Bernie Backs Red Bulls**t

Surprise, surprise, F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone backs Sebastian Vettel’s decision to ignore team orders in Malaysia. The on-track scrap between Mark Webber and Vettel now known as the ‘Bull FIght’ has split opinion in F1, with Ecclestone standing firmly on Vettel’s side of the fence - as always. The magnate commented, saying:

“If I’d have won three world championships for the team and somebody came on the radio to me and started giving me instructions I’d probably do exactly the same…”

Ecclestone portrays an image of equality and fairness, supporting Vettel’s decision to ignore team orders in the interest of racing. But when the tables were turned back in 2011 and it was Mark Webber who benfitted from ignoring team orders, Ecclestone did not come to the defense of Webber when flak from the media started flying in.

In a team team that doesn’t have a number one and number two driver system, Webber is definitely being made to feel like one. F1′s ‘unlucky man’, Webber will surely be eagerly awaiting the disciplinary outcome of Vettel’s decision with crossed fingers.

Despite Webber’s father insisitng his son isn’t a quitter and will stay on with Red Bull, I think one more show of support for the triple world champion could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back…

 

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Fear Not, McLaren Fans…

Just a quick one for all the McLaren fans out there. Those concerned with the performance of McLaren’s 2013 car, the MP4-28, fear not!; help, and reassurance, is at hand.

In 2012, McLaren found themselves with the strongest car come the final round at Interlagos. They hadn’t began with the strongest car at the start of the season, but rather, spent the entire season doing what McLaren do best; developing.
Fast forward to 2013, and all McLaren’s hard work seems to have disappeared, right? Wrong. In fact, instead of playing it safe and basing their new car on the tried and tested old one, McLaren have completely revolutionised, going in a new direction and into the unknown. As it turns out, the unknown is a total of four points from two races.

The McLaren MP4-27 & 28

The image of above explains the discrepency in McLaren’s performance. The Woking-based team’s new philosophy is to derive their downforce from the floor of the car. This is plain to see by how much lower the MP4-28 is to the ground than the MP4-27. The suspension’s new too, and the lower nose resembles the direction the developers tried with the MP4-27 at the start of 2012, before scrapping it four races into the season.

2013 will be the year to prove they’d been too hasty. Although the performance isn’t their now, McLaren and the MP4-28 are in it for the long haul. In previous years, car development has run out of steam mid-seasonfor McLaren and their rivals. This year’s renovations are aimed at confronting that, and extending the possibilites for development all season long. So where Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes’ pace may start to waver, McLaren will be hoping to continue to plow on.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so keep the faith and #BelieveInMcLaren.

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Rebel Racing: There’s No ‘I’ In Team

“The only purposeful way to bring him to book is to say ‘you will stand out one race’”.

Former Grand Prix winner, John Watson was outspoken about the scandal that hit F1 this weekend when Sebastian Vettel disobeyed team orders to take victory in the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix. The triple world champion and his teammate Mark Webber were asked to limit their engine revs and coast to the finish to preserve tyres. The Red Bull pair had previously agreed with the team to not race each other beyond the last round of pitstops. In the lead after shrewd pitstops and tyre choices, Webber should have had his first victory of 2013 all sewn up. But Vettel had other ideas. The young German ignored pleas from Team Principal Christian Horner to back off to no avail, and Vettel, after a number of close shaves with his teammate, passed Webber to steal the twenty-five points.

Mark Webber vents his frustrations toward Red Bull teammate, Sebastian Vettel

Mark Webber vents his frustrations toward Red Bull teammate, Sebastian Vettel

Podium and post-race interviews made two things clear: Webber’s outrage, and Vettel’s lack of shits given. Vettel has since apologised, citing adrenaline and heat of the moment, “I didn’t ignore it on purpose, but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s upset, but yeah, I want to be honest at least and stick to the truth and apologise”. He later came off as ingenuous when Horner later rubbished claims that Vettel didn’t overtake Webber ‘deliberately’: “He had made it quite clear what his intention was by making the move. He knew what the communication was. He had had the communication. He chose to ignore it”.

Red Bull team bosses will be left scratching their heads after Malaysia

Red Bull team bosses will be left scratching their heads after Malaysia

A few F1 personalities have come to Vettel’s defense such as former McLaren and Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger, who said no driver could achieve the successes Vettel has without showing the kind of ‘selfishness’ seen in Malaysia.

But if you ask me, Vettel’s actions are indefensible. The long and short of it is that each team wants to win the Constructors’, and each driver, the Drivers’. Red Bull compromised and met the drivers in the middle, allowing them to indulge their own interest up until the last round of pitstops, whereupon the team’s interests would be respected thereafter. Vettel ignored the team (and his employers), and I completely agree with John Watson’s solution to the matter.

“It is the head and not the foot that is instrumental in any one driver’s achievements” – Peter Sauber.

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Hello Again…

So I’m sat watching the opening feature race of GP2, determined to stay awake for FP3 and the F1 Qualifying at Sepang and it’s occurred to me that it has been far too long since I last updated this thing… let’s hope the habit endures this time.

First thing’s first; a special mention to Justine who happens to be in Kuala Lumpur for the race weekend! I am incredibly jealous and hope you have an awesome time! Fingers crossed you brought an umbrella with you…

Justine’s likely to need a poncho too, because, it you haven’t seen the forecast for race day, it’s going to be wet. Like, really wet.

Malaysia is no stranger to torrential weather, but what makes this weekend such an exciting prospect is how competitive the front runners are this season. Lotus, who were the touted dark horse last season have had a fantastic start to 2013 with Kimi Raikkonnen securing the top step in Melbourne. Raikkonnen’s smooth style combined with the E21′s kindness to it’s tyres means Lotus are one of the favourites on Sunday in a season that’s shaping up to be all about the Pirelli rubber.

Ferrari too, who were dogged with a terrible car at the start of 2012, have put there heads together and not made the same mistake twice with the new F138; Fernando Alonso was quickest last time out in Melbourne and would have won if Ferrari could have made the two-stop strategy work. Massa too, who spent all of last season wading through a river of transfer speculation regarding his seat in F1 (and a wealth of drivers  supposedly more deserving of it), made a strong start to the season also.

Naturally, the triple double world champions, Red Bull, picked up where they left off and locked out the front row in Melbourne. However, in a team that settles for nothing less than perfection, a few heads were left being scratched when Sebastian Vettel struggled with tyre degredation, albeit still bringing it home in 3rd, and Mark Webber spent the afternoon in a battle for scraps with Paul di Resta. Nevertheless, they’re Red Bull, and I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over the defending champions finding form very soon.

Mercedes had an encouraging opening round in spite of Lewis Hamilton down-playing prospects prior to the race. Despite Nico Rosberg retiring with reliability issues, The Silver Arrows have good pace and should be competitive this weekend, particularly in the wet if FP1 and FP2 in Australia are anything to go by; the W04 dominated the time sheets in the rain a week ago.

The team I SHOULD be discussing now is McLaren, but it’s not. It’s Force India. McLaren have opted for revolution rather than evolution this season, and it has cost them a spot, for the time being at least, amongst the front runners. This spot has been happily filled by Vijay Mallya’s boys. After a season away from the sport, Adrian Sutil excelled in the VJM06 round Albert Park, finishing 7th after having lead the race. Until McLaren begin to understand their MP4-28, Sutil and Di Resta can settle into their new home as the fifth team in F1, leaving Jenson Button to grind out a few more 10th places.

With all that said, prediction time. Tyres will be key around Sepang, so Lotus are already at an advantage and should show. Ferrari too will finish strong, as will Red Bull. I expect Force India to be in the points again and McLaren, if they’re lucky with the weather. My big tip goes to Mercedes. Rosberg’s wet weather running in Melbourne was untouchable, and although he and Hamilton mightn’t qualify too well if the circuit stays dry, the inevitable rain on Sunday should suit them.

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Why Perez Isn’t The Only Man For Massa’s Seat

After an excellent 2nd place drive by Sauber driver Sergio Perez at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, many have speculated that Perez – a part of the Ferrari young driver program – will graduate into Felipe Massa’s race seat with the Red Car team. By comparison, the Brazilian had a dismal weekend, wathcing his team-mate Fernando Alosno take the checkered flag in Sepang as he struggled to a underwhelming 15th.

Perez, who looked certain to win the race at one point, is a shining example of the excellent emerging talent in Formula 1, giving Felipe Massa and other F1 old heads cause for concern and good reason to watch their backs.

Cause for concern for Felipe Massa

After pre-season concerns over the lack of competitiveness Ferrari’s F2012 was showing, a panicked atmosphere seemed to descend over the team. Alonso has transcended this, hauling the car into a 5th and 1st place finish – positions the F2012 has no right to be in. Massa, on the other hand, hasn’t managed to out-perform his car, culminating in rumours that his replacement is no longer a matter of if but when. Some pundits have even suggested Perez could even replace Massa before the season is out, but I disagree.

In my opinion, Ferrari won’t make any change to driver personnel until the end of the season. There concentration has to be on improving the car, and changing a driver mid-season won’t do any good for the consistency of essential driver feedback on the F2012. With regards to Perez, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the driver to take Massa’s seat – even if he is part of the Ferrari young driver program. Any team with a pedigree such as Ferrari’s has their pick of drivers, and there’s plenty of upcoming talent to choose from – not just from Formula1 and not just from their own young driver program.

But drivers can smell blood, and the midfield drivers in particular will be looking to impress with an eye on a promotion. I wouldn’t write off either of Force India or Williams’ drivers to take the second Ferrari seat, all four of whom have shown great promise in 2012 so far.

Lotus driver Romian Grosjean is another possibility and could show his worth if he can convert his excellent qualifying performances into decent finishes. Even Kimi Raikkonnen being united with his former team isn’t out of the question.

A quick mention for forgotten Robert Kubica – if the Pole is to make a return to F1, there’s no ruling out Ferrari being the team to make space for the talented driver.

Last but not least, and sadly overlooked in my opinion is Perez’s own team-mate, Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver demonstrated ruthless overtaking ability on his F1 debut back in Brazil 2009 when he caused champion Jenson Button and the Brawn GP team all sorts of problems. Kobayashi went on to achieve eight points finishes for his first season with Sauber in 2010, which he then improved upon in 2011 with nine points finishes – four more than his new team-mate, Sergio Perez.

Whether or not Kobayashi will out-perform Perez again this season is yet to be seen, but it’s certain he – and Perez – has the talent to drive for a top team. If Sauber lose either of their star drivers, they’ll be much the poorer for it.

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Karthikeyan a ‘cucumber’ says Vettel

Karthhikeyan, Left, and Cucumber, Right

 

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel finished 11th in the Malaysian Grand Prix today, and the double world champion was understandably frustrated after an excellent 2nd just one week ago in Australia. The German had a coming together with HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan; the Indian driver’s F112 front wing clipping the Red Bull’s rear tyre. Vettel suffered a puncture, costing him a points finish, and clearly blamed Karthikeyan for the racing incident:

“He was off the track. In my view, it was over. As in real life, there are a few cucumbers on the road. It’s extremely frustrating, because in a chaotic race where I lost the radio right at the beginning, a fourth place would have been satisfactory … We are somewhere in the middle (of the pack). Fernando did a good race today but the key was to always come into the pits at the right time.”

However, a close inspection of the replay revealed that it was, in fact, Vettel’s fault for the puncture, returning to the racing line too hastily after overtaking the HRT.

Button, too had a coming together with Karthikeyan much earlier in the race, damaging his front wing on the the rear tyre of the HRT. However, unlike Vettel who chose to point the finger, Button rightly owned up to the collision, clearly at fault:

“I was struggling to keep the tyres up temperature and it was totally my fault. I hit the brakes, I lost the rear. I was struggling to get the car slowed down. I tried to get around the corner but I couldn’t do anything but hit him really. A tough, tough afternoon, and then it just spiralled out of control. Everything that could go wrong did. All I could do was laugh really.”

On watching the replays (if he hasn’t already), hopefully Vettel will correct the injustice and apologise to Karthikeyan, who subsequently received a 20 second post-race penalty from the stewards.

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Alonso Wins Eventful Malaysian Grand Prix

Alonso celebrates his maiden victory of 2012

Fernando Alonso held his nerve to take the checkered flag in Sepang under pressure from an impressive Sergio Perez. The Spaniard looked destined to be caught by the young Mexican as he reeled Alonso in by a second per lap with less than ten laps remaining. Sadly though, a slip in concentration saw Perez go wide cementing the podium places, rounded off by Lewis Hamilton who never threatened the top two driver for pace late on.

The win puts Alonso on top of the drivers table – a situation nobody could have predicted before the start of the season. Alonso’s performance was doubly impressive considering the recent pace of Ferrari’s car, the F2012, which has been less than impressive. If the Red team had made any improvements to their car before this weekend, it wasn’t apparent on Felipe Massa’s car, which was sporting a new chassis in Sepang. The Brazilian had another tough race, only managing to finish 15th, fuelling rumours that Perez could be set to take the 2nd Ferrari seat at his expense.

The race wasn’t so fast paced all the way through though. Before the formation lap, race director Charlie Whiting declared wet conditions, allowing the teams their choice of tyres. Hamilton, who started from pole managed to improve on last week’s performance into turn one, maintaining his grid position under pressure from team-mate Jenson Button.

Michael Schumacher didn’t have as much luck keeping his 3rd place position; the Mercedes driver was sent into a spin when fast starter Romian Grosjean clipped the German from behind on the first lap; Grosjean later went on to squander his excellent start, beaching his Lotus on lap four. It was a promising qualifying for Mercedes but, as was the case in Australia, their race pace couldn’t match that of qualifying, and so struggled to compete with the surrounding teams.

Just laps after the teams began pitting for full wet tyres in response to worsening conditions, the pace was slowed by the introduction of the safety car on lap seven. The race  then ground to a halt two laps later; race control confirming the red flag that had been shown moments earlier by mistake due to lightning storms interfering with electrical equipment.

As the cars parked up on the grid, the unusual sight of a Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT lined up in 10th place provided the Sky F1 Team with an interesting talking point. The Spanish national team neatly anticipated weather conditions and fitted the full wet tyre from the start line. HRT Team Principal, Luis Perez-Sala will have been giving it his best rain dance during the interruption; if the race had been called off, Karthikeyan would have scored HRT’s first championship points – albeit just half a point.

Perez-Sala’s rain dance failed, and the race restarted under the safety car – over an hour after the original race start. With a new ruling limiting races to four hours, whether or not there’d be time to finish was coming into question, as the early evening start in Malaysia was drawing close to sunset. HRT came back down to Earth a few laps later; Karthikeyan colliding with Button forced the pair into the pits, effectively ending both drivers’ hopes of a points finish.

It seemed fortunes were unfairly shared throughout a lot of the teams this weekend. As well as Ferrari and McLaren’s driver’s juxtaposing results, Perez’s team-mate Kamui Kobayashi retired, Maldonado retired on the last lap for the second week in a row – engine failure this time – whilst Senna brought home the rejuvenated Williams FW34 in an impressive 6th. Romain Grosjean watched Kimi Raikkonnen drive to a solid 5th after a five-place gird penalty, and, most noticeably, reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel limped home out of the points in 11th – the first time the double world champion has finished out of the points since Spa in 2010. Whilst Red Bull team-mate scored good points in 4th, Vettel struggled with the RB8 throughout the race; his performance marred by a puncture and mechanical worries on the last lap which almost forced him to park on the track side.

The result attests to the closeness of the 2012 season that had been predicted. Two races in and teams deemed ‘midfield contenders’ such are Sauber are unsettling the big fish. It made for a great race to watch, and long may it continue.

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Malaysia GP Preview

For those of you that don’t have Sky Sports F1 and get your F1 practice session updates via the BBC Sport website or similar, here’s a few things you may have missed that could play a crucial part in Sunday’s race.

  • Hamilton may be sitting pretty at the top of the time sheets after P1 and P2, but don’t assume his one lap pace will be converted into an easy race win. The 27 year-old struggled with the MP4-27 on heavy fuel load runs, and could be set to disappoint fans in Sepang if his head isn’t in the right place after being outpaced by his teammate in Melbourne.
  • If you read my last post, you’ll know I tipped Michael Schumacher to be on pole position in qualifying. Both he and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg set encouraging lap times in the second practice session. However, after Lewis’ domination in practice so far, a P.P for Schumi seems less and less likely. Worse still for the German team is that there’s no indication there race distance pace has improved. With Sepang being notoriously tough on tyres, Mercedes could be set for another race spent struggling in the midfield.
  • Paul di Resta, who salvaged Force India some points in Australia, will be lucky to finish the race at all on current form. The Scot struggled to keep his VJM05 honest, suffering heavy oversteer on two ocassions at the high speed turn 12 S’s.
  • Williams had a positive first race last week but still have a long season ahead of them with a lot to learn. Their drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Brunno Senna too, have a lot to learn, which is why I can’t understand the team’s decision to take valuable track time away from Bruno Senna in the interest of developing young driver talent. As much fun as it is making Vallteri #BOTTAS trend on Twitter, missing out on every first practice session could cost Senna and Williams dearly.
  • And finally, good and bad news for HRT; the good news being that there DRS is functioning again – the faulty Drag Reduction System meant they failed to qualify in Melbourne, but it’s repair should see them safely within 107% of the pole-sitter’s time. The bad news is they might not get a chance to set a lap time in qualifying, as their cars keep breaking down!

As I type, P3 is only 27 minutes away! Looks like I’m doing an all-nighter and staying up for qualifying!

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Australian Grand Prix Team Review

What a difference a winter makes! This time last year, Red Bull were expected to dominate  - as they did the previous season – and they duly delivered. This year? Nobody knew what to expect, and this mystery translated into anticipation, and in turn, excitement.

With the first race done and dusted and the fog of war clearing, pundits are beginning to take a stab at predictions for the season – and it’s no different here. So here’s a run through each team’s performance over the race weekend and a few predictions of my own.

McLaren

In my last blog I had my reservations on their decision to stick with their front nose design. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Hamilton and Button locked out the front row in qualifying and were unlucky to cap it off with a one-two finish. As it transpired, mistakes made with the fuelling of the cars meant Hamilton Button spent the majority of the race in extreme fuel-saving mode. Taking this into account, their performance in Melbourne is even more convincing, and would suggest that the team that historically improves throughout the season is set to dominate in some style. In my opinion, if there hadn’t been a fuel issue for the team, Hamilton would have been able to get more pace out of the MP4-27 which would cancel out the fact that Button is easier on his tyres. For this reason, my bet’s on him to edge out his team mate and take the title.

Red Bull

Red Bull will be displeased to have not started 2012 like as they finished 2011. The team had a strong weekend but will be concerned with a poor qualifying result. Thnakfully for Red Bull, a strong performance from Sebastian Vettel and a long-awaited decent result from Mark Webber saved their blushes. Speculation regarding the slot in the nose of the RB8 car continues, although no massive advantages seem to have derived from the unusual design. Uncharacteristically, Vettel made a mistake during the race, going off at turn one. Expect Red Bull to put a lot of man hours into ironing out the creases, and mistakes from the reigning world champion to be shortlived.

Ferrari

Rumours are circulating that Stefano Domenicalli is on the verge of scrapping the F2012 chassis altogether. It won’t happen of course, but the existence of such a rumour is justifiable – Ferrari had a dreadful start to the season. Alonso managed to save the team some face but a team of such pedigree shouldn’t (and won’t, I’m sure) be settling for ‘saving face’. Drastic action needs to be taken to address a poor qualifying performance and dismal tyre durability over race distances. For me, Felipe Massa justified why Ferrari will be replacing him at the end of the season, if not before.

Sauber

An excellent first race weekend and a sign of intent from the Swiss team who’ll hope to dominate the midfield battle this season. With two exciting drivers and a little luck, podiums aren’t out of the question this season. Kamui Kobayashi looks comfortable enough in the C31 to deliver some of the overtaking brilliance he showed in his debut season. Sergio Perez continues to work magic with his tyres and should secure plenty of points with his tortoise vs. the hare driving style; although such a strategy limits his chances of earning himself a podium.

Lotus

Like Sauber, Lotus look like serious contenders and will definitely breathing down the necks of the high-flyers. Kimi Raikkonnen had a solid return to the sport after a two-year hiatus in the WRC. Romain Grosjean too, who achieved an excellent 3rd place in qualifying, would have undoubtedly gone on to finish in the points had it not been for a collision with a Williams. The Swiss-born Frenchman (who I’d written off as merely Kimi’s #2 – sorry Romain) isn’t looking like dwelling on his 2009 stint in F1 and should be make up 50% of an excting inter-team battle this season.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso look set to remain in the midfield battle this season, with a decent first race weekend. Daniel Ricciardo will be pleased with his first points finish just as much as Jean-Eric Vergne will be disappointed to have missed out on a points finish on his debut. Inexperience may have cost the team in Melbourne, and so Toro Rosso will be hoping to settle their young drivers down as soon as possible.

Force India

If inexperience cost Toro Rosso points, it was the experience of Paul di Resta that salvaged Force India’s race weekend; di Resta showed real class saving some KERS until the final corner to steal 10th place from Vergne. Nico Hulkenberg will be disappointed to have crashed out on the first lap, but getting into Q3 shows the German hasn’t lost his edge during his time spent as the team’s test driver throughout 2011. Vijay Mallya’s team should have the experience to recover and take points finishes in Malaysia, taking the fight to Toro Rosso and Sauber in the midfield.

Mercedes

Mercedes were pegged as title contenders this season after a promising winter’s testing. Their qualifying efforts justified the hype, but their race pace didn’t – Nico Rosberg’s fastest lap was half a second off that of some of the midfield’s. Their F-Duct-esque device at the rear of W03 seems to provide superior pace over extended periods of use during qualifying, but limitations on its use during the race seems to reveal some shortcomings. Expect Mercedes to address their race pace issues soon and be challenging for the ‘best of the rest’ places with Lotus.

Williams

Williams surprised me in Melbourne. After opting for youth instead of experience in their driver choice, I expected a slow start to their season. However, Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna showed promise with a solid car underneath them. Senna was taken out of the race by a stubborn Massa and Maldonado came agonisingly close to his best ever finish, only to crash due to apparent complacency on the last lap. Once written off, Williams look set to return to the fight in midfield and will be hoping to show their worth.

Marussia

Nothing exciting from the renamed Russian team but a commendable performance getting both cars home at the first time of asking. Their car is well off the pace after missing most of winter testing due to a failed crash test, but their apparent reliability should give them an edge over their rivals and some precious time to improve.

Caterham

Tipped to break into the midfield this year, Caterham disappointed in Melbourne. Their car is way off the pace – albeit, faster than that of the other back-markers – and worse still, both Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov retired after little more than half distance. If they can resolve reliability issues, Caterham should easily beat the surrounding ‘new’ teams, but don’t expect them to be threatening Toro Rosso or Force India any time soon.

HRT

Another team that missed pre-season testing, HRT have it all to do to even be competitive with Caterham and Marussia. The self-styled Spanish national team failed to qualify due to the 107% rule and with another fast-paced race on the menu at Sepang, the pressure isn’t going to let up on HRT any time soon. The team muddled through the 2011 season to pip Marussia (then Virgin) but have a mountain to climb if they hope to do the same this season.

And there you have it. The 2012 season promised excitment, and with just one second covering the top seven teams, the close racing looks set to continue.

My predictions for Round 2?

Pole – Michael Schumacher – A long shot but Sepang should suit the W03′s great top speed

1st – Lewis Hamilton – Hamilton will be determined to make up for missing out in Oz.

2nd – Jenson Button – Button will round off the first of many 2012 McLaren 1-2′s.

3rd – Kimi Raikkonnen – If qualifying goes smoothly, the Finn has the talent to hold off the Red Bulls.

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F1 2012 – A Brief Shakedown

With all the confusion testing causes, it’s no wonder people don’t know what to expect from Formula 1 this season. One minute a McLaren’s fastest, then Red Bull, then Sauber, then Lotus – the pundits have tipped this season to be one of the most closely contested for a long time. And the fans are agreeing – with the exhaust-blown diffusers banned for 2012 which contributed to Red Bull’s dominance in 2011, there’s every reason to believe Sebastian Vettel is open to being knocked off his pedestal this year. Except, Red Bull has Adrian Newey.

The Red Bull RB8's suspicious front nose

His name is in the headlines more and more with every race that Red Bull win – and for good reason; he’s the mastermind. To put it into perspective, Adrian Newey’s cars have won more Constructors’ Championships than Michael Schumacher has won driver’s titles. Eight championships in total spanning Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull, everything Newey touches turns to gold. So although the field may have been levelled, don’t believe the lies when Christian Horner says that hole in the RB8′s nose is for driver cooling; Newey is up to his old tricks again and Red Bull are serious title contenders this year again.

After a poor start to last season, McLaren will want to hit the ground running in Melbourne this year. By the time the team was up to pace in 2011, the Championship was all but over. Controversially, McLaren’s 2012 car – the MP4-27 – looks distinctively different to the rest of the grid’s. Due to new safety regulations, the noses of the cars must be below a certain height. McLaren’s interpretation of this, though more aesthetically pleasing than the ‘ugly duckling’ noses of other teams, is in doubt with regards to performance. McLaren’s last Constructors’ title was in 1998 with a little help from none other than Adrian Newey and their gamble this season may mean they have to wait longer still.

If this is the case, it’s a good job McLaren has one of the best driver partnerships on the

Jenson Button's sleek McLaren MP4-27

grid. If Lewis Hamilton has his head in the right place this year, he has the skill to take a car beyond its limits – meaning all hope is not lost should the MP4-27 be found wanting. Jenson Button too, is at the peak of his career so far, and will be looking to improve on his three race wins in 2011.

Worrying for the Tifosi, Ferrari were one of the teams not to show encouraging signs during testing. On the contrary, Ferrari have publicly come in out in saying they are struggling to get to grips with this year’s car, the F2012. If that is the case, Mercedes will be looking to muscle in on those 5th and 6th Championship places, if not higher up. Felipe Massa too, should watch his back as another unfruitful season with the Red team will undoubtedly spell the end of his Ferrari career. The Brazilian failed to secure a single podium place in 2011 compared to teammate Fernando Alonso’s 10, and with statistics like that, he may be lucky to secure a drive at all.

As I mentioned above, Mercedes will be hoping to challenge for podiums this season, but the outfit looking to steal their thunder is Lotus. Lotus (the one painted black and gold, in case you were confused) has a former world champion in the shape of Kimi Raikkonnen at the helm for 2012. Although his personality and desire to race in the pinnacle of Motorsport have been brought into question, his talent is irrefutable. If the Top Gear F1 lap time board is anything to go buy, Raikkonnen should be competitive in his first season back since 2009; the Finn posted a time in the wet which shattered that of Mark Webber’s in similar conditions.

Fighting it out in the midfield once more are Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso. Of the three, Sauber are the only team to retain the same driver lineup – the promising Sergio Perez and the always exciting wildcard Kamui Kobayashi.

Force India replace Adrian Sutil with 2011 test driver Nico Hulkenberg, who will be raring to prove his worth alongside 2011 Rookie of the Year, Paul di Resta.

Torro Rosso scrapped both Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi at the end of 2011 to make way for more promising Red Bull talents Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. Though Vergne has looked promising in testing, Ricciardo should put his season of experience to good use in this interesting driver battle.

Of these three, I expect Force India to come out on top once more. Toro Rosso’s fresh lineup lack experience. Sauber could surprise in 2012 having been competitive in testing – Kobayashi topped time sheets of all the drivers at one point – but of the two, I’d say Force India are the more likely of the two to be nipping at Lotus and Mercedes’ heels.

The reason I haven’t mentioned Williams in this above midfield pack is I believe they’ve

Williams gamble on youth over experience

made a serious error with their driver lineup for 2012. I admit, it’s great to see a Senna back in a Williams, and Bruno will certainly bring much needed sponsorship to the team, but the recent personnel shake-up means this new-look Williams team will struggle to support its inexperienced drivers. Maldonado is still learning, as is Senna, whereas and old head such as Rubens Barrichello or similar would have given them a wealth of experience to build on and up from. For this reason, they’ll be struggling to keep pace with Torro Rosso and Sauber.

Of the back markers, Catherham (the green and yellow one) are head and shoulders above the rest, and will be pushing to compete with Williams to break in to the midfield. HRT will also be hoping to build on last season and battle with Catherham, whereas Marussia (formerly Virgin) are worse off now than in their debut season. After failing crash tests in pre-season, they’ve missed out on crucial testing time and look set to stagnate for another year at the back of the gird. Charles Pic, who Marussia has plucked from GP2, is the most inexperienced driver, and the only man on the grid to have never raced a Formula 1 care before. Sadly, I predict his team will lose their patience with him very quickly, and his debut season will be short lived.

Predicitions? I, like many others, daren’t hazard a guess until after Melbourne – it is just too close to call.

 

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