Launch Season

We are coming to the end of the period unofficially known in the racing world, or the F1 world at least, as ‘launch season’. A year ago I posted a series of articles under the header of Launch Season featuring photos and a brief impression of each of the 2009 F1 cars as well as the Peugeot 908. Obviously this is an F1-specific feature because no other series releases so many brand new cars every single season.

I’ve decided against doing this for 2010 because all I can really do is gawp at the paint schemes and provide team background. I’m not technical enough to point out the nuances of car design and I don’t have the patience to write 11-13 team histories, so rather than rewrite others’ impressions why not just read what I read?

At BlogF1, Ollie takes the ‘team review’ approach, telling us how each has changed since the last race of 2009, makes notes about the 2010 cars and includes some killer shots of the cars. If you’re fairly new to F1 you should have a read of these fully up-to-date team bios to bring yourself up to speed.

At VivaF1, Maverick also has a poke around the cars to see what the design teams have been doing and the pictures there include fascinating back-to-back comparisons to the 2009 models – after viewing only a few shots from different teams you can really see that the 2010 crop are longer to account for the extra fuel weights.

Both blogs attack the subject in an approachable and engaging way which doesn’t leave behind the fan who perhaps wants to know what’s going on, without having to have followed the technical side of the sport before.

If you do want the extra depth there’s F1Technical.net and also Craig Scarborough’s new blog, though these two often look at things in such high detail that I get lost or I don’t really know what I’m looking at.

For once though, it isn’t just Formula 1 cars being revealed at the moment. There are the new IndyCar proposals from Swift, Dallara, Lola and Delta Wing and okay they are just proposals and not actual cars, but there have been plenty of words written about them already. I plan to write something about it myself shortly (that post has been delayed), and I’ll link some of the more interesting articles then.

Launch: Force India VJM02

Force India Mercedes VJM02

The new Force India had a soft-launch over the weekend, with pictures first appearing a day ahead of Sunday’s official release. Today these studios shots were joined by a whole host of Q&As from the FIF1 press office which you can find on the usual news sites, as well as pics from Jerez.

The big news is the switch from a Ferrari customer deal to an agreement with McLaren-Mercedes for the full powertrain – that is the engine, gearbox and KERS systems, as well as technical co-operation in other areas. Simon Roberts of McLaren is now the Chief Operating Officer at Force India as part of a personnel shake-up. Mike Gascoyne and others have left the company.

The basic theme running through all of the Q&As is that the new McLaren/Mercedes deal frees up FIF1 engineers to work on other aspects of the car, such as aero and internal packaging. It means that as other teams cut back, Force India don’t need to worry about that and can concentrate on the task at hand: working their way from the back of the field to regular points-scoring positions.

The first chassis was shaken down at Silverstone last week and Fisichella took it for a test at Jerez today. Liuzzi will shake down the second car during this week before the final big pre-season group test in Barcelona.

It’s a good looking car, quite aggressive with another high nose. The late launch means the car has spent longer in CFD and in the wind tunnel than their competitors, many of whom will need to do an (expensive) upgrade for the first race of the season.

I hope they are able to close up the remainder of the gap to make the midfield a close fight. They made some big gains in lap time last year even if that wasn’t represented in positions, in qualifying they used to be 3sec off the back and last year they were about 1 – 1.5 sec back. A long time in F1!

The downside here could be the decision not to run KERS until very much later than everyone else. Some reports suggest they won’t run it until May – that could prove to be a mistake. Still, at least they’ll be ahead of whatever Honda becomes..

Photo credits: http://www.forceindiaf1.com/

* * * *

Tomorrow Williams will launch their Formula 2 car powered by Audi, I’m not sure if I’ll be around but I’ll put a short post up about that some time this week as well as something on the Le Mans entry list.

Launch Season: Peugeot 908

Peugeot 908 HDi FAP

The 2009 edition of the Peugeot 908 was launched yesterday.

The car looks substantially the same as last year, albeit with a rear wing 400mm narrower per the ACO’s regulations for this season. Pug’s engineers say they’ve been working on the engine mapping, cooling and traction control systems. Partly this is due to the new rules cutting power by 10% on last year, and partly this is because Peugeot really struggled with overheating last year. It cost them the win at Le Mans because the airflow when it was raining wasn’t sufficient to cool the engine. There were other factors as well of course, like their crazy tyre decisions and inexperienced drivers (many were new to sportscars, anyway), but the cooling was a major factor.

Also in ‘cooling news’, the roof sports a ‘reflective chromelike aluminium covering’ according to Olivier Quesnel.

A surprise announcement on the driver front, to me at least, was the unveiling of Sebastien Bourdais and David Brabham. Bourdais was rumoured on Thursday night, which was a surprise to me because nobody has dovetailed a full F1 season with an attack on Le Mans for many, many years. The last to try the F1/LM crossover was Franck Montagny (fairly recently too, say 4 years?) but he was just an F1 test driver. at the time.
Brabs wasn’t on my radar at all for this, maybe I missed a comment on Midweek Motorsport (I’m still an episode behind) or other sources. I had thought he was still signed to drive the Acura and perhaps he is, which is why he won’t appear at Sebring.

The full driver line-up:
S Bourdais, D Brabham, M Gene, C Klien, P Lamy, N Minassian, F Montagny, S Sarrazin, A Wurz.


It’s still a fantastic-looking car.

Peugeot confirmed their plans for the first half of 2009: they will take two cars to the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, and three cars to the 1000km of Spa-Francorchamps in May before sending all three to Le Mans. There is no word on what will become of the team after Le Mans. In my opinion they’ll see what Audi does, and how they perform against Audi (and Aston!) in the big race.

Drivers confirmed for Sebring:
Car 7: Minassian / Lamy / Bourdais
Car 8: Montagny / Sarrazin / Klien

This leaves Gene, Brabham and Wurz for the 3rd car if the line-ups remain the same. Line-ups for Spa will be confirmed at a later date.

Photo credit: Peugeot Sport

PS – yes, I know I didn’t post about the new Acura. They aren’t going to Le Mans. Yet..
PPS – I’m begging you here, PLEASE get the name right. “Le Mans”. There are TWO WORDS. Writing “LeMans” (or “Lemans” which is worse) really does annoy me! I don’t mind it on Twitter because of the character limit. A pet peeve of mine, just like hyphenating ‘F1’.

Launch Season: Red Bull RB5

Red Bull-Renault RB5

This morning Red Bull Racing became the 7th Formula 1 team to launch their 2009 car. (See links to the other launches at the end of this post.) As is the fashion these days the car was unveiled in situ in the pitlane of an Iberian race track, in this case Jerez in Spain.

The car completed 14 laps before running was halted to investigate a temperature anomaly. No lap times were released.

It’s a good looking car, helping by the great Red Bull colour scheme which looks even better on these cleaner cars than it did on the previous generation ‘aero era’ cars (Red Bull had one of the best paint jobs in the paddock last year, IMO). Like many of the ’09 cars the back end is very small and the bodywork ends quite early, leaving the rear exposed.

What interests me is the position and length of the nose, it’s like a spear! It seems remarkably high up and I’m surprised the FIA will allow it, if I were driving for another team I wouldn’t want to have one of these cars run into me.

RBR will again race with the Renault engine. Renault have been allowed to make some tweaks to their unit because they were the only ones not to do so last year, taking the regulation about “don’t develop your engine” to the letter unlike other teams. As of now no development may be done to anybody’s engine.

Red Bull also confirmed the location of their battery/capacitor KERS system, which is sited underneath the fuel tank for centre-of-gravity and weight distribution reasons. If I were driving I’d be a little bit scared for ‘large, predominantly untested electrical storage device next to 60kg of petroleum’ reasons. They’ve already been instructed to sit still in the event of an accident, until a marshal turns off he KERS. I wonder what Niki Lauda thinks about being told to sit in a car while it burns around you..

Mark Webber (AUS) and Sebastien Vettel (D) are the drivers. Webber will as usual be looking for an improved year where he’ll be able to demonstrate his undoubted speed without getting involved in stupid incidents or bad car reliability. Vettel is simply looking to kick his arse, simple as that! It’ll be a fascinating year watching these two. I think Vettel will nick it – but Webber will make him work hard for it. David Coulthard remains with the team in a consultancy and testing role, dovetailing with his new BBC analyst duties (more on that in a BBC announcement on the 24th – very exciting!!). The other key personnel remain the same.

I think Red Bull Racing have a good shot at moving up the order this year and fulfilling some of that latent potential we all know they have.

Scuderia Toro Rosso and Force India F1 remain the only teams not to have launched as yet. If the Team Formerly Known As Honda does make it to Melbourne then that will be the location for their team launch, much as Super Aguri did last year. A sad state of affairs.

I’ll be back with something tomorrow.

Photo credit: RedBullRacing.com / Getty Images

Previous car launches:
Ferrari
Toyota
McLaren
Williams
Renault
BMW

Launch Season: BMW Sauber F1.09

BMW Sauber F1.09

Earlier this week the new BMW Sauber was launched at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia, Spain.

Like the other ’09 cars it is a much cleaner design than the ’08 car, although that wasn’t difficult in the case of the 2008 BMW! Also in common with other teams there are fewer sponsor logos on this car. Long-time backer Credit Suisse, who supported the team long before BMW supplied Williams let alone Sauber, have withdrawn their backing. Given the present condition of the banking sector globally this isn’t a huge surprise, it is maybe more surprising that RBS remains with Williams. It also looks like the Intel sponsorship has disappeared. Again in common with most other teams, BMW Sauber insist they remain on a solid financial footing.

On the whole this looks like a fairly ordinary car compared to the more radical designs of the McLaren and Renault, say. The nose is conventional albeit higher than in previous years, there is no engine cover fin, and the front wing is one of the most basic we’ve seen – particularly the endplates.

This team is widely tipped to continual their steady rise in performance and become contenders for race wins rather than picking up when McLaren and Ferrari falter. They need to be wary of Renault who had a resurgence of form towards the end of last year.

BMW are believed to be the most advanced in their development of the KERS system yet are still claiming they may not use it for the first race or two. I’m not sure I believe that.

Here’s a comparison to the 2008 car, kindly set up by BMW:

Sorry if the pics appear slightly fuzzy, I think I buggered up the upload and resizing and I’m not messing around with it any more, it is Friday night…

There are further details at www.bmw-sauber-f1.com/ – though be warned the site doesn’t work well in Firefox.

Launch Season: Renault R29

Renault R29

As mentioned in my previous post, the second launch in the Portimao pitlane on Monday was the colourful Renault R29.

Sporting a livery not unlike the Spanish flag (hmmm.. wonder why..!), noticeably larger branding from ING and new sponsorship from Elf’s sister (parent?) company Total, the 2009 Renault is certainly eye-catching. Last year’s livery design was a bit of a mish mash and didn’t really stick out, so although I’m not keen on these colours, at least they are distinctive!

The most noticeable feature of the car itself is the very wide nose, even wider than the widest seen so far on the Williams, yet the Renault version is much more blunt, more of a wedge-shape. Is this to punch a hole in the air? Is this to stow more ballast in the nose to counteract the weight of the KERS at the back? We’re not really sure at this stage but it is certainly a departure from their ultra-narrow noses of three and four years ago.

The front wing is relatively basic compared to the opposition, but you can expect developments before Melbourne. Remember that the front wing flaps are now adjustable by the driver, but only twice per lap. It seems Renault and Toyota have preferred to make this area uncomplicated aerodynamically for the time being.

Here is a launch pic:

This is a head-on view of the car in testing later on Monday, it really shows both the extent of the nose design and also just how far the new front wing regulations make the endplates stick out. There is a lot of potential for damaged wings this season, and you can imagine it’ll take a race or two for the guys to get used to how close they can race – they don’t run wheel-to-wheel in testing.

If I have time tomorrow I’ll post something on the BMW launched today, but I’ve a lot of college homework to get done first. I really shouldn’t have spent so long tonight watching Obama’s parade on the BBC News website stream!

By the way: Dreyer & Reinbold signing Mike Conway – excellent move for all concerned. My only regret is that they don’t appear to be replacing Milka Duno, instead Mike will take the car vacated by Buddy Rice. Let me tell you now, a Rice/Conway combination would be a great driver line-up. Don’t let his 12th place in ’08 GP2 points fool you into thinking he’s midfield, Conway is a good driver, he’s won in GP2 at Monaco and in F3 at Macau. He can push, he can overtake.

Launch Season: Williams FW31

Williams-Toyota FW31

AT&T WilliamsF1 launched their new FW31-Toyota today in the pitlane at the Portimao circuit in Portugal in a somewhat underwhelming and understated ceremony. I guess the dull and dreary weather conditions didn’t help matters, yet compare it to the Renault one held just a few yards up the road very shortly afterwards, which saw more team personnel, more media, and much more colour – although when you see the colours chosen you may wonder if this is such a good thing.

To be honest though, the big glitzy launch never suited this down-to-earth team who much prefer to get on with the business of testing and racing. I like that. Full disclosure here: Williams are my favourite team and have been since I was a kid in the late ’80s, watching Nigel Mansell do his stuff. It hurts to see this former championship team near the back of the field simply because they fell out with BMW and couldn’t hook up with another manufacturer (except in a customer deal).

Still, the launch pics do look a little… well.. pathetic. It just doesn’t look professional. Sorry guys.

This car was launched in an interim test livery which is nearly identical to the one used this time last year, the only real differences being the names on the car. Despite losing some major Iceland-based backing after that economy tanked, as well as Lenovo (which most of us know as Hewlett Packard) and the Petrobras oil company of Brazil, the team insists it is on a solid financial footing for the next two years at least, and has secured increased support from Philips. The Dutch electronics giant previously used only its’ shavers section to sponsor the team, this has now increased to cover their whole ‘Consumer Lifestyle’ division. Williams now feature the Philips logo more prominently on the sidepods and rear wing. Other partners have stepped up their involvement too.

You can read the full announcement here.

I can’t find a shot of the FW31 taken from the same angle as the Ferrari, Toyota and McLaren photos I’ve posted, which is annoying because I was going for the ‘comparison’ thing. Thankfully F1Fanatic.co.uk has done a much better job of the side-by-side comparisons!

As a fan of Williams I am slightly concerned that on the face of it this looks like an enhanced 2008 car with new-style wings, whereas the likes of McLaren and Ferrari seem to be developing in a new direction with ultra-tightly packaged rear ends. This car isn’t so tightly packaged. It is much more so than their ’08 car, but not to the extent of the leading teams. I wonder if this is a result of Williams locking their ’08 car and switching to the ’09 car early on.

The one thing I believe Williams as as an advantage is its KERS system, as the team are believed to be the only one using a mechanically-based flywheel system. This is said to already be capable of exceeding the levels allowed in the regulations. Other teams are developing chemical systems which are more expensive, heavier and with a lower potential development limit. F1 teams are not chemists, after all. There is also the matter of disposing of the batteries and flying them around the world.

Williams say they may not run KERS until the aero and tyre development is more complete, as these are each worth seconds of lap time – KERS is only worth a few tenths of seconds. It is the pragmatic approach but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to hit the ground running and have that few tenths anyway…