Posted by Carrot on March 6, 2010 | No Comments
With less than a week until first practise in Bahrain, we come to the end of one of the most eventful off season periods that anyone can remember. 12 months ago it was a shock that Honda had pulled out of F1, now we’re down to two major car manufacturers actually participating in the championship. The era of the independent team has returned, or has it? Have we just in fact swapped car manufacturers for investment consortiums and wealthy patrons? Can racing in next year’s championship be assured for a team if a board of directors is simply evaluating cost/benefit ratios after the end of the last race of the season? We’ll have to wait until the end of this season to answer the major questions, but for now we have, on a team by team basis, a round up of events of the off season.
After winning world championships together, and challenging for many more, the partnership between McLaren and Mercedes has come to an end. The purchase of Brawn means the German car maker will relinquish its stock in McLaren and strike out on its own. Although McLaren will continue to be supplied by Mercedes engines until at least until 2015, the end of the current McLaren era was definitely announced during the off season. McLaren has always suffered when looking for a new engine supplier, inevitably fading from the championship battle while they get to grips with their new engines. The question is, where will McLaren go in five years for their new engines? Five years is certainly enough time to coax a manufacturer back to the sport. Perhaps a return to the partnership with Honda? There have also been rumours about the purchase of BMW’s engine property and the in-house evolution of these units, potentially making McLaren a complete constructor like arch rivals Ferrari.
McLaren must remain the favourite of any gambling man to take the constructor’s crown after the superhuman development process of last year’s car. Added to the fact that they have the two most recent world champions sat in their cockpits, surely the titles are McLaren’s to lose? Didn’t we all say that in 2007? McLaren’s biggest enemy are their own drivers. We all remember what happened last time Lewis was paired with a reigning world champion and had the number 2 on his car, don’t we? Many have been speculating on whether it was a mistake for Jenson Button to walk into Lewis Hamilton’s now custom made team. The development process of McLaren should ensure that the car becomes quickly to Jenson’s liking as much as Hamilton would being involved in the design process. All that remains is for Jenson to win any head games that may be played should the two get into a battle over the championship, and Button certainly withstood the pressure in the win-less second half of his championship better than Hamilton coped with a charging Massa. The two could certainly get along, win the constructor’s championship for the team and then decide the drivers championship between themselves in a calm and sporting fashion. However McLaren’s history with Prost/Senna and Alonso/Hamilton surely makes McLaren favourites to win on paper, and favourites to have the most acrimonious in-team battle for 2010.
Championship winners Brawn leave the sport after winning 100% of all championships they ever contested. Not a bad entry on your resume, even for someone like Ross Brawn. Doesn’t the backing of one of the only two remaining manufacturers, combined with the team that won both championships last year with the return of the sport’s only seven time world champion make you favourites? No. Many of Brawn’s higher ups have been replaced by Mercedes personnel, Brawn’s managers being removed or reduced to ‘observer’ status. 2010 is a year of major upheaval within the team as the former Brawn team is reshaped to the personal preferences of Mercedes management. This is going to affect development and therefore on track performance.
Regardless of what his legions of fans say, Schumacher is going to have some rust around the edges. He’s older, coming off an injury that made a comeback last year and impossibility, one hard crash into some unforgiving barriers could end his season where another driver might walk away (season ending injuries aren’t a thing of the 80s, ask Glock) and he’s going back into the shark tank after seasons out of racing doing limited mileage as a Ferrari tester. That didn’t affect Luca Badoer at all….
We must spare a thought for poor Nico Rosberg. Spending four seasons learning the craft at a struggling Williams team and finally getting a drive with the reigning team champions, backing from a major manufacturer and the news that the incumbent world champion had jumped to a rival team. Everything was set for him to build a team around himself and march for championship glory over the next few seasons. Nothing could surely go wrong, could it? Depending on Schumacher’s intentions, Nico could find himself in the category of Herbert, Irvine, Barrichello and Massa, tail gunner to the infamously ruthless Red Baron. And it was all going so well wasn’t it Nico? The head games have already started, “Yeah, Nico, can I have the team leader’s number…. for good luck? I think odd numbers are lucky. Thanks.” Ask him whether he had an odd or even number when he crashed his motorcycle Nico, that’ll tell you all you need to know.
The dark horses of the field in 2010. It’s either going to go spectacularly well, Vettel and a now fully healed and fit Webber taking the new vision from Adrian Newey and being backed by a team that learned how to fight for championships the hard way last year, or miserably, remember what happened to BMW after their most successful year? Red Bull have continuity on their side though, the only one of the top teams to be fielding an unchanged driver line-up. Red Bull are comfortable with each other, lack of upheaval is their biggest strength. With Newey now able to focus on only one team, and with the design and technical teams where he wants them, can anyone doubt the potential of one of the greatest designers in the history of the sport to deliver again?
The only thing that could affect Red Bull is last season. How much effort was taken from the 2010 car to challenge in 2009? Red Bull ended dominant in Abu Dhabi, but all of their competitors, including champions Brawn were concentrating on 2010 seemingly much earlier than the Austrian licensed team. The late début of their car could indicate a lack of time needed for Newey to work his magic.
What in the world have the Scuderia been up to in the last 12 months? They design a car that’s all but undriveable to the majority of drivers and then they fire the only guy they have who isn’t coming of a life threatening injury that could drive it fast? Is there something in the water at Marenello? The last two world champions for the Italian team have been forced out by the team to make way for the new golden son. Ferrari world champions have the life expectancy of a wealthy heiress in an Agatha Christie novel.
The testing however shows a resurgent Prancing Horse. Alonso has been gushing with praise for the car, stating it to be better than the mass damper equipped entries he won championships with at Renault. There have been questions raised over Massa’s abilities after his near fatal crash last season, but the testing times show no loss of ability, however with Alonso to lead the team should the injury cause problems for Massa, few would expect the Scuderia to score only the one win they managed last season. Their early focus on their 2010 car means most of the specialist press are believing the F10 to be the fastest car currently in the field.
Will the departure of the constructors lead to a return to winning form for Frank Williams’ staunchly independent team? The last win for the team was back in 2004, powered by BMW and driven by one Juan Pablo Montoya. Since then it’s been season after season of engine supplier changes, poor results and money worries. None of this looks to have changed. They have taken the risky path of using the new Cosworth engine being used by the new teams after the withdrawal of Toyota. If the new engine is up on power and reliable they could gain a big advantage on all other teams, the engine separating them from other teams and their experience at winning championships giving the advantage over the other Cosworth powered teams.
A complete change of drivers as well. Veteran Rubens Barrichello pairing with reigning GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg. Will Hulkenberg follow the form of Hamilton in his first F1 season while reigning as GP2 champion? Or will he run like Timo Glock did? Barrichello should be able to use his experience to develop the car at a pace that Williams haven’t been able to get from their drivers in their past few years. But will the pairing of an elder builder and a young charger pay off for the team? Or will Hulkenberg flounder and Barrichello mark time until he retires?
R.I.N.O. Renault in name only. The new Renault car returns to the French manufacturer’s traditional yellow livery… and promptly changes hands into the control of an investment company. Renault only retain a 25% share of the team. The car still looks as ugly as last year’s entry, and the new Lada branding is going to be the subject of endless jokes for the entire season. There’s not much else to say, Robert Kubica is sure to have this chapter in his autobiography titled “My Year in the Wilderness”, and surely he’s already got feelers out for a change to one of the the top teams looking for an Alonso style early signed contract to extricate himself from the hole left by the Renault company’s withdrawal. Vitaly Petrov becomes Russia’s first F1 driver. The team says he’s not a pay driver. Vladimir Putin says he’s not a pay driver when announcing Russian sponsorship will adorn the car. I won’t be saying anything different lest my tea suddenly become radioactive.
So nearly getting their first victory at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, last season transformed the former Jordan team and seemed to kick start their advance to the midfield. FIF1 have placed their faith in continuity, retaining both drivers that finished the season for them. Their time spent at the back of the grid forging their team should stand them in good stead against the newcomers to the grid. Beating new teams is not really a challenge for established teams though, the ultimate test is whether they can improve against their 2009 peers.
Vijay Mallya is never short of some ready cash, and rarely misses an opportunity. There’s a reason he’s stinkingly rich and is know as the Indian Richard Branson. However, I can’t help think he’s missed an opportunity, and new Hispania Racing haven’t….
For the first year Toro Rosso will completely build and develop their own chassis. No more hand-me-downs from the Adrian Newey department of revolutionary designs. The former Minardi team are now back on their own, and if their form in 2009 was anything to go by, they’ve returned to the traditional back marker position of Minardi. I hope they still make the best espresso in the pit lane, so they’ve got something going for them. With two relatively inexperienced and unremarkable drivers being retained and a brand new design team and process, the team is going to be lucky to defeat even some of the new teams. How long before Red Bull decides it’d be better spending the money on its main team?
The yellow and green livery that adorned the posters of a million small boys’ bedrooms and model collections is back in the great global circus. Backed by a massive Malaysian consortium, including government backing via Proton, surely Lotus have the best chance at funding a respectable charge in 2010 of all the new teams. They have attracted two race winners to their team, so their development should not be that adversely affected by their late entry to the grid.
The faith of Lotus fans and the Malaysian executives must be firmed placed into Heikki Kovalainen. The success or failure of the Lotus project will rest firmly in how quickly he is able to establish dominance in the team and drive it forward. I make no secret of my dislike of Jarno Trulli as a driver, don’t get me wrong, he seems like a nice charitable guy who makes nice wine, but this is the guy that had the entire resources of Toyota and the highest budget in F1 for a time and he couldn’t get that team to a race win. Heikki needs to get over his disappointing seasons at McLaren and move Lotus forwards and leave Trulli to driving qualifying and holding up the field or Lotus will be stuck at the back of the grid.
We have to say HRT in our headers and official entry sheets because the FIA apparently don’t recognise the word Hispania. Perhaps we should send them a Latin dictionary? This team came from an eleventh hour save of the dying Campos Meta entry by businessman José Ramón Carabante. Adrian Campos was promptly shown the door, the name of the team changed and Colin Kolles brought in to tidy the mess that was the old team.
The Senna name will return to F1 with Ayrton’s nephew Bruno. Young Senna must be used to dealing with the expectation that the name brings, but he’s yet to deliver on that expectation. His highest finish in a recognised championship being a second place in GP2 to Giorgio Pantano. His other results are less impressive. The goodwill of backers and sponsors will soon dry up if the world at large considers him an embarrassment to the great name. Bruno is going to have to hit the ground running in an untested car. He has more pressure on him at the first race than world championship contenders do at championship deciding races.
Hispania have also virtually guaranteed their survival to next season with their second signing, Karun Chandhok. Mallya’s Force India have been the only presence of India in the world championship for seasons, now Hispania have put a face on Indian F1 hopes, and with the Indian Grand Prix due to be on the 2011 calender Mallya has missed the opportunity and now Hispania have the entire wealth of the subcontinent open to add to their sponsorship portfolio.
Hispania have one very major problem. They have an untested car and team. All the other new teams that will race in Bahrain have had a chance to run their cars and test team procedures. HRT have not and Bahrain could turn into a comedy of errors.
Yes, it’s still BMW as the name. Peter Sauber has indicated he intends to change the name in due course, you’re kind of running low on time there Peter. I expect there to be a change on the eve of Bahrain, including the new sponsor that Peter no doubt has been lining up after Petronas moved to Mercedes. Peter Sauber’s been around F1 and motor racing for a good few years. With the design of the last BMW car and his experience Sauber will continue for a good many years.
Driver-wise, the team has gone for renowned McLaren tester Pedro de la Rosa paired with newbie Kamui Kobayashi, who caused plenty of media interest with his two race stint with Toyota at the end of last season. Combined with a new car design that’s extreme even by the standards of some of the radical new designs Sauber look to be in the best form they could be in for a decade, and certainly look good to do better than BMW’s last atrocious season.
Airlines, record companies, soft drinks and now racing teams. Richard Branson has a habit of moving into new areas with his Virgin brand and making a big impression, if not becoming a major player in the field. Last year’s Brawn sponsor now enters the grid in its own right having taken over the Manor Grand Prix entry. Having signed former GP2 champion and Toyota refugee Timo Glock and GP2 front runner Lucas di Grassi Virgin are looking to attack from the beginning of the season.
Unfortunately their car might be their weak link. Nick Writh’s design, entirely using computational fluid dynamics, has seemed to be extremely basic and off the overall pace during pre-season testing. Despite assurances it could just be too soon for a car designed entirely in the virtual world to compete against the best in the world.
Like the horror monster that just won’t die, USF1 is dead, gone, defeated and yet still may return to plague the grid some more. Mismanaged and out of their depth, the conduct of certain members of the team meant that the 2010 field is forced to reduce from 13 teams to 12. Having managed to produce only a nose cone and a lot of empty boasting, as well as damage the career of José María López, USF1 are still issuing press releases that say the project will be over if the FIA choose not to allow them to defer their entry until 2011. As if it’s the FIA’s fault that the team couldn’t be ready like any other, including Lotus who had considerably less time and still managed to test a car pre-season.
The sooner Anderson and Windsor put up their hands, say the project is over and that it was they who screwed it up, the better for us all.
Not on the grid, and not likely to be without some serious intervention from some of the biggest movers and shakers in this sport. If USF1 had admitted they couldn’t make the grid sooner perhaps we’d have 13 teams, but it was not to be. Formed from the remains of the Toyota project, Stefan GP were intending on fielding Kazuki Nakajima, as part of the deal with Toyota, and possibly 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. The design from Toyota would have probably continued to run in the mid-field, but now we’ll never know… or will we?
Given the difficulty Stefan had getting tyres to run a test on their car, their back-up plan of being a test team and a way for young drivers to gain experience might not work. They do however, have a nice asset in the car itself. As they and Toyota were never entrants in the 2010 season, the car would not count as a customer car under the rules and could be treated the same as the Dallara chassis being delivered to Hispania. Given the form of Virgin in testing, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of Richard Branson’s millions went the way of Stefan and the Toyota TF110/Stefan S-01 may yet appear in the red and black of Virgin Racing.