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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About Mike O'Keeffe

I live and breath racing. Especially, F1. Here you'll find an ocassional word or two on the ins and outs, the highs and lows and the controversies of motorsport's pinnacle.
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