Sunday, 11 March 2012

2012: The season preview

So far, everything is pointing in the direction to say that this is going to be a brilliant season of Formula One. We have twelve ultra-determined teams and from analysis of testing, it looks very very close. Here's my season preview.

Finally, after a painfully long wait, Formula One is back, with the season starting next weekend in Melbourne, as we get ready for a season which looks like its going to be a classic. We're expecting a very close fight between the twelve teams, and here's my preview.

The defending World Champions are the favourites - and rightly so. Their 2011 season was beyond brilliant, as they blew the rest to smithereens, taking twelve race wins and eighteen poles out of nineteen races. Their star man was Sebastian Vettel, while Mark Webber struggled in the RB7. However, in the RB8, both drivers look very sharp. They still appear to be the fastest car, and the consensus among the paddock is that they are the team to beat. They have looked the best on long runs, but intriguingly, they brought a brand new chassis, with lots of changes, to the last two days at the second Barcelona test. This shows that they weren't that comfortable with their car, but the "RB8 Mark Two" didn't have a great time either. World Champion Sebastian Vettel managed just 25 laps in it, meaning they may actually have to go back to their original chassis - which would be a step back. Red Bull seem to be the fastest, but by nowhere near as much as they were last year.
IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: Edge of Glory
His 2011 was near perfect, and you wouldn't bet against him making it three in a row this year. Looked as strong as ever in testing, and with the promising RB8 behind him, he's going to take a hell of a lot of stopping.
A massive year for Webber, after the disaster that was 2011. He needs to show Vettel that he is no pushover and can challenge him. Qualifying and the starts crucial for the Aussie this season.

Barring the minnows Marussia and HRT, McLaren are the only team who haven't adopted the stepped nose idea. This means their car is very pleasing to look at, and from analysis of testing, very pleasing to drive as well. The car looks very good on the long runs, and seems quite nice to drive. Both drivers have responded positively to the MP4-27. It is a stark contrast to their winter testing from twelve months ago, when they were well off the pace, and looking set for a midfield battle at best. However, they went to the season opener and finished 2nd. They will be looking for at least that on Sunday in Melbourne, and after finishing second in the last two Constructor's Championships, this looks like it could be their year. The idea of not having a stepped nose means they are effectively in a league of their own, and it could either turn out brilliant or disastorous. It is a huge year after Button finished second with a great season and Hamilton a stormy fifth in 2011, and so far, so good.
IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: Don't stop believing
His fantastic 2011 has being followed up with a solid winter testing period. Button has the number 3 on his car, while Hamilton is 4. That's huge psychologically if JB can beat Hamilton again.
A tempestuous 2011 means that this is an enormous year for Hamilton. The last of his current McLaren contract, he needs to get back ahead of Button. No-one doubts his talent but lots doubt his temprament.

After narrowly missing out on the World Championship in the last race in 2010, Ferrari were expecting big things in 2011. Despite the best efforts of Alonso, the car was mediocre at best. The team knew their design was all wrong, and that they had to change tactic for 2012. They went radical. And when I say radical, I mean seriously radical. The car is not good looking, there's no hiding from that, but if it is fast, then it doesn't matter. And that's the problem. So far, it doesn't seem fast. They barred Alonso and Massa from talking to the media at Barcelona, but the secret is out. The Italian team are in trouble, it is just a case of how much. By completely changing the design of their car and going radical, it has made it difficult to understand, and thus far, the team can't understand it. Sometimes it seems pacy and impressive, while sometimes it is all over the place. It is difficult on the exit of corners and agressive on its tyres. Ferrari fans will be hoping they are bluffing but Pat Fry admitted that the team probably wouldn't make the podium in Melbourne. And that can't be blamed on the drivers. All I would say is that right now, I would not want to be an employee at Ferrari. In short, it looks like they have taken a step away from the leaders, and moved closer to the midfield. There is a very strong chance that they will arrive at Melbourne as the fifth fastest team.
Was awesome in 2011 but the car was nowhere near his talent. If the F2012 does Alonso justice then he can win the title, but if testing is anything to go by, it's going to be another frustrating year for the Spanish genius.
Most were amazed Ferrari stuck with him after a dreadful 2011 season, but in the last year of his Ferrari contract, the Brazilian is going to have to seriously impress to keep his drive.

Since taking over the 2009 champions Brawn GP, Mercedes have disappointed, taking just three podiums in the last two seasons. 2011 saw no podiums whatsoever, as they were well and truly the fourth fastest team. However in testing, they seem quite strong, with both drivers racking up a lot of miles. They have gone for the stepped nose option, and from their intitial pace at winter testing, it seems to have paid off. The decision to delay the launch of their 2012 car until the second test session looks to have being a good one - it allowed them to gather data on the 2012 tyres by using their 2011 car at Jerez, which meant that they could roll out an aerodynamic package very similar to the one they will be using in Melbourne at Barcelona, and excellent reliability rate meant that they could do longer runs almost instantly with their 2012 car. Tyre degradation seems to be a slight issue, but they appear much closer to the front. My prediction for them may leave you confused, but expect a marked improvement from Mercedes.
IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: We will rock you
The seven times world champion got back to form at the end of 2011 and if the W03 is as good as it seems you can expect Schumi to be returning to the podium this season.
Rosberg's hunt for his first race win goes on, and with the W03, he might not be winning races, but he'll surely be visiting the podium.

2011 for this team was beyond strange, with a fantastic start and two podiums in the first two races putting them in a very strong position, but from there it fell apart. All three drivers who took part for them last year are out, and two F1 returnees are in. 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen is embarking on surely one of the most hyped up returns ever to a sport, while Romain Grosjean also looks an impressive pair of hands, after becoming the GP2 champion last season. And surely Lotus were the stars of testing. They topped four days of the eight they competed in. And the fact they only competed eight could be crucial. After finding serious chassis problems while Romain Grosjean was on track at the first Barcelona test, the team withdrew from all four days there. However, they bounced back brilliantly, with Raikkonen and Grosjean topping three of the four days at the test. But it isn't really about that, it't about the fact that they looked very quick over the long runs. I wouldn't be surprised if we see Lotus on the podium in the first race at Melbourne, and with a talented World Champion and an exciting young prospect in the team, I also wouldn't be surprised if they break into the top three of the championship.
The Iceman cometh back. The car looks in great shape, and his pace in testing has looked excellent. All that remains to be seen is just how good he can be, and whether he can stay motivated for the season.
The Frenchman is back after two years away. He only did half a season but has looked on the pace almost instantly. Could be a big hit, and a good tip for at least one podium this season.

There was some surprise when Force India replaced Adrian Sutil with former Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg, and it is still difficult to say how Force India will perform this year. In Force India's testing, they had some very good moments, and some very bad moments. Nico Hulkenberg set the pace on the second day of Barcelona testing, and Force India frequently appeared towards the top of the timesheets. Furthermore, their long run pace seems quite strong, with Di Resta showing good pace on his long run pace on Friday in Barcelona. However, they have had some issues. New reserve driver Jules Bianchi binned the car at Jerez, while on the very last day of testing, Nico Hulkenberg was forced to abandon his race simulation, losing crucial data. In short, this looks like it is going to be a very good year for Force India, as they look to build on sixth place in 2011. However, with the field so close, it is going to be exciting to see who wins out of Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso, who appear to probably be the closest group right now.
IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: Reach for the stars
Impressed no end in his rookie year last year. Following the departure of Sutil, he is now the team leader at Force India. The Scot needs to get the oppurtunity by the scruff of the neck and lead the team's charge.
Everyone remembers that pole in Brazil 2010, and after a year out, he's back, but with Force India. His battle with Di Resta is one of the most intriguing of the season. Could be brilliant, could be mediocre.

Sauber might not have money, but one thing they do have is two very talented drivers. 2011 proved that as Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi battled it out. Their new car, the C31, certainly isn't a looker. Also, they have lost technical director James Key. However, their new car, even if not attractive, seems to be quite good. There were a few initial teething problems and Jerez was a bit of a mess, but the Swiss team settled down over the two Barcelona tests, with both drivers topping one of the days. The Ferrari powered C31 racked up plenty of laps in Spain, allowing Perez and Kobayashi to get used to the car and how it works. As well as this, the defending champions Red Bull appear to be impressed, as they took inspiration from the C31's exhaust system when redesigning their RB8. There's not many better compliments you can get than that. The C31 seems solid and reliable, and they are almost certain to be in this fantastic tussle with Force India and Toro Rosso.
IF IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: Let me entertain you
Went off the boil in 2011, and was invisible for some time as his team mate outperformed him. Has looked good in testing so far, and will be looking to re-assert himself in the Sauber.
My rookie of the year 2011 will have been proud of all the Ferrari rumours flying around, and it's not hard to see why. A brilliant young driver, and a big season. Watch this space, he could be the dark horse this year.

It is all change at Red Bull's nursery. After an excellent 2011, which had a tremendous second half with regular points finishes, the world was somewhat surprised when Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi were booted out of the team. Replacing them: Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. Neither has had a full season in F1, but the former did half a season with HRT last year so has some experience. The team's pre-season testing programme has being very impressive, with many a time the Faenza based squad towards the top of the timesheets. The car looks to hav good speed on qualifying runs, and due to their lack of experience, Vergne and Ricciardo have done plenty of one-lap runs and pit stop practice. The development of the second half of 2011 looks to have being carried over into 2012. It looks like a titanic battle between Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber for sixth place. The only sad thing about this team is that they only exist to help Red Bull.
IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: Love me for a reason
Impressed in his half a season with HRT last year; now has moved up significantly. Ricciardo will be battling for points in the Toro Rosso, but more importantly, battling for a drive at Red Bull
Another of F1's rookies for 2012, Vergne has serious potential. Almost certain to be a Red Bull driver at some point, if he could beat Ricciardo this year his CV would look strong...

2011 needs to be long forgotten. It was the worst in Williams' history. The former F1 dominants had a shocker, with just five points being scored, and the car regularly having reliability issues, or failing to even get through Q1. Then it was all change during the off season. Rubens Barrichello was forced out of the team, meaning that the longest-serving driver ever is out of the sport. Bruno Senna came in to replace him. Patrick Head and Frank Williams both left the board of the time - though Williams will remain team principal, it is clear that his involvement in the team named after him is gradually declining. Williams' winter testing could be described as "solid." Maldonado and Senna have both completed lap after lap, and the team are the most lapped of any in the testing. They might be solid, but they don't seem to be that fast. Though Maldonado was fastest on the third day of the second test, it doesn't mean anything. Rubens Barrichello was fastest in testing last year, and Williams endured their worst ever season. The car looks ugly, but that doesn't really matter. Thankfully, they seem to be making progress, though I could see them being overtaken by Caterham this season.
IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: When we were young
A troublesome and reckless 2011 was how it was reported, but in fact Maldonado did a pretty solid job in a terrible car. With an improved Williams, expect to see a big improvement from the Venezuelan.
Nephew of the legend Ayrton, Bruno Senna is being given a huge chance here after being harshly shown the door by Renault. Looked solid in winter testing, clocking up lots of miles. Big chance for Senna.

They've had two seasons in F1 now and have being well ahead of HRT and Marussia (formerly Virgin) in both, but haven't really got close to the midfield and haven't yet scored a point. This is the season where they are expected to do that. It is all change, for a start the name. After a long dispute to let them use the name Team Lotus last season, they've now changed again, to Caterham. They are also leaving their Norfolk factory, and this might cause a few blips. But the main change is that, after months of the line up supposedly being finalised, Vitaly Petrov replaces Jarno Trulli. They left it very late to announce this, just before the second test, meaning that Trulli had two days of running in Jerez which were pointless, and that plenty of time was lost, due to things like seat fittings. They were though the first team to launch their 2012 car, and with the stepped nose and other design elements, it has a face only a mother could love. However they have looked quite good in testing, and look ready to move into the lower midfield now. The addition of KERS could also be massive for the team who are clearly very passionate about the sport. They've got points in their sights, and I see them getting at the very least a point this year.
IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: What's my name?
Has being F1's unsung hero for the last two years at Team Lotus. Now in their new guise as Caterham, Kovalainen leads the team into their breakthrough year. Expect consistency and points from the Finn.
Brought in at the last minute to replace the sacked Jarno Trulli, Petrov is taking a big step down from Renault. Needs to perform well to keep his reputation intact after two average years.

Not for the first time, it has been a winter of uncertainty at the popular minnows HRT. They once again head to the first race with no proper testing of their 2012 car. However, the good news for the Spanish team is that they appear to be more ready than in the last two years, and their future maybe more certain. I have a lot of admiration for them, because they know that they're not going to be scoring points, but they are so determined. They have signed two very experienced drivers in Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa. So an experienced, if hardly exciting, pairing. HRT ran their 2011 car at the first test in Jerez, with De La Rosa taking part on the first two days there. However they didn't take part in either of the Barcelona tests, after their 2012 car failed a crash test. So finally, last Monday, they launched their car. Narain Karthikeyan gave it a shakedown at Catalunya, but with no real testing whatsoever, and Caterham set to pull clear, it looks like it will be another battle with Marussia.
IF THEIR 2012 SEASON WAS A SONG: I need a dollar
It's beyond me how he's managed to get a drive but now he has he knows the only measure of his performance will be his team mate. Fortunately for him, that might not be such a difficult ask.
Just keeps coming back to Formula One. De La Rosa starts the season with HRT knowing that he is more than capable of beating his team mate. Don't expect to see much of him in 2012.

They've finished last of both of their two seasons in Formula One, and haven't even come close to scoring a point. However, when investment came from Russian company Marussia, people were expecting good things, a charge toward the midfield, like Caterham have done. However, this doesn't seem to have happened. The name change is just one of the changes at the struggling minnows, with Jerome D'Ambrosio replaced by French rookie Charles Pic. The team did make an appearance at the first of the two Barcelona tests, albeit using their 2011 car, the MVR-01. They were planning to use their 2012 car at the final test, but it all went to pot. Under new FIA regulations for 2012, cars must pass all sixteen crash tests to be allowed to participate in testing. Marussia's car failed the crash test, meaning that the new car wasn't revealed until last Monday. Timo Glock did a few laps in the MR01 at a shakedown at Silverstone, and even the team admits that the car will be driven "in anger" when it comes to Melbourne - not a good sign. The lack of the stepped nose shows that the team haven't had enough time to work on the car, so for Marussia, this could be a very long season.
A bit like Kovalainen, deserves a better drive. A quality driver, it is humiliating for him to see his team fail crash tests. Should smash Pic but simply doesn't have a good enough car to do anything of note.
Another of F1's rookies. After both Lucas di Grassi and Jerome D'Ambrosio were sacked from this team after one season, the Frenchman will have to do a lot to keep his seat. Good luck to him.

1 Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull
2 Jenson Button - McLaren
3 Lewis Hamilton - McLaren
4 Mark Webber - Red Bull
5 Fernando Alonso - Ferrari
6 Kimi Raikkonen - Lotus
7 Michael Schumacher - Mercedes
8 Nico Rosberg - Mercedes
9 Romain Grosjean - Lotus
10 Felipe Massa - Ferrari
11 Paul di Resta - Force India
12 Sergio Perez - Sauber
13 Jean-Eric Vergne - Toro Rosso
14 Daniel Ricciardo - Toro Rosso
15 Nico Hulkenberg - Force India
16 Kamui Kobayashi - Sauber
17 Pastor Maldonado - Williams
18 Bruno Senna - Williams
19 Heikki Kovalainen - Caterham
20 Vitaly Petrov - Caterham
21 Timo Glock - Marussia
22 Charles Pic - Marussia
23 Pedro de la Rosa - HRT
24 Narain Karthikeyan - HRT

This season looks like it's going to be a great one. From what we've seen in testing, it looks incredibly close all throughout the field, with at least five teams going to Melboune believing they can get on the podium. There is the banning of exhaust blown diffusers, which should significantly cut the advantage Red Bull had last season, and perhaps play into Ferrari's hand. But McLaren are going to be intriguing to watch. Remember they are the only big team to have avoided using a stepped nose: How will that pan out? Kimi Raikkonen is back in the sport and looks to have a belter of a car behind him. Vettel and Alonso are gunning for their third world titles but their team mates will want to challenge them. McLaren are going to have a brilliant intra-team battle, with Hamilton and Button in the MP4-27. Mercedes could be big as well, after devoting nearly all of 2011 to this year's car. The midfield battle this year looks to be awfully close as well. There are so many stories of this season, and one of them is that after a hated ban on in season testing since 2007, there will be an in season test this year. In May, a three day test will be held at the Mugello circuit in Italy. And finally, there are six world champions on the grid - a quarter of the grid is a world champion. And for me, I see Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull making it three in a row this season, but it is so open, it is very difficult to call.

Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy - F1 2012 is go.

Keep with my blog for all the updates, news, opinions and goosip all throughout the 2012 season, with reports and analysis from all 20 Grands Prix.

1 comment:

  1. What an article! Loving the way you write mate, although I do doubt your taste in Lady Gaga ;)