What To Look Forward To In 2017

There is a lot to look for in the 2017 motorsport season.

I felt something was missing in 2016. I don’t know what it was. Some sort of spark. Maybe it was me, maybe it was other events away from racing, or maybe motorsport just didn’t grab me as much as before – with the exception of IndyCar and MotoGP which were excellent. I didn’t invest as much time in keeping up with WEC and IMSA, something I’m doing over the winter break.

I think that should change this year.

Formula 1

New cars! Better looking cars. No more silly rear wings. Faster over a lap, faster through the corners. Hopefully they’ll look as fast and dramatic as the last time we had high downforce F1 cars, about a decade ago. The drivers are going to have to work hard.

With luck this will shake up the order. Some teams will get it wrong and will spend the year catching up. We’ll see them do it, much like we’ve seen McLaren-Honda get faster through the year over the last two years.

The downside? More downforce usually reduces overtaking opportunities. I wonder whether the larger rear wing will increase the effectiveness of the DRS. I would rather have no DRS – or have it and allow a driver to use it wherever he likes, no zones, no limits.

There should be good news with the tyres. Pirelli are charged with making tyres that allow a driver to push and not conserve so we might see some flat out racing again. Let’s hope they get it right.

How will Valterri Bottas fare at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton? I’m excited to find out. I don’t think he’ll be a pushover. And Hamilton will want to fight after being defeated last year – I think he’ll win another title, but may again trip over himself in doing so.

How will Max Verstappen get on at his second season at the big Red Bull team and how will Dan Ricciardo react? Will Ferrari sink or swim, will Seb Vettel get fed up and move on? Will McLaren be back?

MotoGP

MotoGP is always fun at the front of the field. Even a dominant lead can be lost with a momentary lapse of concentration sending a rider to the floor.

Jorge Lorenzo moves to that hard-to-tame Ducati. Maverick Vinales replaces him at Yamaha alongside Valentino Rossi. Iannone across to Suzuki. I reckon the title fight will be between Marquez and Vinales. I’d love to see Pedrosa up front more often.

How will KTM get on in their first season? Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, Tech3 teammates last year, both move there.

Formula E

I’m excited to see the races at New York and Montreal. I hope to see Jaguar improving through the year. Adam Carroll is vastly underrated and ought to have had a top works drive years ago.

I would like to see a greater energy allocation, more harvesting, as the cars are too energy-restricted. They did grant more allocation this season but they also lengthened the races which offset the benefit. If they’d given more energy for the same distance, everyone could’ve pushed harder in the race. It feels like the series is wasting the opportunity for good races while everyone is cruising around saving energy.

Sebastien Buemi leads after the two rounds held so far, but my tip is to keep watching Felix Rosenqvist.

IndyCar

Some of the best racing in the world will continue to be found in IndyCar. I fully expect the Indy 500 to be a highlight again.

Aero Kit competition is now frozen. In theory this means Honda are at a disadvantage, at least on road and street courses. A spec kit will appear in 2018.

Chip Ganassi Racing are moving back to Honda. With the might of CGR’s resources, joining Andretti’s, I suspect the Honda vs Chevy competition may become more equal.

AJ Foyt’s team go the other way to Chevy. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly join. I’m starting to think Foyt will have a very good season! Takuma Sato goes the other way, to Andretti.

Josef Newgarden will have the most attention. His was the biggest move in the driver market, joining Team Penske to replace Juan Montoya. (JPM will still contest Indy). It took someone with the talent of Simon Pagenaud a full season to ‘bed in’ at Penske so I think we should go easy on Joe-New, at least this year.

As in 2016 I expect Pagenaud versus Power over the season, too close to call, but you must watch all of the races because really anything can happen from race to race!

World Endurance Championship

It’ll be very strange without Audi competing. Only five LMP1 cars:  2 x Porsche, 2 x Toyota, 1 x ByKolles CLM. We may see another Toyota at Le Mans and surely this is their year for the 24 Hours?

We saw great battles between two manufacturers in the past, Audi vs Peugeot, then Audi vs Toyota, so there’s every reason to think Toyota vs Porsche will be just as good.

All-new cars in LMP2. Which will be quickest? I’m sad they felt the need to restrict it to four chassis makers but I understand the budgetary reasons for it. Hopefully the cost savings will attract more entrants. Rebellion Racing step down from LMP1 with a hell of a driver line-up.

GTE Pro is a balance of performance (BoP) nightmare. Ford and Ferrari ahead last year but Porsche have a new car – and it is a mid-engined 911. Heresy! This could be the best fight in the field. And in 2018 we’ll see the brand new BMW.

GTE Am. Early yet but I’m not seeing a lot of takers. Perhaps it is time to replace it with GT3?

IMSA Sportscars

The story in the US is very different, IMSA is having a resurgence. The Prototype class will use the same brand new LMP2 cars as the WEC. In addition are the new Daytona Prototype international “DPi” cars, which take those LMP2 cars and add manufacturer engines and bespoke bodywork. It is a cost-effective way to bring in manufacturers and it has attracted Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. It should be a fantastic year in the top class and it stars next week with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The GTLM class in IMSA, just like the ALMS before it, is top drawer. Often it is the best race among the 4 classes and it is usually better than the WEC equivalent (which runs to the same rules).

GTD will be numerically dominant with a lot of GT3 cars, no slouches themselves, including the new Acura (Honda) and Lexus. Worth checking out the entry list.

And the much-maligned PC class will finally be put out of its misery at the end of the year! It worked well when it started, but really ought to have been killed off a couple of years ago.

European Le Mans Series

The top class will have those new LMP2 cars which seem to be attracting a lot of attention in this series. LMP3 is also proving popular so there should be a lot of Prototypes in the ELMS again this year. I’d like to see a bigger GT field.

The supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, featuring LMP3 and GT3 cars in a series of 2-hour races (1 hour at Le Mans before the big race), is also booming. This should be one of the hidden gems of 2017 so do look out for it, especially the LM24 support race.

World Rally Championship

New cars. Faster cars. Okay, some people are heralding them as the second coming of Group B – they are decidedly not that. They aren’t that extreme, with much less power than Gp.B, but with modern suspension, tyres, electronics and all the rest they will be very fast. It is good to see the WRC return to more advanced tech.

Citroen are back, Toyota are back, Hyundai continue and the M-Sport Fords look competitive.

My TV

One more reason this year will be good? I’ve upgraded from a 30″ standard definition TV to a 50″ Ultra HD TV. Wow what an upgrade! Even the size difference is remarkable, let alone the quality.

Okay there’s not much content in UHD, for motorsport basically it is only MotoGP, but I bet it’ll look damn good! (I think F1 is in UHD this year – but I don’t have Sky Sports). Certainly I will be enjoying a lot of stuff in ‘normal’ 1080 HD – and I can’t wait!

 

2016 IndyCar Series Preview

IndyCar racing is brilliant. It is some of the best racing in the world. It remains consistently good on a wide variety of tracks. I fully expect this to continue in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series!

If you aren’t watching because of some preconceived notion you picked up despite having watched it for yourself, do yourself a favour and watch it this year.

Okay, St Petersburg (race 1 this weekend) can often have a lot of safety car periods. That’s the nature of the track, just let this week pass by and judge the series over the course of a year.

Misgivings

Back in August and September I honestly though I’d not watch IndyCar any more. The death of Dan Wheldon a few years ago while a colossal shock and terribly, unbelievably sad, didn’t affect me in the way the death of Justin Wilson did. Although DW’s did affect me JW’s was even harder.

I hadn’t really been a fan of Dan. Nothing against him at all, not saying I was against him in anyway and he seemed a great guy, just that I had my favourites.

I was a fan of Justin Wilson. Had been since the Minardi and Jaguar days. His loss left me morose for a while. It was just so unspeakably sad.

To think we could’ve lost Hinchcliffe as well..

But I’ve been a fan of US single-seater / open-wheel racing since 2000. The racing is fantastic. It’s hard to give up.

And I know they are working on safety all the time. They are working on a solution to protect drivers from flying debris. That injury could’ve happened in any open-top race car including F1 – just ask Felipe Massa. It wasn’t anything inherently dangerous about IndyCar which killed Justin Wilson, it was just sheer damned bad luck. This isn’t necessarily the case with Wheldon’s accident, nor Hinch’s, nor even the accident that meant Dario Franchitti had to retire prematurely.

No, it’s a dangerous game but it is being improved all the time.

Competition

The cars are becoming less ‘spec’ as time goes on. Aero kit and engine competition has promoted development and added a new layer of interest. The better-funded teams have the advantage yet the other teams are still in with a shout. The well-funded teams held the advantage in the ‘spec’ era anyway – even with identical kit the teams with money will always be the best. We see this in GP2 and FR3.5 and other single-make series.

I’m glad there is engine competition and minor aero differences. It adds the possibility the pendulum might swing the other way. Chevy may have the advantage at the moment but that may not always be the case.

I do feel the cars have too many aero devices. You can have aero competition without having a hundred winglets on each car. They look ugly and wings ruin racing. But they’re fast though…

Races

The season was condensed last year, it’s good they spread it a little this year. A 7-month offseason followed by week after week of relentless racing just seems a little crazy. Start a little earlier, finish a little later, spread the same number of races out a little. You don’t want teams and drivers – and definitely not fans – suffering from race fatigue. This isn’t NASCAR and we don’t need a race every weekend.

As I say, the variety is tremendous:  short road courses, long road courses, bumpy street courses, short ovals, large ovals. You name it, they race well on it. Track variety is the name of the game in IndyCar and is one of the great strengths of the series.

The addition of Road America and Phoenix, two classic Indycar venues, can only be a positive! Even at the cost of Milwaukee and Fontana. I love both those races but you can’t sustain an event when nobody attends – or when the series schedules a race in California in mid-August. I really hope Phoenix and Elkhart Lake are as good as they were.

Boston is the latest addition to the revolving door of random street tracks. I’m less convinced on this one, so many street races have come and gone over the years. Only Long Beach and Toronto have ‘stuck’ as successful long-term events, add St Pete now. How many street courses failed in the last 20 years?

Drivers & Teams

Team Penske look almost unstoppable (especially at St Pete). Power, Montoya, Castroneves, Pagenaud. A hell of a line-up in their second year as a group. Part of me is surprised Helio hasn’t retired yet but he’s still fast enough for regular podiums. Montoya and Power should battle for the title and Pagenaud should come into his own this year.

Chip Ganassi is as strong as ever. Dixon is surely their lead charge. Kanaan is as Castroneves and not because of their shared nationality – sadly neither are in their fastest years any more. Kimball is improving all the time though possibly not quickly enough – would that change in one of the ‘primary’ cars? Chilton is the new boy from F1 after a year testing Nissan LMP1, his progress will fascinating and perhaps we’ll finally get a read on his real performance level.

Andretti Autosport is the other big team and should represent the primary Honda charge, but didn’t last year. Hunter-Reay never had the promo his championship and Indy wins deserved. Andretti conversely never really fulfilled his potential – I actually think he needs to race for someone else for a year or two. Munoz is very promising indeed and I think my early impressions of him were wrong.
AA linked up with Herta to run Alex Rossi, another ex Marussia/Manor F1 driver. Unlike Chilton, Rossi doesn’t seem to want to be there and is very obviously hoping to go back to F1.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan are running Graham Rahal along with a 3-race stint for Spencer Pigot, 2015 Indy Lights champion. Rahal was by far the best Honda runner last year and impressed me enormously. I’d mistakenly written him off prior to 2015. Something clicked for Graham and the team last year and I hope and expect that to continue.

KVSH are running one car this year but that is for Sebastien Bourdais. The focus on one car could backfire with a lack of data, or their full attention on one car could make for better results in the way it did for Rahal. He’ll rag the car as he always does.

Schmidt Peterson tend to do well with the budget they have. James Hinchcliffe is back, fully recovered after his terrible crash last year. Judging from test times and free practice at St Pete, he’s fully back on the pace which is incredible! His team-mate is the returning Mikhail Aleshin, who got in the wars in 2014, I’m sure he’ll continue to provide entertainment all season though he was good in the SMP Racing BR01 in the European Le Mans Series last year.

AJ Foyt retains Sato and Hawksworth and bolstered them on the technical side. I’d like to see a much better year for these guys. Let’s say of Sato what has been said already for over a decade: calm down and use your head!

Among the rest, Conor Daly is with the usually-underfunded Dale Coyne but I hope he can spring a few surprises. He is joined by Luca Filippi at round 1 and hopefully more races. Luca ought to have a solid drive somewhere and I hope this is the place to showcase his abilities. DCR sometimes to spread their smaller resources a little thin and that could compromise both drivers. But sometimes they work a small miracle.

I think that is all the full-season drivers. There are one-offs at Indy and elsewhere which I won’t bore you with now.

Predictions!

In general I see the championship again coming down to Montoya versus Power versus Dixon. I’d like to think Pagenaud will be in there as well. Perhaps Rahal and Hunter-Reay too.

Ultimately I think it’ll be Power’s year.

I think the racing will be excellent all season, as it usually is in IndyCar!

Even if the Penske and Ganassi cars jump ahead like they used to, the competition among them will be intense and that’s no bad thing. The racing is such that anyone else could influence the result. The midfield will be so jumbled and the odd surprise result still possible, that you can’t go into any race confidently predicting the outcome.

It’ll be a great season!

To honour Justin, it had better be!

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2016 Formula 1 Preview – Team By Team

Team By Team

Let’s get straight into it! These are just my general impressions. If you would like a detailed rundown there are plenty of professional journalists offering their own previews!

Mercedes AMG:

My pick for the Constructors’ Championship and again easily so. I’m less sure about the Drivers’ Championship. I will pick Hamilton, though I have a feeling Ferrari might be close enough to challenge that Hamilton and Rosberg will be so busy taking points from one another, Vettel might sneak it. I also wonder if Merc have been complacent – in testing they somewhat arrogantly only really used the Medium tyres. They did though do a LOT of laps, so the car is bulletproof. Ferrari won’t be able to count on silver unreliability.

Scuderia Ferrari:

My hope is they are closer to Mercedes. They seem to be throwing everything at it and I’d like to see a hint of a title challenge. (I’m not as anti-Ferrari as some think, especially since the management of 2000-2004 is gone). Kimi now has a front end he should be able to get on with but Vettel will still outscore him. Seb needs this to prove he can win titles with two teams, Kimi needs to prolong his career. Podiums galore and the odd win through the year.

Williams – Mercedes:

I predict 3rd once again. They will have to be a bit more adventurous. The new car looks exactly like the old one. (As does most of the field!) Over the next few years with Renault restructuring and RBR likely to come forward, Williams are going to have to keep on their toes to stay ahead. I hope in ’16 they show evidence of that else they won’t be 3rd for much longer. Massa and Bottas are solid but not particularly spectacular. Very ‘Williams’, in other words! Hard to see them improving on 3rd, which is less about Williams, because the team is in a no-mans land. As a customer team they’re unlikely to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari, but as the frontline Merc customer team they’re ahead of the lesser-funded Force India and Manor or anyone with a Renault or a Honda. I see many podiums.

Red Bull – TAG Heuer (Renault):

Ought to run like clockwork.. The team reckoned to have the best aerodynamic department in the business (as proven in the V8 era) haven’t lost that touch, but they’re heavily reliant on the fortunes of Renault. Relations with Renault have broken down so much RBR can’t even mention them by name any more! Hence the engine-badging deal. Yet this year with token restrictions lessened, the power units should improve all the time. But Red Bull are no longer the factory Renault team, they are but a customer.. They should still get the top upgrades but will it be enough? At least with Ricciardo and Kvyat, we know the car will be running as fast as it can go. They’ll beat the works Renault team probably quite easily.

Force India – Mercedes:

It’s easy to assume FIF1 were 5th purely down to the Mercedes engine and I don’t argue the efficacy of that engine, but don’t also count out how good the guys at Silverstone are. They do a heck of a lot with (relatively) not very much. There’s a lot of spark and agility in this team, a culture developed way back in the Jordan days I’m heartened to see still exists. My real concern is with the funding and ownership. Sahara is in jail and Mallya has his troubles. I just hope it doesn’t impact the team. If it doesn’t, expect them along with Perez and Hulkenberg to do another excellent job to race against and beat teams with more resources. Their fight will perhaps be against the resurgent McLaren. FIF1 may also be able to score well in the early races to pull a gap over Red Bull, for a while.

McLaren – Honda:

I’m going to put McLaren 6th but really nobody knows where they will be! My guess is once again they’ll start the year slow and work hard to pull themselves up the order as the year goes on. But they won’t start as far back as last year, perhaps they might start in the lower midfield and work their way up. McLaren usually improves through the year, even in their good years. Button and Alonso will no doubt be frustrated, but with LMP1 drives closed off it’s hard to see where else they’d go. Meanwhile, Stoffel Vandoorne waits and Ron’s patience runs ever lower.. As indicated by my positioning I do think they’ll get solidly into he midfield in the points standings.

Renault:

A transitional year for the former Lotus team. Renault bought their team back! It’ll take a while for the organisational changes to shake out, and they had to adapt their car back from Mercedes. Last year’s car was pretty good but the team lacked the money to use it and develop it. Development won’t be a problem this year but with the likelihood of new rules for 2017 it may be better to focus wholesale on next season. Magnussen has a point to prove, to Ron Dennis in particular, while Palmer will want to show he’s there on talent and not just because of his dad. More treading water then, but hopefully we’ll see many points finishes.

Toro Rosso – Ferrari (2015):

The new car looks dynamite, better even than the Red Bull. Unlike the parent team they’ve extracted themselves from Renault but only with year-old Ferraris. This gives them a bit more grunt but no power unit development whatsoever, so I expect them to start strongly and gradually drift backwards through the year as everyone else works on their engines and recovery systems. So their new car had better not break down in the first few races, which represent their best chance to build points while everyone else irons out bugs in their 2016 PUs. Sainz and Verstappen were both mightily impressive last year, expect that to continue and Kvyat to sweat heavily.

Manor – Mercedes:

The installation of Mercs should provide an immediate boost. It all depends on the cars now. Manor should finally be able to race with the established teams on merit, or at least the Saubers and STRs. No more excuses. There’s this inescapable feeling though that the new owner has some other motive, is he looking to sell it for profit? Two rookies is an.. interesting choice and not one I would’ve made. Wehrlein did preseason testing a year ago though and as DTM champion should be a solid hire. Haryanto I know less about, he’s spent 4 years in GP2 and for 3 of them was nowhere. If the drivers and cars are up to it, Manor have the real opportunity to out-score both Sauber and Haas, and to worry the Toro Rossos – maybe even get among Renault and McLaren.

Haas – Ferrari:

The new boys are no fools. They’re a professional outfit in NASCAR and they know how to race. They’re also an engineering-led company, the whole point of the team is to promote their engineering machinery to prospective buyers. They elected to defer their entry by a year to prepare and wow has that paid off, immediately setting representative times in testing. They have had help from Ferrari and Dallara of course, quite a lot of it too. Smart thinking. They will be near the back but they possibly won’t be at the very back all of the time, if they are they won’t be the 3 or 4 seconds behind that were the last new entrants. The bigger time losses will come from operational reasons, look for fluffed pit stops and weird pit stop strategies as the team gets used to the ways of F1. Grosjean and Gutierrez are both good drivers needing to get on with their careers, Romain especially, both with an eye on any potential Ferrari drive that might currently be occupied by a Finn. Will they score in year one? With a bit of help from attrition maybe, otherwise not. But there’s plenty of potential here.

Sauber – Ferrari:

Sadly the Swiss team still seems to have money trouble. A late car and stories of late payments to staff are not good signs at any time let alone when about to embark upon a season. When they revealed their new car for the 2nd test it looked so similar to the ’15 car they tested the week before, I wondered if they’d brought the wrong one. I think it is very likely they’ll be last at several GPs and I have a feeling they’ll be last in the points standings, which would be disastrous for their cash supply. That said, Nasr is a hot talent and Ericsson should bring the car home, but both should be in a better car and I wish Sauber could provide it.

 

2016 Formula 1 Preview

In some ways the 2016 F1 season is for me a sort of season-long referendum. You see, for the last couple of years, I’ve been bored. And I’m not alone.

Engines

Not because of the engines. Hybrids are essential for relevance, for technological development and yes, for PR. If anything the hybrid rules aren’t open enough – despite being more advanced than most championships, F1 is currently 2nd to the WEC on both hybrid technology and raceability.

Drivers

Not because of the drivers. The drivers are as good as any set of drivers in history. Not better, not worse. Would I change some? Yes. But ultimately this isn’t like the days of absolute no-hopers, running massively off the pace and/or crashing all the time. Given the opportunity, these drivers would be just as racy and just as exciting as those in any other era. They don’t have that opportunity and probably won’t this year either. Let’s hope they do in 2017. It would be nice if they could say what they think a bit more, but fans have been asking for that for a long time – and actually in the last few months the likes of Alonso, Button and Vettel have been more outspoken.

Teams

I’m a little bored of the teams but they are only playing to the rules of the game.

I’m not even bored by domination. It happens. And dammit I sat through the Ferrari years 2000-2004 so I’ll bloody well sit through this! What I learned in the Ferrari years was to watch the midfield because the midfield is fascinating. Plus any fan who watches sportscar racing should be adept at watching the entire field, the entire story, not just at who is going to win overall. Mercedes or Red Bull or Ferrari running away with it isn’t fun, we’d all like more competition, but ultimately they’ve done the better job and any frustrations should be directed at the other teams for not being as good.

Tyres

I’ve been bored by the tyres. F1 shouldn’t be about conserving tyres. Even 24-hour endurance racing isn’t about conserving tyres these days, they go hell-for-leather the whole way, so why is F1? It would be okay if they were designed to the limit and the drivers were pushing to the edge. But they aren’t. The current F1 tyres are designed to be artificially bad in the hope of improving ‘The Show’. But it doesn’t work. Teams always push the limit, so instead of burning through the tyres and pitting several times, the drivers now cruise to the next stop, well below their own performance and that of the car, to make the tyres last as long as possible and reduce the number of pit stops – this is faster over a race distance. The Bridgestones and Michelins of 10 years ago would run rings around them.

Leadership

I’ve also been bored by the appalling way F1 is being run. Grands Prix in authoritarian dictatorship states. A fundamental lack of marketing from Bernie & FOM, quite the opposite actually when the promoter actively talks the sport down. A terrible financial model which, despite making tens of millions, leaves some teams struggling and circuits making considerable losses even though they have to charge fans hundreds of pounds, euros or dollars just for basic seats.

Oh and DRS, just.. no.

If this carries on, I don’t know how much longer I can keep watching. It would be a tremendously hard wrench to stop watching entirely, but I’m already at the stage where F1 Grands Prix are no longer ‘must-see TV’. Right now I don’t mind whether I miss a race live and watch it later. There are races on the calendar I don’t care if I miss entirely. I never, ever thought I’d get to that stage, let alone contemplate giving up.

Upsides!

Think positively. What has kept me going has been the pure sport. It is still there, if you dig hard enough. The stories. The improvements team to team. The way drivers tackle the races. The new drivers coming through (and sadly the unfortunate talented drivers getting shafted by teams desperate for cash). The differences between teams and cars even if those are ever-shrinking. Despite all the problems, somewhere underneath it all a version of the sport still exists.

2016 is interesting. There’s the very real possibility Mercedes will be challenged by Ferrari. There’s disruption in the midfield among Red Bull, McLaren, Renault (ex-Lotus) which will really mix things up, if not in 1st and 2nd in the race result then certainly from 3rd to 18th.
There are new tyres rules, complicated ones, which should add a variable without affecting things too greatly.
There’s also this weird new qualifying system, I won’t dwell on it but let’s say firstly I’m not (yet) a fan, on paper not at all, but also let’s say we should see it before judging. I’m keeping an open mind.

There are signs things are changing. The sport is finally listening to the fans – for better or for worse. Changes to the cars are coming in 2017 or 2018, they may not be the right changes, it certainly doesn’t look like it, but we’ll find out in due course. At least by then F1 cars ought to be jaw-dropping fast again!

Even Pirelli seems to be getting the message – make better tyres.

TV Deal

The UK has an exciting new TV deal with Channel 4 taking over. I’ll miss the BBC coverage but most of that team has landed at C4 and the number of hours seems about the same as the recent BBC deal, and I’m used to that now. Let’s face it, even hardcore fans don’t need live coverage of 21 races worth of practice sessions. And the highlights give me a chance to do other things in the day before settling in to watch – just as long as I avoid social media (spoilers!). I’m really intrigued to see what C4 can bring to the experience.

Team By Team

My team-by-team preview follows in the next post.

Conclusion

Whilst I agree with the need to go for the hybrid formula, I think it has been done the wrong way, and with the wrong tyres. But the competitiveness side of things should even itself out if the rules remain fairly stable and others catch up, and I hope that’ll show signs of happening this year.

Will 2016 be ‘The Best Year Ever’? No, of course not. But it could be the best year of the 1.6 litre hybrid era, and that’ll be good enough for me.

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!

2012 Formula 1 Preview Part 1

The first part of my 2012 F1 season preview is a look at the likely bottom 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 midfielders and backmarkers. 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 1 of 2: Read about the Frontrunners here.

Midfielders

Sauber

Drivers: Sergio Perez, Kamui Kobayashi;
Engine: Ferrari;

Before BMW showed up, Sauber naturally sat about 6th or 7th in the Constructors Championship every year, they had the potential to move up if they ever got investment but you never got the impression they’d ever sink below it. I get the feeling now the split from BMW has fully taken effect they are back to their old level again. Funny how that happens! Not sure how losing a Tech. Director will affect them, maybe they’ve put in a McLaren-like structure where it doesn’t matter too much.

Perez is a talent and I think he’s going places. Whether it be Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull.. by 2014-2015 he’ll be at one of them. Kobayashi is in his 3rd year, people will now watch him like a hawk – is he really as good as he promised with his impressive debut? If Kamui regains his rookie season spirit (and Perez maintains his) this team will have two fighters in a car which doesn’t usually eat tyres – a real underdog team.

Objective: Beat Williams, STR, Caterham. Mix it with Mercedes and Force India regularly. 6th or better in WCC.

Toro Rosso

Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne;
Engine: Ferrari;

I expect the car will naturally fall at the approximate Williams/Sauber level again, the question is what two rookies will get out of it with no experienced hand to help them. This is why I think it took so long for Alguersuari and Buemi to bed in, and now STR have done it again. I think both drivers are better than those they replace, but it’ll take a little while to show it because both Jaime and Seb had improved so much over the last couple of years.

Riccardo does have the part-season with HRT last year as experience, and it being a dog of car can only help him when he’s presented with a half decent one here. Vergne is a talent though and I think he’s marginally better. After a few races where Dan will have the edge, this pairing should be very evenly matched.

Objective: Beat the other young drivers at Williams and Sauber. STR isn’t set up to worry about where they finish in the WCC, the aim is for the drivers to prove their worth.

Williams

Drivers: Pastor Maldonado, Bruno Senna;
Engine: Renault;

I’m tired of saying ‘they’ll potentially be much better this year’. I’ve been saying it since at least 2005. Another engine partner, another personnel reshuffle, another driver change. Like the others near the back I give them credit for admitting their failures and trying another solution. The bad thing is yet another ‘building year’ as they restructure. It is time to get out of this rut. I’m very excited for the potential of the Renault engines and I fully expect the team to jump back ahead of Toro Rosso and fend off Caterham. Losing an experienced driver may hurt.

Maldonado needs to keep ironing out the crashes. He’s got talent and is fast on his day, but basically is the new Sato. Senna only has part-seasons with HRT and Renault/Lotus. He’s not Ayrton and never will be, but he’s a solid driver who deserves his place in F1 – this is the ideal chance to prove it. The media will be unbearable at times with the Williams/Senna connections, I just hope he gets the space he needs.

It will be interesting to see if either emerge as natural team leader. I reckon it’ll be Senna.

Objective: Get back into points finishes, finish 8th or better in WCC.

Caterham

Drivers: Heikki Kovalainen, Vitaly Petrov;
Engine: Renault;

This team made impressive gains last year. Make the same jump again this year and you’ll be racing Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber at every race, with the potential for the odd points score. Indeed I think they’ll do just that.

Kovalainen is on form and is the ideal guy to battle in the field to get a good finish, on the face of it he’s been driving well but his yardstick was a Trulli who may have been in ‘cruise and collect’ mode. Vitaly Petrov isn’t much better than Jarno but he’s more motivated, and has the potential to keep improving.

Objective: A handful of points finishes. Beat one or more of Toro Rosso, Sauber or Williams in the constructors standings.

Backmarkers

HRT F1

Drivers: Pedro de la Rosa, Narain Karthikeyan;
Engine: Cosworth;

A fresh start for HRT after throwing out Colin Kolles and his organisation. They are essentially starting all over as a new team again. New owners, new team personnel, a new operating base, and an apparent veil of secrecy over the whole thing. From the look of it the only thing not new is the car, which looks like the 2011 car modified to fit current rules. I’ll again be amazed if they qualify for every race, which they otherwise ought to have done this year with relative ease. Once again they’ll be battling the 107% rule and hoping stewards keep ignoring it. However, they’ve proven me wrong for two years now and beaten Virgin/Marussia, so best of luck to them!

The driver line-up is unspectacular, but DLR will help sort the car with his McLaren experience even if he isn’t quick. If they’d used an experienced driver earlier they might’ve progressed faster. Expect the 2nd seat to again go to anyone who can temporarily outbid Karthikeyan. Narain’s not great but is better than many think.

Objective: Qualify for all of the races on merit (no exemptions), finish races reliably. Close some of the gap to the main pack. Ultimately start behaving like a professional F1 team.

Marussia

Drivers: Timo Glock, Charles Pic;
Engine: Cosworth;

I have no idea why a driver of the high calibre of Timo Glock is sticking around for a third season with this team. I suspect he joined with the intention of getting the result Heikki Kovalainen has at Caterham – a rejuvinated career with a team improving every year. That hasn’t happened. Marussia made progress with solving their dreadful reliability, but the speed still wasn’t there in 2011. If the team hasn’t improved by midseason I expect Glock to leave by year’s end. Again a lot changing though, including a team relocation, maybe they’ll do better after a restructure. Like HRT they have no real test mileage behind them, just a bit of shakedown work. I like this team’s fresh attitude and I have a lot of respect for John Booth, but they’re really going to have to step it up this year to be taken seriously.

Charles Pic is decent enough and he and d’Ambrosio are probably comparable, Pic may edge it, but why switch to another rookie without giving the first one the chance of a second season? The same happened a year ago to the unfortunate Lucas di Grassi.

Objective: Finish races and beat HRT on pace. Start closing the time gap to the main pack. Stop saying ‘Maroosha’ when it clearly says ‘Ma-Russia’.