After 12 days of intense testing at Spain’s Circuito Permanente de Jerez and Circuit de Catalunya, the Grand Prix circus is all ready and eager to perform. Once again. To its massive worldwide viewing fan base.
In its 63rd edition the Formula One championship features no less than six world champions, two debutant drivers, two new teams, a brand new venue in the USA and even one female test driver, Maria de Villota!
Before the red lights go out at Melbourne this weekend, ten out of twelve teams would have tested, simulated and evaluated their racing machines to the core. Some would have managed successfully to hide their true performance.
The unfortunate two that haven’t had the opportunity are Marussia Racing and Hispania Racing Team. They’re proverbial backmarkers in recent Formula One. Both teams failed to pass the mandatory crash tests conducted by the FIA.
They did however, do a filming run at Silverstone in UK mainly for sponsors. What are their chances then against the giants at the front of the grid?
Marussia Racing features Charles Pic, a 22 –year-old F1 rookie from France and the now seasoned German driver Timo Glock. Both will have the chance to understand the capabilities of the MR01 only on Friday the 16 of March at Albert Park, Melbourne.
HRT F1 or Hispania Racing Team features our local hero Narain Karthikeyan. Whether the average Indian F1 fan wants to see him fight at the tail end of the grid again in a car that’s fighting to finish is unclear. But the fact remains that he and his experienced Spaniard teammate Pedro Da La Rosa are among the quickest 24 in the world. That is an achievement by itself.
Towards the tail end of the midfield are Caterham. They were Team Lotus last season and they now field Heikki Kovalainen the Finn and Vitaly Petrov the Russian Renault discard. The CT01 is now fully KERS-equipped and their goal surely is to try and beat Williams and Toro Rosso this season.
Williams are running Renault engines with which they’ve tasted a lot of success in the 90’s. Between the new recruit Bruno Senna from Brazil and Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, the FW34 has covered a staggering 3,172 miles [5,075 kms] in testing. That’s almost a whole season of race distances! Having amassed their lowest ever points tally in 2011, could this be the return to form Williams so desperately seeks?
Scuderia Toro Rosso have probably the youngest driver line-up in the very promising Aussie, Daniel Ricciardo and debutant Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, who is just 21years old. He was the British F3 champion in 2010.
Sauber F1 Team have not changed their driver line-up of Japanese-overtaking-sensation Kamui Kobayashi and Mexican Sergio Perez. Sauber F1 remains one curious venture. They’re based in Hinwil, Switzerland. And have always been a midfield team with no rapid rise or fall. They have survived F1s various economic conditions over the years. This season they hopefully aim to claim more points from Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso.
Force India has got financial backing from Sahara this season. Last year they finished a fighting Sixth in the Constructors championship. This year they’ve signed young German driver Nico Hulkenberg who pairs up with Scotsman Paul Di Resta. The VJM05 looked very reliable and strong in testing. So plenty can be expected from the first Indian-owned Formula One team.
Lotus is reborn this year. They retain the classic black and gold livery. And what’s more, they’ve signed up 2007 World Drivers Champion Kimi Raikkonen to spearhead the challenge along with lead French driver Romain Grosjean. In testing, the E20 has shown some promising pace. After a failed campaign in 2011 they’ve everything to prove this time. Kimi meanwhile ended testing in Barcelona by topping the timesheets! Not bad for the Finn who seems hungrier than ever.
All eyes will be on them as they mix it with the top four in F1.
Mercedes AMG Petronas. The first of the big four. This is their year of results. With Ross Brawn signing up Ferrari legend Aldo Costa to complete his sound technical team, they come under immense pressure to deliver. After two seasons of development and running just behind Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren, it's time to see 7 time World Champion Michael Schumacher back on the podium. It’s also time for German Nico Rosberg to prove that he can take the fight to the Vettels, Hamiltons and Alonsos of the world.
Mercedes supply engines to McLaren and Force India. They cannot afford to finish behind their customers. Can Michael Schumacher take an unprecedented eighth crown? Maybe not. But can he win races again? His legion of fans surely think he can.
Scuderia Ferrari wouldn’t want to see him win again. They let him go at the end of 2006 hoping he would retire as legend of the Italian marque. They would however, hope their double World champion Fernando Alonso can bring home the title this year. The Spaniard has been cautious to the media about the F2012’s form at testing. His teammate Brazilian Felipe Massa like Mercedes, has to deliver this year. He’s been in the shadow of his champion teammate and has struggled in understanding the grip levels of Pirelli.
To hold on to his seat for 2013, Massa must win over his team first. In the past he’s shown very competitive pace against the best. But ever since his horrific eye accident in 2009, he hasn’t been his true self in and out of the car.
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button make up the British team of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes once again. McLaren haven’t opted for the ‘platypus’ styled nose cone this year unlike almost everybody else. And the MP427 has proven very competitive during long runs in testing. They’ve clocked up almost 3,000 miles and seem mighty confident going into the first round. This is good news for McLaren fans as for the past couple of seasons they’ve never been optimistic in the opening rounds.
Taking the fight to Red Bull is what the whole sporting world would like to see. For Button and Hamilton the desire to have equal number of titles with Vettel must be motivation enough.
Lewis was out gunned by Jenson last season and one can be pretty sure he’s not going to let that happen again in a hurry. The fight to be Britain’s favourite son begins this weekend.
Red Bull Racing. World Champions for two consecutive years. The racing fraternity has barely come to terms with the utter domination of this energy drink-backed giant of a team. And they’re ready to dominate all over again in 2012. Is it the gift of Adrian Newey or is it the outright pace of the youngest ever World Champion Sebastian Vettel? This is something Mark Webber wont worry figuring out. The Aussie like Massa, finds himself on the back foot going into this season. He was nowhere last season and has got to be everywhere this time around to mark his decade or so in Formula One.
Back in 2002, the then young Webber astonished the Grand Prix world by finishing fifth on his debut at Melbourne in a humble Minardi. Ten years later he should silence his critics at the same venue given he’s driving the ultimate racing machine.
Will rule changes have a drastic impact on performance this year?
The major change is the ban on blown diffusers. The FIA seeking to prevent teams from gaining extra down force from exhaust gases has stipulated that all exhausts exit the back end of a chassis vertically. Red Bull, theoretically speaking, should suffer the most from this revised rule. But theory more often than not has been put to shame in Formula One.
Another noticeable change in this year’s car will be the step down nose. Heights have been brought down to 550mm from 625mm last year. This has resulted in rather odd shaped F1 cars. The rumour mill has it that top teams may have found a way of allowing air to flow in through the ‘step’ to work as a sort of duct. Gaining aerodynamic grip. Just when the rule makers thought they had solved for an unfair advantage.
Starting at Melbourne, teams will have 6 coloured tyre options from Pirelli. From Red super softs to Green intermediates, Blue wets, Silver hard compounds, Yellow softs and White mediums. This makes it easier for the fans to understand what strategies each driver is on. They say.
But when the Race director studies the track conditions on Friday morning in Melbourne and is suitably satisfied. He will push a button on his starting console. The pit lane light will turn green from red. Engines will rev up to 18,000 rpm and the silence of winter will be broken.
It doesn’t matter what colour is on the tyres of the first car out of the pits. The 2012 Formula One racing season will be underway. Everything else can wait.