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A View From Down Under

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Rather than writing a full review I thought I would do a round up from Melbourne as I suspect most of our readers watched the race.

After a couple of difficult Free Practice sessions it was interesting to see that the McLaren’s had the outright qualifying pace. It has been documented that Jenson Button made a mistake on his flying lap and still was only a tenth of Hamilton highlighting the speed he had.

It was surprising to see Red Bull not deliver, Vettel made an uncharacteristic error along with Webber having no KERS. It is evident that the car is quick though even without KERS.

Shock and delight rolled in to one for position three. Romain Grosjean showing the magnificent work the Lotus team has done over the winter. The Enstone based team shook the entire field with the Frenchman’s lap, not least Mercedes.

Mercedes backed up their pace from winter testing with fourth position from Michael Schumacher.

Early hours in Europe and bleary eyed race fans were rolling out of the bed in anticipation for the first race of the season. Jenson Button won the McLaren battle in turn one after making a not so great start himself, but his team mates was even worse. The early pace from Button and the McLaren had shades of Red Bull from last year.

The unfortunate Grosjean went out early doors after a collision with Pastor Maldonado, the Venezuelan keen to show his ability immediately in 2012 trying to silence his critics. An early shower was also required for Michael Schumacher after hydraulic issues plagued him in to turn one where Vettel would capitalise.

Safety car out and the pack is closed up, Petrov’s Caterham grinded to a halt on the start/finish straight. Quick thinking McLaren pits their cars back to back but due to regulations they had to meet a specific delta behind the safety car gifting second position to Vettel.

Ferrari’s poor winter testing had gone from bad to worse in Qualifying but the skill, talent and ability of Fernando Alonso allowed him to greatly improve on his qualifying position in the race but he was hunted ferociously by Maldonado in a Williams that has some very encouraging pace about it.

Sauber’s regular vendettas towards the top echelons of the field in the early season were prominent again as both Perez and Kobayashi secured top ten finishes. Perez again only doing one stop in Melbourne this time though thankfully both cars not disqualified unlike 2011.

After the restart Button showed his raw pace again and from the sounds of his race engineer had plenty in reserve in terms of engine mix. Button drove a faultless race and looks to be in a very good position for the season. He appears settled and has little pressure on him as it is expected that Hamilton will beat him.

It is clear to see Hamilton is still not at one with this current era of Formula 1. If refuelling was still here and he could get rid of the tyres then arguably he would be controlling the McLaren. Currently he is not as there are underlying issues that he still is currently unhappy with. Red Bull is still an option at the end of the season with Webber likely to leave. Hamilton appeared to be more surprised at Button’s pace than his own.

After a wonderful race for Williams hearts sank as Maldonado crashed off of Turn 8 spearing in to the wall on the final lap. The Williams showed awesome pace and Maldonado was on to pass Alonso for fifth position, so unlucky for the team from Grove.

What have we learnt?

McLaren have built a very good car and the drop nose has little to no effect as it has been stated recently it is more what goes on at the rear of the car than the front.

Red Bull has a little bit of work to do but they are there and they will be challenging with both drivers and Webber looks to step his game up to Vettel.

Sauber looks to have a built a good car but it will need continued season development to secure a good championship finish.

Ferrari has issues. It has been reported that Stefano Domenicali and technical director Pat Fry both flew back to the team’s Maranello factory on Monday for an emergency meetings.

Lotus need a competitive race run at the front and not from the rear. Therefore it will be easier to call after Malaysia.

Toro Rosso surprise package and both Vergne and Ricciardo look closely matched on pace, like Sauber will need a full season of development.

Force India lucky with a point. Race pace is required as it lacked in comparison to testing.

Mercedes need to work on degradation but signs are that they have a good car.

Williams nearly were on for one of their best results in a few seasons just a slight mistake from Maldonado cost the team a sixth place finish. Commitment required from the team to update it but potential surprise package of the season.

Marussia finally got some running and Glock performed well, Pic had issues but clear that the car needs work.

Caterham will be disappointed. Car did not show a great deal of pace and reliability has hindered them.

HRT. Little to say, hugely disappointing but it is expected when you change 80% of the team members.

Formula 1 2012 Preview (Part 2)

March 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Force India – Questions have surrounded the team due the financial issues Kingfisher are having, Vijay Mallya’s airline. It would appear that it is only that side of his wealth that is struggling and as of the moment not affecting the team. Sahara India Pariwar, became co-owner of the team with an investment of $US 100 million. The team since has been renamed Sahara Force India. This could be vital the teams longevity. Force India has had an encouraging winter test with some very competitive times elevating them in to the dizzy heights of top of the tree on a few days and tyre degradation seems solid on the VJM05.

Paul di Resta – Enters his second season of Formula 1 have an impressive opening campaign. Coming off the back of solid races and beating his more experienced team mate at the time, along with qualifying sixth at Silverstone it was a great 2011 for the Scot. 2012 is di Resta’s time to really shine. Now knowing all the tracks, the team and what he wants from the car he will have to lead this season.

Nico Hülkenberg – I for one am extremely pleased to see ‘The Hulk’ back in Formula 1. He had a testing period at Williams even after a sensational pole position in Brazil in wet conditions. I have watched Hulkenberg since A1GP and always thought he was a star and he star is set to rise again this year. Massively looking forward to seeing him drive again and I think he will give di Resta a run for his money.

Overall Verdict – Positive signs after uncertainty with finances and with two very sharp and quick drivers I think they could boost each other to push themselves and lift themselves to the echelons of the “big three”. Quietly confident, I would call Force India.

Lotus – Just one Lotus name and livery for fans to contest this year thankfully. Working out of the factory at Enstone, the Lotus team sprung a wonderful surprise in bringing back 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. This is a massive coo for the team and from winter testing can clearly see it has fully motivated and galvanized the squad after the Briatore era. Huge issues surrounded the car at the second test where the mount points for suspension had damaged the chassis. This required the team to close the doors and fly the chassis back to England. Much speculation surrounded if the problem was worse but the team worked flat out and got it back for the final test. Very impressive times coming from the team and a real prospect for making Ferrari sweat in the early races.

Kimi Räikkönen – The Iceman returns to Formula 1 after a couple of years out driving a Citroen in WRC. There is no doubt he is straight to the point with the media but his honesty makes him an incredible character to have around the paddock. A driver that has quite an aggressive style and likes to express himself more on the track than off it. Good thing.

Romain Grosjean – GP2 champion graduates back to the big time and ironically back to the same team. Under the Briatore era, Grosjean did not fit in well and the time away has done him a world of good. In pre-season interviews I do not think I have ever seen a grin wider than his. He is very happy about being back in Formula 1 and has good speed that could challenge Raikkonen.

Overall Verdict – The driver pairing are likely to spur each other this season and want to impress from the outset. With drives coming up in 2013, Raikkonen will want to put himself in the shop window if an opportunity arises. Boullier appears to have created a solid team around him at Enstone and will want to make sure development continues throughout the season.

Mercedes – Now with the AMG brand joining them the German outfit will want a big improvement on last season. Both drivers are retained but another season like last and they may not be around long. They have gone through significant personnel changes bringing in Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis to name but two. Ross Brawn has clearly set out his intentions for this year and it is apparent to see that the team are making strides. Some stunning times in pre-season has left Red Bull and McLaren more than looking over their shoulders. Initial times indicate that Mercedes has the quickest car but gets through its tyres sharpish also.

Michael Schumacher – No longer the oldest man on the grid and a man striving for success. Troublesome two years has led to Michael’s final year of his contract without a win or a podium. His current demeanour suggests that he is a kid a Christmas. He believes he may have the tools to be able to push for podiums this year and this excites him greatly, along with many fans.

Nico Rosberg – The most points man without a victory. Successive years of great qualifying, stuttering race pace at times and pretty boy looks has left many questioning him. Rosberg was significantly better in qualifying last year but was often close if not beaten by Schumacher. His consistency in 2012 may need to be lifted before he sees the top step of the podium. Personally I think he has a little more to prove yet.

Overall verdict – Mercedes are oozing potential but they really have to kick off the season well and give Schumacher and Rosberg a car that they can translate it to results. The management, drivers, all now fit together. The race results are the biggest key for this season. Get it right, they will challenge Red Bull. Get it wrong, they could fall to the clutches of Lotus.

Ferrari – Something has gone wrong at Ferrari. Wonderful success with Todt/Byrne/Brawn/Schumacher has led to the Maranello team questioning the staff’s ability and whether they have got the “radical design” right. Testing would indicate not. Flashes of speed met with unknowns of why the car is behaving the way it is. Ferrari just seems to be all at sea. A pointless media blackout in Barcelona did not help their cause in an age where the media need their kick for the week.

Fernando Alonso – Will start to wonder why he signed such a long deal. He fits the team perfectly but the people around him are letting him down, big time. He is arguably still the best all round driver on the grid, closely matched now by Vettel. He deserves another shot at the title but is has to be quizzed if he will get in any time soon.

Felipe Massa – Unfortunately, the writing is on the wall. I think even the least knowledgeable Formula 1 fan realises that he is out at the end of 2012 and it is a chance for him to put himself in the shop window for 2013. The master class of 2008 is gone and no matter what people say since his accident in 2009, has not been the same driver. I wish him all the best but the end is nigh.

Overall verdict – Too many issues surround Ferrari. I do not think they are well prepared and can give the drivers any sort of opportunity in the first races. Unless they pull of a McLaren of last year and have miraculous two week turn around. Ferrari does not have to come from as far back as what McLaren did but the unknown of how the car will react is the worry.

McLaren – Got about winter testing in a very purposeful and professional manner. Went a little quicker than I think they would have liked to of at one stage and through the anchors out to not show the cars real pace. A different design philosophy for the MP4-27 which sees the monocoque to nose section dropped. It would appear this has not been a hindrance though as times dictate that the McLaren is quick and good on tyres.

Jenson Button – No-one expected him to do what he did last year but he proved it to a lot of people and himself. He has the capabilities of being world champion again and with his driving style will suit the Pirelli tyres even more so this year. Stable surroundings unlike his team mate promote the chance to be at one with the car.

Lewis Hamilton – Frustratingly wonderful, a contradiction I know. It is fantastic to see Hamilton’s speed and ability on track. His whinging and whining off track lets him down though. We all look for someone special in our lives but there is no need to make it as public as what he did. The winter hopefully has re-focussed his mind and we will see the Hamilton of old and his raw, tenacious talent.

Overall Verdict – It could get a little spicy between the two Brits this year. The car looks to have the speed to challenge the Red Bull. A lot of hope and promise for the McLaren team but for some reason I have an overwhelming feeling tedium about the team. Some sort of vigour is missing from them, Hamilton may re-light it.

Red Bull – Adrian Newey, enough said. It is hard to look beyond his design capabilities and see where anyone can challenge them. The ban on the blown diffuser has certainly closed up the pack but he usually finds a way around certain obstacles. The only boundary that Red Bull may have to overcome is complacency after a great amount of success in the past two seasons.

Sebastian Vettel – Proved many doubters wrong last year with his overtake on Alonso at Monza. He has become the full product of a quality racing driver and is a very cool, calm and collected individual all at 24 years old. He has achieved a lot and it will be whether his hunger and desire is still enough to guide the team again this year. I suspect it is as he is so young but he may see a few more cars around him this year.

Mark Webber – Quite simply has to do better than last year. Has come to winter testing with a spring in his step and feels good. He has to put together a good season to stay in Formula 1 though. It is very likely the Aussie is gone from Red Bull at the end of 2012 so will want to show through his performances he can cut it with a top team.

Overall Verdict – Favourites for both Championships but must guard against complacency. All signs indicate that they have the speed of Mercedes but have better tyre degradation allowing them to run longer. Spend a lot, get a lot.

Formula 1 2012 Preview (Part 1)

March 13, 2012 Leave a comment

With just a few days to go until the start of the Formula 1 season. I thought it would be to look at season’s competitors and try to evaluate the winter season and see where we stand at the start of 2012.

Marussia – Name change over the winter switching from Virgin Racing to Marussia after the Russian car manufacturer took a larger stake in the team. It has been a very strenuous winter for the team after failing the new crash tests. The new test imposed mean that teams have to pass prior to attending pre-season tests. Marrusia were unable to do this and only completed a few laps on a filming day on demonstration tyres. The team recently announced María de Villota as test a reserve driver but this appears to be more about marketing than ability.

Timo Glock  – Retained for a further season but it may be his last I feel. I think since leaving Toyota it has been nothing but pain for Timo. A very accomplished driver striving for more but is not getting it. His dedication to the team has to be admired though.

Charles Pic – Promoted from the Barwa Addax Team in GP2 up to a full race driver. After impressing throughout the GP2 season and the young driver test, Pic looks to continue his upward rise. Pic secured three pole positions in 2011 but his race consistency may need work. After a serious lack of preparation for the season, Pic may struggle early on the season while he adapts.

Overall verdict – The team now receive wind tunnel support from McLaren but it is unlikely that Marussia will do much again this season. It will take a lot for them to bounce back and it may not be until the in season test where the start to make any sort of in roads.

HRT – Suffered the same fate as Marrusia in failing crash tests meaning they were also only able to do laps on demonstration tyres. HRT will be looking for early data in Free Practice 1 at Melbourne. The team move to a new home in May after recently being based in Valencia they will now have a new facility in Madrid.

Pedro de la Rosa – Seasoned peddler with a wealth of experience and knowledge and knows how to develop a car. Unfortunately Pedro has to do this in race trim and a testing environment would have suited him better. At 41 years old it has to be questioned why this comeback and now.

Narain Karthikeyan – Great to have an Indian on the grid, but it should be Karun Chandhok. Karthikeyan has improved over the past few years but is still not Formula 1 material. I think it reflects the economic times and money has prevailed in this instance.

Overall verdict – Some serious work needed for this team. Finances are rather questionable still at this stage and have the weakest line up on the grid. I expect them to fall behind Marussia this season.

Caterham – The second team to go through a name change in the winter season after agreeing a deal with Lotus-Renault. Caterham went in the winter very happy after scoring tenth place in the constructors creating extra revenue. Caterham are another team in transition in mid-season as they move to the Leafield factory. Promising start to the season with being the first team to launch their car moreover has put in good mileage in pre-season.

Heikki Kovalainen – Retained for another season after greatly impressing last year with the car ever improving, Heikki looks to move up the order and start to challenge the mid-field. If Heikki plays this year right, there could be a few top line drives available to the Finn next season.

Vitaly Petrov – Replaces Jarno Trulli for 2012. The Russian brings Russian investment in to the team amongst and steady rise in performance last year. A great podium in Melbourne then was met with interesting races especially flying in Malaysia. A steady pair of hands but Heikki will look to lead the team.

Overall verdict – Mike Gascoyne has worked many wonders in his time in F1 and we may just start to see another. The team is gaining in strength and appear to be gaining financial stability but in their third season need to start producing the results.

Williams – A team decorated with success over many moons but financial constraints, engine disputes and driver changes, Williams look set to find 2012 difficult once again. Renault engines are likely to be the most positive point for the start of the Williams season. Loved by many and have seen an increase in revenue recently. Lacking desire, heart and direction the team are trying to galvanize themselves together with South American investment. It is going to be a tremendous task for the team to really crack the mid-field this season.

Pastor Maldonado – Retained for a second season by Williams. Impressed in a few races last year, namely Monaco where he unfortunately had a coming together with Hamilton but had little else to offer throughout the year. Some quarters stating the Venezuelan money just about held the seat down.

Bruno Senna – The Senna-Williams combination haunting us all returns to the grid for a full season. After having solid success in the lower categories, Senna is yet to emulate his Uncle. Senna is his own man though and will do things his way. This is a staggeringly good opportunity for the Brazilian to stamp his mark on Formula 1 this year.

Overall Verdict – Drafting in Alex Wurz as a driver mentor clearly shows Williams’s concerns with its drivers, or is it actually a very clever ploy and will help them in their development? Time will only tell but they need the car to really help them out. I whole heartedly wish them all the best but I do not see a strong year for them.

Toro Rosso – The team went through a significant shift after replacing Alguarsuari and Buemi. Some very impressive laps turned in pre-season and appeared to be one of the most consistent cars throughout the winter season. As the Red Bull junior team they are looking to progress the drivers and in doing so have created a solid mid-table team.

Daniel Ricciardo – Moves back from HRT to in to the Toro Rosso where he was always going to end up. Out qualified his more experienced team mate last season in a very average car and has shown glimpses have some great raw speed.

Jean-Éric Vergne – Runner up in World Series by Renault, product of the Red Bull Young Driver programme and rather arrogant. The Frenchman very boldly stated that ‘he could beat Webber’ in a Red Bull. Let see if his arrogance can be backed up on track.

Overall Verdict – As long as the two drivers do not squabble between them the team could potentially start knocking on the door of the top teams but it will be a tall order for the two young men.

Sauber – Stability, gained great stability over the winter break. The only significant change was James Key’s departure but all signs lead to a strong winter still. The Sauber in Barcelona set some great times and on the soft compound where others had been on super-soft. A very encouraging sign for the Swiss based team and times of old returning.

Kamui Kobayashi – Heads in to his third season with Sauber after a turbulent 2012. Racing seemed not an issue but a few qualifying sessions left questions of the one lap speed. If resolved, Kamui could be on far a very good year as he a great racer.

Sergio Pérez – The young Mexican in his second year will hope to build on an encouraging first year other than his shunt at Monaco. A wonderful debut at Melbourne last year along with sterling drives throughout the year allowed him to build on his experience. His confidence is starting to show with some great times coming out of winter testing.

Overall Verdict – Quiet assassins they could really shake the Top 10 if they match maintainable tyre wear with raw speed. Sauber have a lot of potential and hopefully they will show their wealth of knowledge and depth on track.