Car launches and pre-season testing mean that Formula1 fans have much F1 action to enjoy before the season officially starts in Bahrain with the first GP of the 2011 season.
However, last week has been abuzz with a host of car launches and pre-season testing. (Why Is Testing Important In F1 2011)
A summary of the launches:
- Ferrari: They beat all the other teams to the line by launching their car a few days prior to the others. The F150 has been hailed to be a ‘championship winning’ car and Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo has called upon the team members to go for victory in 2011. Emotions aside, Ferrari’s pre-season performance will be important. They’ve not enjoyed the best of starts to their F1 season in the last few years. Though they have managed to crawl back and fight for wins as the season progressed, their Achilles heel has been early season performance. (Kimi, Massa and Alonso staged remarkable comebacks to launch their championship bid late in 2007, 2008 and 2010). The other important aspect will be the management changes that the team has undergone. Will their strategy department improve and help them win races via some smart work in the pit lane?
- Sauber: They launched their 2011 challenger, the C30 a few days after Ferrari. The team is now renamed to ‘Sauber Motorsport’ and will use Ferrari engines. A few notable things about Sauber: first has to be their survival; BMW pulled the plug, but Peter Sauber still managed to hold fort and survive in Formula1. Second was the find of Kamui Kobayashi, his drive in 2010 was something that the fans and the team cheered too. Sergio Perez is a pay driver, but I guess the team does need funds as it is seeking financial stability. The notable is the appointment of James Key as their ‘Technical Director’ last year. Key arrived from Force India F1 Team and played a key role in the mid-season development of the BMW Sauber Ferrari car. I am hoping that Key develops a car that allows Kobayashi to showcase his potential and brings about a Sauber revival.
- Lotuses: Both Lotus teams are fighting for the brand ‘Lotus’ – one claiming rights over the other. However, I think fans will only side with the team that performs better. My gut feeling is that Lotus Renault GP will outperform Team Lotus Racing. Lotus Renault GP’s front side exhaust has created much interest in the other teams in the pit lane though its exact benefits wait to be seen. If it does possess a clear advantage, I don’t see why the other teams won’t be able to ‘copy’ it before the opening GP in Bahrain. Interestingly, Lotus Renault GP have a plethora of reserve and test drivers – Roman Grosjean, Fairuz Fauzy and Bruno Senna have been announced as their ‘third drivers’ for the season. For Senna, this signing does seem like a lifeline after finding no takers for himself post his 2010 stint with HRT. However, the role of these drivers still needs to be defined. As for the other Lotus, they’ve stuck with their ‘green and yellow’ livery and thankfully we don’t have 4 cars looking the same for 2011. They have stuck with their 2010 driver line-up and the team is hoping that there is a step up from their 2010 performance. Karun Chandhok was spotted in a Team Lotus Racing jacket a few days back. I hope he gets a lifeline too by getting appointed as their reserve driver. (Where Will Karun Chandhok Be In F1 2011?) The Tony Fernandes led team is targeting 7th place on the grid!
- Red Bull Racing: The RB7 was launched in the pit lane in Valencia and is already expected to be a ‘race winning’ car. Adrian Newey’s brilliance was visible in some different wing designs as compared to the other teams. With a solid driver combo in Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber the team will clearly have two important tasks cut out for 2011. First, get their KERS to work and well. In 2009, Red Bull chose not to use KERS and hence they are relatively inexperienced with the revolutionary energy recovery system. Ferrari, Mclaren and Mercedes, being car manufacturers have enough experience with KERS and Red Bull will have to ensure that they master the system and its usage right from the start of the 2011 F1 season. Second, driver egos and clashes – Vettel and Webber claimed to have called truce to their 2010 clashes. However, if both drivers at the front are Red Bull drivers, I doubt if the truce will remain intact. More importantly, I hope Christian Horner and the team does a better job in handling them.
- Mercedes GP: The Silver Arrow MPG W02 car launch images were leaked on the
internet a few days prior to the official launch.Whether this was purposely done is something we will never know. However, what we do know is that 2011 will be a very important year for Mercedes. They not only have to please the Board of Directors who agreed to invest their millions in Formula1, but also need to ensure that Michael Schumacher drives them to victory. While both the drivers have hailed the car as ‘different’ from its predecessor, their pre-season form will be important and followed by most other teams. Will Schumacher drive them to glory the way he drove the Scuderia?
- Scuderia Toro Rosso: The Italian-based team launched their STR6 in Valencia.
The Red Bull ‘B’ Team as they are called have the unique distinction of having won a GP before the ‘works’ team. They have retained the services of Jamie Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi for 2011 and their biggest challenge would be to establish themselves as a reliable and consistent mid-grid team. Their nearest competition will be WilliamsF1, Sauber and Force India – all teams that made remarkable improvement in 2010. Whether they will be starting with the KERS system is unknown yet, but I am hoping that their deal with Ferrari includes engines and their KERS.
- WilliamsF1: One of the most successful privateer teams in Formula1 launched the FW33 with interim livery in Valencia. The team has retained services of Rubens Barrichello
and replaced Nico Hulkenberg with GP2 Winner Pastor Maldonado. The car was described as ‘aggressive’ by Barrichello and the team will be powered by Cosworth engines while making their gearbox in-house. Rumour also has it that the Williams gearbox is best suited with the Cosworth engines. (This is also why HRT will be using Williams gearboxes). The WilliamsF1 team will be using a KERS system made by Williams Hybrid Power. While the team was developing a fly-wheel based KERS system, they will use the battery based system in 2011. The team had a stern fight to beat the Force India Formula1 team to 6th place in 2010. They are hopeful that the 2011 will have better fortunes for them and their car would be capable of a fight at the top of the grid.
- Mclaren: The team from Working launched their car in Berlin in an innovative fashion. Mechanics rolled the car
and then assembled the body work in front of the public. The engine cover, sidepods, tyres were put together like a jigsaw puzzle much to amusement of the crowd present. The MP4-26 appeared sleek in design and had some notable changes in body work. The sidepods seem much sleeker and appear lower and were carved in an interesting L-shape. The airbox appeared to have two intakes, with one behind the traditional intake and its use is yet to be ascertained. Mclaren are in a situation of transition with Mercedes dis-investing its stake from the racing team. With two F1 World Championships in their driver line-up, I think Mclaren are best poised to challenge Red Bull Racing for overall supremacy.
Force India F1 Team ran the first of the pre-season tests in Valencia with upgraded 2010 cars and have delayed their car launch to a later date. The VJM04 will be announced in Jerez on 8th February. (Are delayed car launches a disadvantage in Formula1?) Marussia Virgin will launch their car on 7th February and HRT will be introducing their car during the Bahrain tests in March.
Pre-season testing analysis will follow tomorrow.
photo Alex Comerford