2012 Formula 1 Preview Part 2

The second part of my 2012 F1 season preview is a look at the likely top half of the order. A selection of these thoughts appeared in Sidepodcast’s Season Preview Megamix podcast which you can listen to here.

As always in F1 the teams can be divided into groups. These are broadly: title-contenders, ‘best of the rest’, midfielders, and backmarkers. This post looks at this year’s championship contenders and those I like to call the ‘best of the rest’. Ignoring the PR fluff, I’ll note a realistic objective for each team – if they don’t acheive it they’ll have had a poor season, if they exceed it they’ve had a good one!

This is post 2 of 2: Read about the Backmarkers here.

Frontrunners

Red Bull

Drivers: Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber;
Engine: Renault;

Undeniable favourites. Their car was so superior over the last two years it is hard to imagine it being different now – but every streak comes to an end, will it be this year? I don’t think they will have quite the advantage they had before, at least not over McLaren – Ferrari and the rest may be another story.

Vettel has to be favourite for the drivers’ title, he’s been driving superbly and will be tough to beat – unless the revisions to the tyres for 2012 upset his rhythym. Webber didn’t put up as much of a fight in 2011 as he did in 2010. Both he and the team need that to change in case McLaren have found something for them.

Objective: Win both championships. I think they’ll ‘only’ win one of the two, McLaren will get the other.

McLaren

Drivers: Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton;
Engine: Mercedes;

For me McLaren are still the team to take the fight to Red Bull and I think a lot of people will want them to win if only because they don’t have a stupid nose on their car! The only problem I see is the drivers taking points from one another.

Button and Hamilton will surely remain equally matched, depending on how the tyres play out and what changes Pirelli has made this year. Button had the edge last year because Hamilton was getting penalties making mistakes under pressure. If Lewis can step his game back up to where it used to be, lose the errors, this will be a fun inter-team battle to watch – particularly since they seem to get on really well. My prediction is that Button will again edge it, but it’ll be closer than last year.

Objective: Win both championships. As I said above, I think they’ll ‘only’ win one.. but I can’t call which.

Ferrari

Drivers: Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa;
Engine: Ferrari;

Ferrari don’t like it when they stop winning titles, will they revert to type and start chopping and changing management? Or will Pat Fry joining the team start them in the right direction again? From the mumblings coming 0ut of pre-season testing it sounds like the car isn’t anything to write home about. They key will be how they fix the problem.

Whatever happens I don’t think Alonso will stop trying, whatever speed the car has, he’ll find it. There is also the now annual question: Is this Massa’s last year? He keeps hanging in there doesn’t he. I don’t believe the suggestion that Webber could replace Felipe, but I can easily see Perez slotting in next season.

Objective: They’ll say their aim is the championship (or both). Realistically I think they’ll even struggle for race wins, but their aim should be at least one win if not two or three. If the car is as bad as feared their only objective will be to beat Mercedes, Lotus, etc.

Best of the Rest

Mercedes

Drivers: Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg;
Engine: Mercedes;

The same assessment I gave one year ago: this has to be Nico Rosberg’s breakout season. He had a decent season last year, we need to see a bit more though. Part of that relies on the car of course and it didn’t seem as competitive last year. They seem to have kept themselves quiet over the winter so it’s hard to get a read on them. Interesting choice to start testing later than the others, sometimes this strategy works but with so many teams opting for early track time you have to imagine that’s the optimum strategy under this year’s rules. Yet of all the teams in the upper midfield I still think this is the one to take the fight to the guys up front.

I don’t really have anything to say about Schumacher. As long he and Rosberg are fairly evenly matched, as they have been, there’s no real reason for Schumacher to leave other than boredom. MS has improved a lot since his comeback year, he’s not on his old form but he’s good enough.

Objective: They’ve got to go for 4th AND be an annoyance to the top three teams. Score frequent podiums. Stay clear of the main midfield.

Lotus

Drivers: Kimi Räikkönen, Romain Grosjean;
Engine: Renault;

It’s been weird seeing this team fall down the order, at times recently they’ve been much too far back in the pack in races. Regardless of the name above the door you just don’t expect the team at Enstone to be running outside the top ten. I expect that to change this year as they seem to have got themselves into order. If they aren’t back in business, racing Mercedes and worrying the frontrunners, I’ll be very surprised indeed.
Kimi is an interesting hire. When he was announced he was considered past it, and there’s an element which makes me wonder if he’ll have lost his edge. But unlike Schumacher when he returned, Kimi has been actively competing in other categories, indeed the precision of the WRC may even have sharpened his skills. He’ll lack recent race experience but as a champion I expect him to have knocked out the rust even before we reach Melbourne. Do not underestimate Romain Grosjean. He is not the driver who was plunged into the deep end in F1 in 2009, and the team’s changed too. He may not quite match Kimi but I don’t think he’ll be miles behind him. This is a strong line-up. The real questions arise over the car, and the team leadership.

Objective: They say their target is 4th and I think that’s a good target: beat Mercedes and Force India, both of which worried them recently. A realistic objective is 5th in WCC – but they are quite right to aim for 4th.

Force India

Drivers: Paul di Resta, Nico Hülkenberg;
Engine: Mercedes;

This is an exciting year for Force India, I think they have one of the best driver line-ups on the grid. Added to what seems to be an improving technical dept producing better cars and they could really fight Mercedes and Lotus hard this year. The car looks tidy too, it’ll be fast. The question mark here is about Vijay Mallya – if the Kingfisher empire hits the rocks, as it well might, what will become of the team? Surely that’s a distraction.

Di Resta waited far too long to get into F1 and now he’s proving why. To have a rookie season with results like that was just what he needed, though of course with as many DTM races as he had he wasn’t a total rookie (DTM cars almost being singleseaters with bodies). The Hulk really didn’t deserve to sit out for a season after his debut year, I really can’t wait to see what he does this year. This season is almost a head-to-head to see who takes any vacancy which may appear at Mercedes (or even McLaren) for 2013.

Objective: Mix it with Lotus and Mercedes. Score podiums. The drivers are solid, let’s see the team surprise people – they still have some of that old Jordan underdog fighting spirit, let’s see it!

Michael Schumacher Returns

It was too good to be true, wasn’t it?

He’s back. HE’S back. Him. That man. The one we thought we’d got rid of.

We’ve had a great year and a half without him and it has been brilliant to see new drivers come to the fore and make F1 their own, and also watching Ferrari evolve in the post-Schumacher, post-Todt era. I’d even begun to not dislike them.

I do wonder how MS will fit in as a race driver in that changed environment, rather than a ‘consultant’ on the pit wall. Let’s hope none of the old nonsense returns.

I must admit to being curious about how he’ll perform after so long away, in a new-style car with no testing whatsoever – and in Valencia on a circuit he hasn’t driven before vs most of the rest of the field who have.

As much as I dislike the guy and his tactics, you can’t deny that in terms of ability and application he is the best of his generation if not all of them. If he didn’t pull such ridiculous stunts I might even have become a fan of his, and yet… too many, too often, too deceitful. So it’ll be interesting to see it for a race or two, though I don’t think I want to see him for any more than that.

Realistically Massa won’t be in the car before winter testing resumes in January, but still… get well soon Felipe.

Launch Season: Ferrari F60 (w/video)

Ferrari F60
Today saw the first official new car of the 2009 Launch Season, which in the current economy is a little muted compared to normal. Even so, this year has the excitement of the new rules changing the look of the cars, making it much more interesting than any January/February for several years!

The first car to be unveiled was the Ferrari F60, the team breaking with recent naming tradition to mark the occasion of their 60th season of competition within Formula One.

Interestingly the car looks much like the F2008 but with the aero devices chopped off, the ugly new wings fitted, and the whole thing generally shrinkwrapped a bit. I’m pleasantly surprised because I was expecting something as ugly as the BMW test hack that has been running around since autumn.

The new rules make for a much cleaner car along the chassis, and you can really see how tightly packaged the rear bodywork is. (insert joke about team PR girl here) Still, that doesn’t mean the extended front wings and compressed rear wings are any easier to look at.

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EDIT – here’s a pic from the official Ferrari website www.ferrariworld.com:


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Here is an onboard from today’s installation lap at Mugello:

YouTube link found on the DigitalSpy F1 Broadcasting forum (posted by Fergie1).

For official videos and photos go to: http://f60.ferrariworld.com/ Also check out the galleries at the usual suspects.

Other Cars
Expect the remaining teams to launch their cars in this order:

Jan 15 – Toyota
Jan 16 – McLaren
Jan 19 – Renault & Williams
Jan 20 – BMW Sauber
Feb 6 – Red Bull
March – Toro Rosso & Force India
Will they make it?? – The Team Formerly Known As Honda

Entry List
In other news, the FIA has released the official entry list as it presently stands:

1. L.Hamilton – Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
2. H.Kovalainen – Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
3. K.Raikkonen – Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
4. F.Massa – Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
5. R.Kubica – BMW Sauber F1 Team
6. N.Heidfeld – BMW Sauber F1 Team
7. F.Alonso – ING Renault F1 Team
8. N.Piquet – ING Renault F1 Team
9. J.Trulli – Panasonic Toyota Racing
10. T.Glock – Panasonic Toyota Racing
11. S.Buemi – Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
12. ?? TBA ?? – Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
14. M.Webber – Red Bull Racing Renault
15. S.Vettel – Red Bull Racing Renault
16. N.Rosberg – AT&T Williams Toyota
17. K.Nakajima – AT&T Williams Toyota
18. ?? TBA ?? – Honda Racing F1 *
19. ?? TBA ?? – Honda Racing F1 *
20. A.Sutil – Force India F1 Mercedes
21. G.Fisichella – Force India F1 Mercedes

* To quote the FIA:

The Honda Motor Company announced their withdrawal from Formula One on December 5th, 2008. The Honda Racing team has not withdrawn its entry from the 2009 Formula One World Championship. The FIA understands the team is now for sale.

Car numbers are assigned by Driver’s Champion and team-mate first, followed by teams in Constructors’ Championship order, excluding #13 because these guys are superstitious!

Blog Note: I’ve ditched my planned entry about the FIA / FOTA goings on of last week because I got bored of it, as well as the entry about the Autosport International summary because you can find all that on Autosport.com. I should be back on Thursday for the Toyota launch!