has caused them problems in pre-season but with the undoubted talents of Fernando Alonso and the recruitment of former Bridgestone employee Hirohide Hamashima to improve the car’s relationship with the tyres; the prancing horse will still be popping up on the podium.
I made bold predictions about Mercedes at the end of the 2011 season, suggesting that we might see Nico Rosberg stepping up to the level that his talent certainly warrants but it doesn’t appear the team has made the progress with their car as they would have liked. Challenging for the World Championship is out of the question but I certainly think we will see another silver arrow on the podium this year and the battle between them and Ferrari will be fascinating, hence why I have grouped these two Constructors together.
Force India & Lotus Constructors’ Prediction: 5th & 6th
In my view this is one of the most exciting driver line-ups in 2012. Di Resta had a stellar rookie season, consistently out qualifying his vastly more experienced team mate and this year he is joined by Nico Hulkenberg whose last action in Formula 1 was to bung his vastly inferior car on pole at Interlagos in 2010 and then unfairly had to watch the 2011 season from the side-lines after being replaced by ‘money bags’ Maldonado at Williams. In terms of technical development ForceIndiahave continued on their 2011 path and feel that they will not be affected as much as the other teams by the ban on blown diffusers. The question is have they moved on enough to be challenging for podiums this year?
Now I know one should not pay too much attention to times posted in winter testing but Lotus have not only been quick they have also looked quick. A reinvigorated Kimi Raikkonen has the talent to return the famous black and gold livery to the podium, as Nigel Mansell did in the 1980’s and their reliability is far superior to what it was back then so if the team can keep the Iceman happy there is no reason why he can’t feature regularly in the top 6. Lotus tried to pioneer a ride height control system but this was banned by the FIA in its early stages of development and they encountered a fundamental chassis problem at the second winter test (which they had to abandon) but they appear to have taken both of these setbacks in their stride and look set for a competitive season.
Torro Rosso, Sauber & Williams Constructors’ Prediction 7th, 8th & 9th
Another very exciting driver line up at Torro Rosso as Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne go head to head for a seat in the 2013 (or possibly 2014) Red Bull. If I was to have a bet on Formula 1 it would be an each way gamble on Daniel Ricciardo in the 2013 World Champioship. The man’s class shone through whilst racing for the shambolic HRT and in a competitive car I think he will be the man leading this enthralling midfield battle.
Sauber got off to a flying start in 2011 with a 7th and 8th place finish in Melbourne, only later to be disqualified for a technical infringement and if you read anything into winter testing, they look quick again at the outset. I expect them to sprint out of the blocks and be competitive in the early part of the season but being a private Swiss based team they don’t have the resources to sustain this throughout the year. The departure of their Technical Director, James Key, 3 weeks before the start of the season cannot have aided their preparations.
There is a sense of a changing of the guard at Williams. Co-founder Patrick head has left the team after a 35 year association, Sir Frank Williams himself has given up his seat on the board but will continue as Team Principal and his daughter will replace him to keep the family name associated with the outfit. This was all prompted by a poor performance in 2011 and as a result Williams have made some big name signings in Mike Coughlan (formerly of McLaren – remember “spygate”) and Bruno Senna who has returned to the team where is uncle, Ayrton, last raced in Formula 1. I think these changes coupled with investment into the teams’ infrastructure will just prevent them from being overwhelmed by the new Caterham team.
Caterham Constructors’ Prediction: 10th
Caterham have made significant progress in the off-season on reliability and will run their 2012 challenger with the Red Bull KERS system in place, giving them approximately 0.5 seconds per lap, this will bunch them up into the midfield battle with Williams, Sauber and Torro Rosso. In addition in August 2012 the team will move from itsNorfolkbase to Leafield in Oxfordshire where they will have use of their own wind tunnel and enhanced facilities which will help to continue to develop their challenge in the latter part of the year.
HRT & Marussia Constructors’ Prediction: 11th & 12th
HRT have not made those landmark strides forward they predicted at the end of last season. The best thing about their 2012 car is the livery, which is very shiny but that combined with the fact they finished 11th in last year’s constructors championship by virtue of finishing more races than Virgin (now Marussia) is all that can be said for this backmarker. Ah yes, and they haven’t run their new car at any of the three winter tests.
Marussia will be propping up the grid again in 2012. One point of note is that they are the only team, other than McLaren, not to be running the ugly “stepped” nose. Oh, and how could I forget to mention that they only passed the 18th (of 18) crash test 1 week before the first practice session inMelbourne and hence have completed very few laps in their new car.
I’m sorry if I have rambled on and gone into too much detail but there has been a lot going on in the last 3 months. I hope you will all be up to watch the Melbourne Grand Prix which starts at 6am on Sunday morning but if you’re not and can’t watch the replay on BBC I might do a brief review of the race early next week. Oh, and finally, a bit of trivia for the enthusiasts: expect pit stops to be a little slower this year because the wheel guns will no longer be powered by helium gasses but Williams might still be quick having employed Michael Johnson’s (yes, the former 200m and 400m Olympic Champion) sports performance team to train their pit crew. Tell me something I don’t know.
by Al Ennever