The Daytona 500 on February 14th (check out the Twitter feed for thoughts on that one) heralded the start of the motor racing season as far as Compton Grand Prix is concerned and as such I have been thinking a lot about writing a preview of the soon to start Formula 1 season.
First up, we should talk about the ‘Old Boys’. As most people will know by now, reigning Constructors Champions Brawn GP have been consumed by Mercedes-Benz to become the (deep breath) Mercedes Grand Prix Petronas Formula 1 Team and have managed to persuade Michael Schumacher to come out of retirement to partner Nico Rosberg. There isn’t much that can be said about Schumacher that hasn’t already been said, I do expect him to go well this year and I also expect him to coach Rosberg in the finer arts of being a modern F1 driver, something the young German definitely needs after largely under-performing at Williams for the last few years. That may seem a little harsh given that Williams has hardly been a front running team recently, but almost all of the times that Rosberg has been in the running for a podium place when the car hasn’t developed a problem he has managed to throw it away, this happened several times while he was with Williams, and it’s something that Schumacher can sort out – remember how he tamed fast-but-reckless Massa when at Ferrari? So far in pre-season testing the Mercedes GP W01 has been near the top of the timesheets, and we have yet to see the definitive Aero package that will be on the car in Bahrain, so expect them to be fighting for both championships.
Current Driver’s World Champion, Jenson Button, jumped ship from Brawn GP to McLaren during the winter to join fellow Englishman Lewis Hamilton. A lot of people have questioned whether this was a good idea considering Hamilton’s considerable talent and the Woking team’s ‘affection’ for him. Personally I think Button will be able to hold his own against Hamilton on the track, and could be good for the younger driver, who can be over-aggressive at times. How the team handle having the last two World Champions in their cars is another matter, but I do think as long as they both deliver on track – think Senna-Prost rather than Alonso-Hamilton – McLaren will not differentiate between them. The car seems fast and reliable in pre-season testing so don’t expect them to start the season at the back of the grid like last year!
Red Bull Racing finished as runners-up in both Championships last season and head into 2010 with the same driver line up of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Webber can be quick, but ever since he was at Williams I’ve felt there’s something about him that stops him being as good as he promised when he first made it into F1 (actually much like Rosberg). Vettel is a completely different kettle of fish, however, and is the team’s best chance of gaining the Driver’s Title in the evolutionary (rather than Revolutionary) RB6. Adrian Newey is one of the sports great designers, who has a history of turning last year’s near-winner into this year’s Champion (Mansell and Williams 1991-1992, Hakkinen and McLaren 1997-1998), and I really think Red Bull have a great shot at both titles this season.
The long-awaited Alonso and Ferrari partnership is also looking good, no one can deny that Alonso is one of the best drivers in F1 (if they do then they are frankly stupid) and the Ferrari looks to be the class of the field in pre-season testing, but you do have to wonder about the team’s fondness of a certain young and very fast Brazilian – will Alonso-Massa turn sour like Alonso-Hamilton?
As anyone who knows me will know, Williams F1 are my team, and the driver line up of Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenburg excites me for the first time since Juan Pablo Montoya was at the team with the less than inspiring Ralf Schumacher as his team-mate! Hulkenburg dominated A1GP for Germany back in 2006/07 and I said at the time it would only be a matter of time before he was in F1. I’m very happy he has moved into a Williams race seat after being 3rd driver last season whilst he concentrated on winning the GP2 championship. I was quite critical of Barrichello last year, not getting the best out of the car early season and throwing hissy fits wasn’t ideal when his team-mate was dominating and all smiles. I thought his time was up, but he turned it around mid-season and finished the year out performing the man who won the Driver’s title. He is the perfect foil to Hulkenburg’s youth and inexperience, and will hopefully coach the young German into being an unstoppable force (not that he’ll need much help!). The Williams FW32 has looked fast in pre-season, especially on low fuel, so I expect to see them qualify well, but whether they can keep up during the races remains to be seen.
Scuderia Toro Rosso retain the same Drivers as last year in Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Algesuari – neither of whom have set F1 alight – but for the first time have had to design and build their own car from the ground up rather than getting the plans from Red Bull Technologies and building a Red Bull knock-off. Obviously I don’t expect them to be making it out of Q2 too often.
Now largely owned by ‘Venture Capitalists’ Renault remain in F1 after an uncertain winter. Lead Driver is Robert Kubica, who is faster than the Renault deserves, his team-mate is Vitaly Petrov who will be the first Russian F1 driver when he starts the season. He finished second to Hulkenburg in GP2 last season, so could be one to watch in the coming years.
Force India will be hoping that Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi can carry on the teams form from the second half of last year, and although not quite able to compete at the same talent level as the very best
both are more than competent of hustling an F1 car round a circuit, providing the car is up to the job. Expecting regular points finishes, mainly from Sutil.
Last of the ‘Old Boys’ is almost a new boy, only on the grid due to Toyota’s decision to leave the sport, BMW Sauber (yes, even though BMW have pulled out of the sport the team hasn’t requested to change the official name of it’s entry) have employed the McLaren reject Pedro de la Rosa and promising talent Kamui Kobyashi. I don’t rate de la Rosa very highly, if he was any good he would have had a permanent race seat at McLaren, instead the Spanish cheat (he was involved the Spy Gate affair that cost McLaren $100 million) sat on the sidelines for years, only getting a race when Juan Pablo Montoya injured himself and when the Colombian decided to defect to NASCAR mid-season. He will bring knowledge and experience to the team, and hopefully that will help them develop the car for Kobyashi to hit the points occasionally. I don’t see a Brawn-like season ahead for the former Manufacturer team – mid-field at best.
My favourite of the ‘New Boys’ is purely down to the fact it’s the return of the legendary Lotus name to F1! Yes I know it’s funded by the Malaysians, but so are the Lotus road cars these days, so it’s still a ‘real’ Lotus in theory. That may seem like clutching at straws to some, but let’s face it, there hasn’t been a ‘real’ Lotus in F1 since the death of Colin Chapman in 1982. Having proven race winners Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli line up as the driving team is a good call, Kovalainen needs a good team to look after him having not had the best from his times at Renault and Mclaren. Trulli may be considered as past it, but he will bring a wealth of experience to the team – and possibly some blistering qualifying performances to grab some headlines. Have been a few seconds off the top teams pace in pre-season, but Technical Director Mike Gascoyne has said the car is heavier than it could be due to the short time frame the team have had to work in, but this will be sorted throughout the season.
Virgin Racing are the only other of the new entrants to make pre-season testing, and although their first outing was beset by hydraulic problems, they have got a lot of laps in. Roughly at the same pace of Lotus their car was designed purely on computer with no wind tunnels used during it’s design process – a first for F1. Former GP2 Champion and Toyota F1 driver Timo Glock heads the driver line up with Lucass Di Grassi making the step up to F1 after several years not winning the GP2 Championship! It’s between them and Lotus for best of the newcomers in the Championship.
The two other teams that won their 2010 entries after a system of checks and ‘due diligence’ by the FIA are Campos Meta and USF1 and neither have made pre-season testing, in fact USF1 have reportedly enquired if they can defer their entry until 2011, they have Jose Maria Lopez under contract as one of their drivers, and recently it has been reported that James Rossiter had also signed a contract to drive for the team although no official word on this is forthcoming. Lopez showed a lot of promise in GP2 in 2006 and I expected to see him in F1 before now – although as yet he may not make it. Campos Meta have officially only signed one driver, Bruno Senna, but they have the one that brings the publicity and a good history of being fast. Even though Campos Meta have yet to make the grid or display a car they have already undergone a change in ownership to ensure they do make the race at Bahrain, Dallara are the company charged with building the Campos car and have apparently received a batch of Cosworth engines to install into the chassis so now we wait to see if a car materialises as it should this week according to reports.
On the periphery of the F1 circus lies Stefan GP who failed to make the cut during the FIA’s ‘due diligence’ process even though they now have containers in Bahrain that hold a supply of spare parts for the cars they have bought from the now defunct Toyota F1 team. They have been maiking a lot of noise about being ready to race should USF1 or Campos Meta not make it, and have apparently Jaques Villeneuve lined up to drive alongside Williams refugee Kazuke Nakajima if shown the green flag. I can’t see them being allowed to race, as it would show that – along with the debacle of USF1 – the FIA failed with their process of choosing the right teams, however Bernie Ecclestone is apparently behind efforts to get them on the grid, and Eddie Jordan believes they will be on the grid in Bahrain.
Personally I am pleased to see the back of refuelling at pit-stops, it led to less passing on track as teams and drivers would wait until the person in front pitted to floor it and hope they would come out from their stop in front. With only the tyres being changed we should see see the stops only taking about three seconds so more on track passing should hopefully happen! Now we just need to get rid of the stupid two compound per race tyre rule and the rule that states that the top ten qualifiers start the race on the tyres they qualified with to make it almost, but not quite, perfect – after all those rules are only there to ensure Bridgestone get some TV/radio time.
Only time will tell who actually makes the grid, and who will be competitive, but I think we are in for the most exciting season since, well, last year!