Posted by Carrot on March 19, 2012 | No Comments
The long wait is over! We are back in the season of Formula 1. It’s a massive season this year, 20 races in total, the longest season ever. Jenson Button staked a firm claim to final glory at the opening race of the season today. However it’s far too early to be naming presumptive champions, we have had a single race, that is all. So we’ll look at each team’s race weekend and their prospects before the European season kicks off.
They locked out the front row and achieved the win with Button today, if Lewis Hamilton could have overcome Sebastian Vettel then the weekend would have perfect for them. As it is the weekend was highly encouraging for the team. Their car is the class of the field, without the safety car causing havoc around the second stops, I don’t think anyone believes that Vettel could have hunted down Hamilton and taken him in a racing pass. They don’t have a fancy gizmo like Mercedes AMG, their form is based on pure pace due the car being stable in all areas. If they can maintain their advantage they should rack up victory after victory in the early flyaway races.
Red Bull Racing
Last year’s highly dominant champions have undoubtedly slipped. They capitalised brilliantly on the off-throttle blown diffuser concept last year but this year’s design is lacking in comparison to their rivals. The car was looking a handful throughout Friday and Saturday, making them lucky to take second and fourth with Vettel and Mark Webber respectively. They couldn’t stay with the early pace of the McLaren pairing in the opening stint on full tanks, but when they settled towards the end they were much closer. One plus the team can take away is that there are no signs of their infamous fragility this year so far. There were no reports of mechanical problems, even with Webber’s car that took two hefty knocks in the first corner. Without having to chase reliability you have to fancy that Adrian Newey has more than half a chance to get his car into a position to beat the McLarens. If they can consistently come second to McLaren, and even steal points like Vettel did today, they’ll still be close enough to mount a formidable charge in the main part of the season.
The only reason I’m talking about Ferrari third in this round-up is due to Fernando Alonso. This year’s car is an absolute dog, as well as being pig ugly. The team didn’t get into the third part of qualifying, such is the lack of pace in the car. It’s a massive surprise, not just because they’re Ferrari and have one of the largest budgets in the sport, but because I thought that they’d be the biggest winners from the blown diffusers being outlawed. You only have to look at their speed in the 2011 British Grand Prix, where the technology was restricted, to see how much not having a competitive version hurt them in the other races. There will be calls for heads in the Italian press tomorrow, and not figuratively either. They have a huge problem to overcome to get the car to work, and with only Alonso making the car move forward to score points they’re looking at a big deficit to even the faster midfield teams by the time we get back to Europe. I hereby kick off silly season this year by wondering who will take over Felipe Massa’s cockpit next year. The only thing that would surprise me more than Massa retaining his drive would be Alain Prost returning to drive in F1.
Now this is the midfield team with the best race pace in my opinion. A poor qualifying yesterday left them with work to do, but both drivers used sensible tactics and consistent pace to bring the cars home in sixth and eighth, Kamui Kobayashi ahead of Sergio Perez. A case can be made that they were taking advantage of Mercedes AMG’s problems and that they wouldn’t have beaten the German Silver Arrows if they’d still been running, but as we all know it doesn’t matter how fast you are, it’s where you finish. Moving forward and finishing on a day when runners that should be ahead of you are having problems has always been the key to finishing higher in the standings. We saw last year how few points seperated the teams at the end of the year. Starting the season well also raises their profile to attract new backers to the team. Sauber are the front running ‘privateer’ entry, that is the frontrunning team that isn’t one of the marquee or manufacturer teams. If they have the budget to continue developing the car then their success could continue after the first few races are over.
If Sauber have the best race pace of the midfield, then the former Renault works team has the fastest raw pace outside the big four. We all expected Mercedes AMG to be fast, Romain Grosjean qualified ahead of both of them, both Ferraris and both Red Bulls. And he did that in the dry. That pace is simply phenomenal, you can only imagine where Kimi Raikkonen would have qualified if he’d got his last run in during first qualifying. Grosjean was unfortunately taken out early, but Raikkonen made up ten places to finish seventh and take decent points, though probably less than the team was hoping for. It’ll be a development race between Lotus and Renault I think for this season, although Lotus will need to be banking points early to stand a chance of holding off the Scuderia.
I’m running out of words to use to praise the midfield. It’s not surprising when you consider that every team on the grid with the exception of the three ‘new’ teams had at least one car out-qualify a Ferrari. Their form last year was erratic, sometimes being the fall guy in first qualifying and at other times making it to third qualifying. They’ve started 2012 with the strongest form they showed last year and managed to covert their qualifying into a couple of points. They need to be getting as many as they can though, if/when Ferrari get their act together they’ll find themselves pushed out of the points positions.
Rookie of the Year 2011, Paul di Resta, rounded out the points in tenth. While points in the opening race is always something good, you can’t help but feel that Force India seem to have slipped from last year. Remember when Giancarlo Fisichella put a Force India on pole at Spa? The team should be up with Lotus in terms of pace but in recent seasons they seem to have stagnated. This year’s car doesn’t look particularly fast, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to fly off the track on every corner like the Ferrari. It’s a design and a weekend’s performance that can only be described as middling.
Now after Friday if you told me I’d be talking about Mercedes AMG as the eighth team on my round-up I’d have rather impolitely laughed in your face. Michael Schumacher fell to mechanical gremlins and Nico Rosberg couldn’t seem to deliver the pace the car showed earlier in the weekend and got in trouble in the pack. So much copy space has been devoted to this supposed ‘super f-duct’ that they have. It seems to be fine as a qualifying tool, both cars were in the running for pole, but it seems to be less than useless in race conditions. Overall the teams will be ruing the failure to score this weekend. It’s almost a forgone conclusion that they’ll get fourth in the standings, but if they can capitalise on Ferrari’s weakness at the moment, they could challenge the Italians for third.
Another team that underachieved this weekend, though through no real fault of their own. You can engineer a car all you want, but sudden impacts with other object will always break them. Their pace was good in qualifying, especially when you consider their woeful past couple of years, but it’s still a fair way from what they were capable of last time they had Renault engines. What will tell with the team this year will be their finances, both drivers bring substantial sponsorship, but that money needs to be converted into speed. They’re currently fast enough to get towards the front of the midfield, the points just need to be brought home.
The team with the second prettiest car on the grid, only McLaren and Marussia have chosen not to use the ‘Prost’ nose design, seemed to achieve their primary objective of beating the other ‘new’ teams. All well and good until you consider HRT didn’t start and Catherham had reliability problems before them. Their qualifying pace says it all, they’re two seconds away from Catherham. Two seconds? They might as well drive the safety car, it’d probably do comparable lap times. Still they did manage to finish and record finishes that the other two new teams didn’t, you never know, that 14th place might actually allow them to beat HRT this year.
The former Team Lotus have made a step, although it’s away from Marussia rather than into the midfield proper. They’re about a second off the midfield on the same tyres and fuel, but importantly the two seconds to Marussia will give them respite to try new things to move forward. Of course, they can’t beat them if they don’t actually finish so those reliability problems need sorting. After they are sorted I think most of Catherham’s season will have them focussing on moving forward because the two behind them are so far as to be beneath notice.
Anyone else remember when the tail-enders used to be fun teams? Minardi were a great team when Paul Stoddart ran them. HRT have their pace, but none of their charm or style. The stewards were right not to let the team in the race, and I hope that the 107% rule continues to be enforced correctly. You only have to look at the times from first qualifying, on the same tyres and light fuel the best HRT was over seven seconds a lap down on the fastest car, that was a Sauber in that session. Marussia being two seconds down on Catherham is a chasm, seven seconds is the difference between F1 and IndyCar. Frankly without backstage politicking, I don’t see the team lasting. Sponsors aren’t going to hand over money just for a twenty minute appearance in first qualifying, the only way they’re getting into races is on generosity rather than pace.