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!

Thursday Thoughts: F1 Team Principal 2009

Who do I think deserves the theoretical title of F1 Team Principal of the Year 2009?

There are some strong candidates, particularly the men running the teams battling for the championship – after all most of expected it to be a fight between the ‘usual suspects’ of McLaren and Ferrari so the emergence of Brawn and Red Bull came as a pleasant surprise. That’s not to take away from McLaren in particular who improved their car enormously.

When this question was first asked of me I only had one response. Ross Brawn. It had to be, didn’t it? Brawn and his lieutenants not only developed a fantastic car pre-season but also found time to save the team from extinction. They’d built up such an advantage that the wave carried them through some pretty lean times in mid-season when the car just wouldn’t work with the tyres, and yet despite those characteristics they still salvaged points from crap qualifying positions.

This is actually a close run thing. Christian Horner has arguably run the more sporting campaign with what would probably have been the fastest car on the grid if double-diffusers had been outlawed (their DD wasn’t added until later) while allowing the drivers to race each other until surprisingly late into the season, which is how I prefer it to be. Webber was deployed in a ‘support’ role only when it became essential to do so. Now this may be an unfair comparison because Barrichello was still in the title running until Interlagos, yet it wasn’t as clear cut at Brawn.. it almost seemed as if Rubens was being shuffled out of the way at times.

Still, the way RBR racked up points in the latter portion of the season shows they did a fantastic job and Horner has clearly turned the outfit into a Championship operation just as his fans from the Arden F3000 days, and I count myself as one of them, always hoped and suspected he eventually would – even if we didn’t expect it this season! Still, RBR were a midfield team and Honda had fallen from even that position.

So, on balance, I give this award to Ross Brawn for his achievements in turning the team from back-of-the-grid no-hopers in 2008 to title winners in 2009. Frankly that’s a hell of an accomplishment even without rescuing the team from extinction in the middle of it!

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Blog Note

This is the first in what will hopefully be a weekly series as part of Sidepodcast’s Thursday Thoughts initiative, in which a collection of F1 bloggers write about a chosen theme and post their entry at roughly the same time, currently slated to be 9pm GMT (a little late this week, it being the first week). Check out the idea here and if you have a blog feel free to join in!

Regular readers may remember I participated in a similar scheme during last off-season which was slanted around IndyCar. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep up with it as I was studying heavily at the time, and it seems the concept has since been dropped entirely. I used my posts in that series to take a different angle to my colleagues, trying to relate the IRL questions to other championships as part of this blog’s remit to cover a variety of racing. I plan to do the same with Thursday Thoughts wherever the questions allow it.

Red Bull’s mistake

Today one of our fellow humble bloggers received a letter from a Formula 1 team – not just any Formula 1 team but the very group he spends his time blogging about, you see his is a blog devoted to the Red Bull F1 family of Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Fantastic! Or so you might think.. read his own words..:

Excitedly I opened it, wondering what was contained inside. My enthusiasm quickly turned to sheer bewilderment when I realised that I had in fact received a letter from Red Bull’s legal people with regards to this blog.

..and the words of Red Bull:

Your use of the domain names and the Bull Logo misrepresents some affiliation between the famous Red Bull brand and the Websites. Potentially, this could confuse members of the public.

Utter stupidity! Confuse the public? How? Perhaps they think there is money being made? It’s a fan blog. Someone writing positive stories about his favourite racing team. I’m sure we’re all fans of the atmosphere Red Bull brought into what had become a stale F1 paddock even if we may not be fans of the team. Personally I respect them a lot but I’m generally indifferent, but that’s irrelevant. I like the things they do elsewhere such as the Red Bull Air Race World Series and sponsorships throughout motorsport. RBR/STR are good teams. But let’s face it there aren’t many Red Bull Racing fan sites out there, so why try to stamp out this one?

Quite rightly he’s decided to close the blog rather than agree to strict terms of operating, and that’s a shame.

Let’s hope sense returns to the legal department on Monday and they reconsider stripping one of their biggest supporters of his freedom to big ’em up.

Read more here:

http://www.red-bullog.com/2009/03/28/the-end/

New F1 rules for 2009 – quick and dirty

This CGI video appeared online at the weekend. Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull Racing explains the differences between the 2008 and 2009 cars in an idiot-proof manner! The ‘exploding car’ graphics are a huge help too.

http://www.itv-f1.com/VideoWorldwide.aspx

If you haven’t seen it yet go and check it out. If you saw it on YouTube go to this ITV link instead because it should be of a higher quality.

I’ll summarise the changes in March in the run up to the first race of the year, but if you only have a passing interest in F1 you should watch this 2 minute video instead of wading through a chunk of text.

EDIT – hit Sidepodcast’s F1 Debrief #93 for a full-on techie explanation of KERS as well as a roundup of the latest news in F1. You can play on-site or download the MP3 or M4A version, you can even get it via torrent if that’s your thing. I get the MP3 edition to play at my convenience – it even scrobbles in Last.fm, how cool is that? The podcast lasts one hour precisely, which is an ideal size (the full hour isn’t all about KERS).

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