Catch me if you can: The F1 2011 preview

By on Saturday, March 19, 2011

Catch me if you can

F1Zone's F1 2011 Preview

He made mistakes and had poor reliability in 2010. Yet he still won the crown. Can anyone stop Super Seb from doing the double?

F1 2010 gave us one of the most thrilling seasons of all time. 4 drivers entered the final race with a chance of becoming world champion and it was ultimately Sebastian Vettel who stole the crown from the hands of Fernando Alonso. It doesn’t seem like long since Red Bull partied long into the night in Abu Dhabi, but the engines are firing up in anticipation of the season opening Australian Grand Prix next weekend. There are 5 world champions on the grid all in cars that could be fighting for race wins. This one could be good…

Red Bull Racing

1. Sebastian Vettel | 2. Mark Webber

They came, they saw, they conquered. Yet this year, Red Bull could be even better than they were in 2010. Such a statement is not only hard to believe, but it must send shivers down the spines of the other team members. The RB7 is an evolution of the RB6, which itself was built on the RB5, the fastest car of the second half of 2009. The car is neatly packaged and seems to have been refined in the areas which cost them in 2010. One of those was reliability and that appears to have been improved, judging by the performance in testing. Mark Webber claims the team is ready this season, having skipped tests in the past. Over a lap, the RB7 looks to be the fastest car and over long runs its pace is hardly shoddy. As with all the teams, how the car manages the tyres will be vital but that is more driver dependant than down to the car.

The driver line up is unchanged from 2010, with Sebastian Vettel sporting the lucrative Number One on his RB7 and Mark Webber sporting the less lucrative number two on his. They had their differences in 2010 but they have both said that is now behind them so you’d not expect a repeat of their infamous crash in Istanbul. Vettel will mature with age and won’t make the same mistakes he did in 2010. He has the ability to set stunning laps in qualifying and gallop into the distance, although there are still question marks over his race craft. Webber on the other hand is in the autumn of his career and has this year to prove he deserves a contract extension. You wonder whether he will get a chance as golden as the one he had in 2010 but you cannot deny his position amongst the sport’s best. He may not have that final tenth but he is an established winner, for who anything but the title will be deemed a failure. Doubly so if Vettel beats him for a third successive season. Red Bull has to be favourites in both aspects, with Vettel leading the team.

WCC Prediction: 1st

McLaren

3. Lewis Hamilton | 4. Jenson Button

It doesn’t look good at the moment for McLaren, does it? The MP4-26 has not performed in testing and it looks a handful. The radical car was deemed to either be dominant or a flop and sadly for the team it appears as if the latter is the case.

It seems as if by trying to gain an advantage on Red Bull, McLaren has shot itself in the foot as their ‘Octopus’ Exhaust system is costing them. A ceramic box collects the hot gases exiting the engine and distributes it to eight separate pipes, with the general idea being that you can then spread the exhaust gases around the back of the car. The problem is that they wanted to use a material called Pyrosic which is allowed, but only when used as a heat shield. People are not one-hundred percent sure how McLaren's system gets around the FIA rule that states a car can only have two exhaust exits and whatever material McLaren are trying at the moment is deforming badly under heat. This is seriously screwing up the rear of the car, and will need a complete re-think to solve. Thanks to Matt for that piece of information. Another issue is that the reliability and late car launch has meant that race simulations have been at a premium. Whilst Red Bull and Ferrari spent a few days running over a hundred laps, McLaren didn’t and will enter the first race sorely lacking in this department. Therefore just finishing in Australia seems like a good result and anything in the top 5 will be a massive bonus.

On the driver front, Hamilton and Button remain with the team and both want to improve on their 2010 performances. For Hamilton, he was the best driver for a lot of the season but two crashes in Italy and Singapore cost him the crown. The Pirelli tyres, KERS and the rear wing could provide him with the advantage in the area that he revels in – overtaking. If the car is bad and stuck in the midfield, then Hamilton’s the man who can drag it further forward than it deserves to be, like he did in 2009. You don’t want to say it’s a make-or-break year for the young Brit as he is still only 26 years old. But Vettel is three years younger and in a team that is getting a lot more right than McLaren is. Another season with only a two or three wins and 2008 will seem like an eternity ago. Jenson Button impressed in his first year with McLaren but he also needs to make improvements. Unlike Hamilton he did not suffer reliability issues last year and whilst he won two races, both were early in the season and in unpredictable conditions. In a normal race situation, he lacks the pace of Hamilton although a lot of that is down to poor qualifying performances, something which Button himself has pinpointed as his main weakness. It might be a slow start to the season for the team but they need to stay optimistic as if any squad can turn a car around, it’s McLaren.

WCC Prediction: 4th

Ferrari

5. Fernando Alonso | 6. Felipe Massa

Ferrari let the title slip through their hands in Abu Dhabi and they’ve made personnel changes in order to take the title back to Maranello. For Ferrari, 4th in the championship followed by 3rd is certainly not good enough, especially with Fernando Alonso about. The F10 was simply not a good car, as shown by Felipe Massa, but was dragged to places it had no right to be by Fernando Alonso. It was the 3rd fastest car that was a botched strategy away from being the car that the champion drove. But that was last year and for everyone at Ferrari, it is in the past. All that matters is winning the drivers title for the first time since Kimi Raikkonen lifted the crown back in 2007. The F150° Italia – ridiculously named and horrible to type on keyboards, thanks Ford – drew criticism initially because of its apparent conservatism, but in testing it seems as if Ferrari has got it right. The car is quick on long runs and has been fairly reliable. It certainly should be better than the F10. The team will unquestionably be led by Fernando Alonso. All teams say their drivers are equal, but in this team, some drivers are more equal than others and that is certainly the case with Alonso. He is undoubtedly the finest of his generation and a few of his performances last season were exceptional. What he needs to do though is stay calm when something goes wrong. He gets hot headed very easily, especially if he feels he has been unfairly wronged and more so if Hamilton is involved. For Massa, the next 19 races will make or break him. 2010 was a disaster for him as he only made the podium 5 times and was a distant 6th in the championship, a position that actually flattered him. He will become the 3rd most experienced Ferrari driver this season and the team will expect a huge improvement on last year. No more silly crashes and no more blaming the tyres. He needs to be Alonso’s wingman and be there if something happens to Alonso. The constructor’s championship is also there for the taking, so Ferrari needs a fully fit and performing Massa. His last win, incredibly, is the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. It can’t be worse than 2010 for Massa but Alonso will still have the upper hand. Overall though, if you're a betting man then the only driver that will challenge Vettel this year is Alonso. Give him a chance and he'll take it.

WCC Prediction: 2nd

Mercedes

7. Michael Schumacher | 8. Nico Rosberg

Before the final test in Barcelona, everyone had it in for Mercedes. The car was bad, it wasn’t responding to anything and it would be another poor season for a man who used to dominate. Then the upgrade was bolted on to the car, a tweak here and there and said driver went fastest. By some margin.  In Schumacher and Rosberg, the team has a pair of very capable drivers: one who has 91 wins and is desperate to add a 92nd and the other who wants to chalk up his first win. Rosberg impressed in 2010 and was the far better Mercedes driver. But by the end of the season, Schumacher was catching up and their pace was similar. The king, it seemed, was back. The 2010 car was designed for Jenson Button which was bad news for both drivers, who prefer a tail happy car. With the W02 built around Schumacher and Rosberg, it will suit them a lot better. There will be huge pressure to perform, but it won’t get to either driver and Mercedes are ready to enter the big time in 2011. Podiums are achievable, wins in normal conditions unlikely but still possible.

WCC Prediction: 3rd

Renault

9. Nick Heidfeld | 10. Vitaly Petrov

February 6th may go down as the day when Renault lost the 2011 championship. As news filtered through as to the extent of Kubica’s injuries, it was apparent that he would not be fit for the season opener and would most likely miss the whole season. That comeback date is still unknown. His replacement, Nick Heidfeld, gets another chance to win his first race and the R31 could be the best car he has ever driven. It impressed in the first test in the hands of the pre-injury Kubica and Renault has played their cards with a clever exhaust system. Unlike McLaren, theirs appears to work. For Heidfeld, it must be an awkward situation to be in as he knows the team don’t really want him there but he still has to perform and get Renault the most points possible. Depending on how he performs, it could have ramifications for Vitaly Petrov. The Russian’s contract runs until the end of the 2012 season, but that is likely to have clauses in it that would have related to how Kubica fared. The Pole’s injury therefore raises another issue. If Petrov doesn’t perform, could Renault get rid of him when Kubica returns rather than Heidfeld? Possibly. Renault will not take kindly to a lack of improvement from Petrov. He showed his worth on times – in China, Hungary and Abu Dhabi – but left a trail of destruction in his wake on too many occasions. For example, he had accidents in China practice, Spain practice, Monaco practice, the Canadian race, Belgium qualifying, Singapore qualifying, the Japanese race, the Korean race and in Brazilian practice. That’s too many. He will be expected to be matching Heidfeld’s pace and to score a lot more points than he did in 2010.

WCC Prediction: 5th

Williams

11. Rubens Barrichello | 12. Pastor Maldonado

You never really know where to stand with Williams. Since 2005, every car has promised a lot but in return delivered very little. Plus, the financial situation at the team isn’t the best. The FW33 seems to be an improvement on the FW32 but the reliability is an issue as the team’s different approach to KERS and a very small gearbox has left them on the sidelines on too many occasions pre-season. Quick but fragile is the case at the moment. In Barrichello, they have the most experienced driver in the history of Formula One, who is unlikely to retire before he is of an age where he can collect his pension although on the other side of the garage the highly rated Nico Hulkenberg has been let go in favour of the less highly rated Pastor Maldonado, who comes with sponsorship from the Venezuelan government. By floating shares on the stock exchange, Williams are hoping this can raise the cash they need. Maldonado is still good though - he is the reigning GP2 champion – but he has a tendency to get involved in unnecessary accidents and did bin the car in Valencia. Watch out for him at Monaco though, he’s good there. Williams won’t win a race this season unless something extraordinary happens but the car should be slightly faster.

WCC Prediction: 6th

Force India

14. Adrian Sutil | 15. Paul di Resta

Without being too harsh, you have to feel that the only way is down for Force India this season. At the start of 2010, they had the 6th best car but by the end of the season both Williams and Sauber had overtaken them. They’ve lost the highly talented James Key to Sauber and his departure almost coincided with a lack of sufficient development that saw them fall back. The VJM04 has been set the target of finishing 5th in the championship which, in all honesty, looks impossible. The car has not been that quick during testing and Sutil has said he expects a tough start to the season. It seems that they are currently behind Sauber and Williams which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering they were still backmarkers until the middle of 2009. They should be able to beat Toro Rosso over the course of the season but points may be more at a premium in 2011 than 2010. On the driver front, Paul di Resta replaces Vitantonio Liuzzi and whilst he is a very talented driver, he hasn’t raced a single seater in four or five year so – whilst he can race a touring car brilliantly – he may take a few races to get up to speed. Once he does, Adrian Sutil might have to watch his back as it is his fifth season in Formula One and the team will be expecting another improvement from him. He was one of the surprises of 2010 but his form tailed off towards the end of the season when the car took a dip in performance. He needs to sustain his good form and be capable of managing a top 10 every race.

WCC Prediction: 8th

Sauber

16. Kamui Kobayashi | 17. Sergio Perez

After a disastrous start to 2010 when the car was slow and unreliable, it’s looking a lot brighter for Sauber this season. Whilst pre-season testing is always difficult to judge, both Kobayashi and Perez put in a decent amount of mileage and the odd fast time; Perez managed a time that Hamilton has said McLaren can’t do. The team has a lot more sponsors than this time last year and two young fast drivers. The only downside with that is whether they can develop the car as well as an experienced driver such as Heidfeld or De La Rosa could. Kobayashi is always exciting to watch and a practice session rarely goes by without him flying off the circuit, but that is a good sign as it shows he’s exploring the limits. With overtaking potentially simpler this year, that should help Kobayashi enormously although he only needs half a cars width of open space for him to try and make a move. Perez is a very capable young driver having finished runner up to Maldonado in the GP2 championship. Some of his races were very convincing last season and he has a maturity that some young drivers don’t have. He also comes with a lot of financial backing from communication giants Telmex. Whilst that means he is a pay driver, that does not mean that is the sole reason he is there, not by a long shot.

WCC Prediction: 7th

Toro Rosso

18. Sebastien Buemi | 19. Jaime Alguersuari

The surprise of the season? Possibly. The car has looked quick during pre-season testing although on long runs it has tended to be a midfield car at best. As ever though, we’ll find out in the first few races. The problem with Toro Rosso is that to finish 8th – their target – they have to beat one of Sauber, Force India or Williams. That is going to be extremely difficult as whilst they should build on their 2010 points tally, to finish 8th they will need to be regular top 10 finishers and not picking up the occasional point for 9th or 10th. The team retains Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi but it’s more likely than not that one of them will be gone by the middle of the season and replaced by Daniel Ricciardo, who will participate in practice sessions. Alguersuari got the better of Buemi over the second half of last season, in spite of multiple problems, and is the less experienced of the two. Therefore Buemi will be the man under the most pressure. All of this though depends on what Webber does. If the Australian decides to retire after this season, Toro Rosso will most likely keep both drivers for the year and then bring in Ricciardo to replace whoever gets promoted. For now though, each driver must beat the other. If not, they’re out of the door after the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Prediction: 9th

Team Lotus

20. Heikki Kovalainen | 21. Jarno Trulli

The best of the new teams last year, they no longer have that excuse to fall back on but out of the 3 newer teams, you’d bet a lot on Lotus being the one that challenges the midfield. The T128 uses a rear end assisted by Red Bull and they’ve got rid of the unreliable Xtrac gearboxes that plagued them last season. Reliability has not been the greatest pre-season, but the car seems to be 2 seconds off the pace rather than 4 or 5. If that is the case, then Lotus deserve a lot of credit. Challenging the midfield will be tough at first but they should be there by the middle of the season. They must, though, make sure they are the team that can pick up a 10th place finish in the event of a crazy race. Finishing behind either of Virgin or HRT would be unacceptable and a huge embarrassment for everyone in the team. That does seem to be highly unlikely though. Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli stay on but the latter needs to pick up his game a bit this season. It must be hard for Trulli being in an uncompetitive car after so many years, but he needs to keep his head high. It should be a much better year for Lotus as they start to challenge the midfield.

WCC Prediction: 10th

Hispania Racing Team (HRT)

22. Vitantonio Liuzzi | 23. Narain Karthikeyan

Oh dear. I could leave it at that I guess, but that would be unfair to a team who struggled dearly in 2010, suffering from a woeful lack of down force and even less money. Although, they have an advantage in that they have less down force than the other teams to lose! They have the pace of Minardi without the loveable minnow side to them. They have Colin Kolles to thank purely for getting them to the first grand prix, but now there’s actually an optimistic side to the HRT story. The car has been designed by Geoff Willis who is a very capable designer who has now managed to get rid of the errors in the Dallara chassis of 2010. The Williams gearbox will help with reliability, whilst from a spectator perspective; the livery looks very good even if ‘Your logo here’ signs still adorn the car. Again the car has had no pre-season testing so that is obviously a massive negative. Even so, money from Tata sponsored Narain Karthikeyan will help – as well as the publicity boost the team will get for the Indian Grand Prix – whilst the capable Vitantonio Liuzzi joins the team. A driver like Liuzzi has had enough chances in Formula One, but he at least enables the team to get a benchmark on where they stand, as opposed to running with rookies like in 2010. The team should be within the 107% time needed to qualify for a grand prix but for now, anything but 12th will be a good result for the team.

WCC Prediction: 12th

Marussia Virgin

24. Timo Glock | 25. Jerome d'Ambrosio

2010 wasn’t  a good debut season for the team as a combination of team errors (like not building a big enough fuel tank) and driver errors (Lucas di Grassi) meant that they missed out on early season opportunities and were last in the championship on countback of best results. It doesn’t look much better this season. The car isn’t a massive improvement and Glock has said he expects a tough start to the season. 11th best looks like the best finish possible but they cannot be beaten by HRT. Glock will lead the team and he took the car to places it had no right to be last year whilst Jerome d’Ambrosio replaces the disappointing Lucas di Grassi, largely due to financial benefits for Virgin. The major change to the team is the white front nose which shows that Russian sports car company Marussia has joined the Yorkshire squad, meaning the team now race under a Russian license. However, you wonder whether they should get too optimistic as Marussia are still largely unknown and the last time a company such as this got involved – Midland/Spyker – they pulled out quite quickly.

WCC Prediction: 11th

With thanks to: MaTT, Sutton Images, LAT, Motorsport Nextgen Auto

Make sure you visit the forum for all the latest news, views, photos and videos ahead of the Australian Grand Prix


If you liked this post then share it with your friends on social media websites. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest F1 news.