It’s been 4 weeks since our last F1 Round Up, and in that time I’ve had a good look at the new teams and their potential for the season ahead. Rather than report each launch, we’re taking a wider look at the teams and their progress in order to provide you with a general overview.
With anticipation at ludicrous levels. it would be McLaren who would be the first to show off their 2010 design and, as expected, it featured a range of impressive features. Gone are the rather basic looking designs of 2009, now replaced with the rounded edges and refinement expected from the pinnacle of motorsport.
But nobody could have predicted just how much the regulations would alter the look of this year’s cars. As Jenson and Lewis pulled the sheet from the McLaren, the bodywork going on and on, it was clear we were looking at a new generation, and something truly spectacular.
Launches followed from Ferrari and Renault; the Ferrari with a more conventional body design ,whilst Renault opted for the shark fin approach, looking very much like a 1999 Jordan. Then it would be the turn of Mercedes, again using the conventional design and of course proud of their formidable driver line-up. Sauber followed with their shark fin before the first sneak glimpses from Williams and Red Bull, with the latter immediately on the pace.
Moving onto the first test at Valencia, and Ferrari were immediately in control. Great consistency from Fernando Alonso demonstrated that no only would this car be quick out of the box, but was able to maintain this pace beyond just a few fast laps.
The gauntlet was laid with Mercedes also battling for the top of the time sheets, but it would be the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton that would eventually set the fastest lap of the test, proving as ever that McLaren should never be underestimated. And, with the top 5 teams covering a second, the test underlined just how close 2010 is likely to be.
Moving onto Jerez, and the Virgin GP team revealed their car. With a relatively basic design and built in an entirely digital environment with no wind tunnel testing, everyone was keen to see their progress. Alas issues with the front wing would blight their first test whuch, as a result of the late parts delivery, eventually leaving the team well off the pace. However. Virgin GP are confident that they can close the gap before the team reach Barhain.
Meanwhile, the rest of the grid pushed on. With poor weather affecting the test, it was Barichello in the Williams who would shine, but as dry weather came, so did the performance of the Red Bull with Mark Webber topping the time sheets for much of the test. Eventually though, on the final laps of the final day, McLaren would again set the fastest lap, this time in the hands of Jenson Button. Next stop: Barcelona.
Moving to the third test would see a newly revised shark fin for the Ferrari, along with the revelation from Mercedes that the diffuser they had been using would not be the final design for Barhain. Looking at the testing times, this would establish Mercedes as a clear title contender.
Lotus would have a more consistent showing, but again were well off the pace, with Mike Gascoyne admitting the limited development time had forced the team to opt for a slower but more consistent chassis, with development set to speed up when the teams hits Europe. Nevertheless, it’s a great looking car and Jarno Trulli is confident the team can move forward quickly. but expects the first half of the season to be challenging.
A team that really shone in the latter half of 2009 was be Force India, with a second place finish at Spa demonstrating the team had the potential to punch well above their weight, and they hope to carry on that trend this year. Falling around the middle of the testing time sheets, they are definitely in the mix, but are they competitive enough to score podium finishes? Only time will tell.
From the first 3 tests, it’s unclear who will be dominant, but with McLaren topping the final time sheets at all 3 tests, it’s clear they have the 1 lap pace. But how will the teams react over a full race distance with tyre wear? That is a question which no driver could be drawn on, with the tests proving inconclusive (due much in part to the changed rules on fuel), but it will certainly be close. After all, never before have so many teams been so well equipped to develop quickly and efficiently.
The drivers too are very competitive. For the first time ever, there are 4 World Champions in a potentially race winning car, and never has there been such an even spread in the competition. But could there be any upsets? Red Bull is currently seen as the most efficient race package but Christian Horner admits the Renault engine is underpowered compared to its rivals.
This could make the second half of the season far more of a challenge, though, on the other hand, they could be them sandbagging their potential! They’ve already made a complaint about the legality of McLaren’s rear wing, drawing many to conclude that they see the British outfit as their greatest rival, and suggests where they see themselves in the grand scheme of things (i.e. right at the top).
Another big talking point will be the Jenson versus Lewis debate, and who will emerge victorious come season’s end. In many respects, this is a news story being blown out of all proportion. Both drivers are thought to get on well and, now they are both world champions, they have nothing to prove. However, any division will be instantly pounced upon, and many journalists will just make something up if the right news doesn’t present itself.
Not only do I feel they could make a great team, but I also don’t adhere to the one sided opinion that it will swing one way or another. Jenson is too consistent and experienced to be left in the dust and, despite moving to a new team, he’s proven before that he can be more than a match for any team mate. Despite the outside pressure. they have the opportunity to create one of F1’s great partnerships.
I remember seeing team mates that were friends moving to conflict, with Senna/Prost and Mansell/Piquet being the most obvious examples. But looking at the personalities of those drivers, anyone in the same team would have come to blows, in a similar way to any competitive team mate of Schumacher or Alonso.
In fact, imagine those guys in the same team. Now that would cause some fireworks!
It will be exciting to see how Koybyashi gets on. The Sauber is apparently easier on its tyres than any other car. while the Williams is an unknown quantity, but Hulkenberg has shown impressive speed. Looks like there’s another quick driver for Barrichello to contend with in his long F1 career
Now Bahrain’s just around the corner and. despite the extensive testing, there is an air of excitement and uncertainty. Based on pre season results, the McLaren has the best 1 lap pace, quickly followed by Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes. So, grid guessing is all open and we’ll come back to that in another story.
For now though, let’s look forward to F1 2010, with live coverage beginning on BBC1 at 10:10am on Saturday 13th March.