Monday, March 28, 2011

2011 Australian GP Review: Vettel dominates while rest watches

Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion had no problems winning the 2011 Australian GP a race which he dominated from pole and he won without even a challenge. Vettel and Red Bull once again looked dominant and if the likes of McLaren and Ferrari have any decent shot at the title, then they drastically need to cut the distance or else Red Bull will have the titles by mid-season.

Lewis Hamilton despite nursing home his McLaren should be a very happy man with his 2nd place finish and just 2 weeks back McLaren was lagging behind not only RBR but also the likes of Ferrari, Sauber, Renault and even Toro Rosso but the team has done extremely well to change things and now look set to challenge RBR as the season progresses. One thing the team has to be careful about is Hamilton’s over aggressive driving style may have issues with the new Pirelli tires.

Vitaly Petrov has his best result in his F1 career by finishing in 3rd. It was not only his 1st podium finish but it was the return of the Lotus name on to the podium after more than 2 decades. Though for all technical and legal purpose the car is officially still called as Renault, the Lotus Cars sponsored Renault team which was expected to be the surprise package of this season did not disappoint at all with Petrov having a very solid race. He is definitely my driver of the race. Teammate Heidfeld had a horrible debut for Renault and he will hope that he can get back his groove during the Malaysian GP or else if he continues in his current form, he maybe replaces very soon.

Ferrari which was expected to challenge Red Bull Racing would be disappointed but it was not a very poor start. Alonso was scrappy through the race and ever since been pushed out of the 1st corner of the race, he just could not fight it out for a podium finish. The car looks ok and with more updates it can challenge RBR. Teammate Massa had a very mixed race and if he continues in that same vein he may yet again be relegated to being Alonso’s #2. He definitely needs to up his game for the next race while Button the man with whom Massa fought most part during the race was a bit unlucky. The tires should suit his driving style and with some clever strategy he could do better than Hamilton but if he needs to pose challenge for the title he needs to be more aggressive.

Sauber was the team of the race till both their cars were disqualified due to technical violations. Though the team has appealed, Sauber has started the season well and at current form looks better than fellow mid-field teams like Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso. Sergio Perez had an amazing debut and showed that Peter Sauber does have a knack for finding talent while teammate Kamui Kobayashi yet again showed his worth by battling it out with everyone. Kobayashi has all the ingredients to become Japan’s 1st F1 champion provided he gets a very good drive.

Toro Rosso which looked strong during the pre-season testing had a solid car and will be looking at beating fellow mid-field teams like Sauber, Williams and Force India. Sébastien Buemi, the once highly touted rookie is under pressure to perform and he did well to finish 8th while teammate Jaime Alguersuari needs to up his game a bit as the highly promising rookie Daniel Ricciardo is waiting for a drive and he will put immense pressure on the incumbent drivers.

Force India despite not having a car which can score points were lucky to score points due to Sauber’s disqualification as Sutil and di Resta were classified 9th and 10th. Sutil was very consistent through the race while rookie teammate di Resta was very impressive. He did not get overawed during the race and showed that he does deserve his place on the grid. A good season in which if he could be Sutil could result even in a Mercedes drive in the future. But the team has to work hard if they have to catch up Sauber and STR.

Mercedes had a race to forget with both cars retiring. Schumacher got tangled in the 1st corner with Alguersuari and he just did not recover from it. The car was damaged and Schumacher had a forgettable race. Teammate Rosberg was a having a decent race till Barrichello decided to punt him which resulted him having issues and he had to retire. Barrichello despite being the most experienced driver on the grid once again proved that why he never won a world championship at Ferrari and Brawn GP. While teammate Pastor Maldonado another rookie making his debut retired after having transmission issues. Williams should have taken a cue from Sauber and should have partnered Nico Hülkenberg with Maldonado as Barrichello just do not bring in much to the table while Maldonado is needed for bring in the money for the team. They need to up their game or else they may even have Team Lotus catching up with them.

Team Lotus despite early promise once again looked the best of the 3 teams which made its debut last season but not as good as the other teams. The team had reliability issues during the pre-season testing and once again in Melbourne Heikki Kovalainen had to retire due to water leak while Jarno Trulli managed to finish 13th. The team has pace and if they could managed to solve their reliability issues they can catch up with Force India which looks the weakest among the mid-field teams.

There was not to expect much from the entirely CFD designed Virgin cars but Jérôme d'Ambrosio finished 14th and was the last person classified while Timo Glock was too far behind to have been classified. The team is still half a second behind Team Lotus and they have lot of work to be done before they can catch up with the Lotus team. HRT landed up in Australia with a car which was yet to hit the road and as expected the team failed to even qualify for the race with the 107% rule implied. Having teams like HRT is making F1 looking like a joke.

With no chance of having a Bahrain GP this year, there will be 19 races and Vettel if he manages to continue his current form, he should easily retain his title while McLaren and Ferrari need to up their game or else Renault may just surprise and even beat them. It is a good start to the season and it can only get better.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

2011 Season Preview: All things Possible!

2010 turned out to be the most exciting season ever and till the last race, 4 drivers were in contention for the Driver’s Championship but Sebastian Vettel not also won his 1st title but also became the youngest ever champion. Though it was a very tough season were Vettel was trailing his teammate Webber and Ferrari’s Alonso for most part of the season but in the end his toughness and determination led to him conquer the F1 world with his maiden title. Vettel also became the 2nd German to win the title while compatriot Schumacher who made a stunning comeback had one his worst ever season.

Even before the season started, there was a very serious accident to Robert Kubica who will be out for more than a year after his rallying escapades ended in disaster. It not only put him out but also has created a problem for his team Renault who has since replaced him with his former BMW teammate Nick Heidfeld who has had a rebirth of sort after failing to land a seat for 2011. The 1st race of the season will be the Australian GP this was because of the unrest in Bahrain which led to the cancellation of the Bahrain GP. We still do not know if we are going to have the Bahrain GP otherwise we will have only 19 races for the season with the Indian GP making its debut.

All teams which raced during the 2010 season will be starting this year too but there have been some minor name changes while the driver market did see some major moments from the mid-field teams. The highly talented rookie Nico Hülkenberg was dropped by the Williams team but he has managed to join Force India as it’s reserve driver while the racing career of veteran Pedro de la Rosa seems to have ended after Sauber dropped him mid-way last season and replaced him with Heidfeld but they have signed up talented Mexican Sergio Pérez who was also the GP2 runner-up. GP2 winner Pastor Maldonado was signed by Williams and though they do claim that he is not a pay driver, but Maldonado is heavily backed by the Venezuelan government.

2011 will also see the return of former Jordan driver Narain Karthikeyan who will join HRT while his fellow countryman Karun Chandhok failed to secure a seat for the coming season. Other drivers who exited after last season includes Christian Klien, Sakon Yamamoto, Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi. This season will also see the debut of the highly rated reigning DTM champion Paul di Resta who actually was Vettel’s teammate during the 2006 Formula Three Euroseries season and actually managed to win the title by winning Vettel.

As always there was the technical changes which comes in with the new season but 2 of the biggest change from last year was that KERS makes a comeback while Pirelli returns to F1 after 20 years and with the exit of Bridgestone, Pirelli would be the new sole tire supplier.

There are the predictions on how each team would perform:

Red Bull – The reigning world champions, RBR impressed everyone last season by winning both the championships but unlike their rivals they backed both the drivers and in the end despite the catastrophic Turkish GP, it turned out to be a good plan for the team with Vettel winning. Despite having the best car on the grid the team did not race to its potential and at one stage Ferrari had a chance to upstage them but for a glaring strategic error, they could have stolen the title. This season so far RBR seems to have the best car and with Vettel winning the title he will go into 2011 stronger while Webber would once again try to win the title in what could be his last season in the sport.

Ferrari – The Alonso led Ferrari nearly won the driver’s championship but Massa’s form last season prevented them from challenging for the Constructor’s championship. Though the team seem to have a solid car for the coming season, they need more from Massa if they are going for both the championships. This season is highly crucial for Massa as if he fails once again he may be out of a seat for 2012 or could just become another designated #2 driver for the team. Alonso showed great maturity last season and if he continues to show that he will be a very serious treat for Vettel’s championship.

McLaren- Having 2 world champions as teammates never do work but for McLaren they somehow managed to pull it off. Hamilton was in contention till the last race but he may a lot of errors which resulted him failing to win the championship while Button who everyone expected to be outclassed by Hamilton proved that he was a worthy champion and despite not fighting out for retaining his championship he did manage to gain respect from everyone. 2011 will be a tough year for the team as if we are to go by testing, McLaren just do not have a good enough car which will fight for the championship.

Mercedes – The fabled silver arrow team was revived last season after Mercedes purchased the Brawn GP team and even convinced Schumacher to make a comeback but it was a season they would want to forget. Schumacher failed to even get on to the podiums while his younger teammate got some credibility by outclassing the veteran consistently through the year. This was the same team which did produce some real bad cars during its previous incarnation as Honda so do not expect a miracle for this season but a few more podium places can be expected from this outfit.

Renault – The team was in the news for all the wrong reasons and despite being called Renault the team has nothing to do with the carmaker apart from some technical partnership and engine supply. The Lotus Cars sponsored Renault out did seem to have a car which can challenge for the title but Kubica’s accident has through the team into disorder but in Nick Heidfeld they do have more than a capable replacement and this could be the season Heidfeld could straighten the record. They may well emerge as the 3rd best team provided Vitaly Petrov drives every race like the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP.

Williams – They have entered the stock market and they claim they do have enough funding but dropping Nico Hülkenberg for Pastor Maldonado showed that all is not well for the team. Despite winning the GP2 title Maldonado would not have got the Williams seat without funding and also the 2010 GP season was not the best and it was Maldonado’s 4th season in the series. Rubens Barrichello will be with the team and this could be his last hurrah as the Brazilian if he fails to impress may just have to quit the sport after spending 2 decades in it.

Force India – The team which was the surprise package of last season till the end atleast have 2 very good drivers in Sutil and Di Resta while their reserve Hülkenberg could one day be a future world champion. The team lost some key technical personals and there are talks of financial problems but if they do manage to get their act together they have a chance to do better than last year. Make or break season for Sutil while if Di Resta do manage to impress bigger things can happen for the Scottish driver for 2012.

Sauber – The team has the mercurial Kamui Kobayashi who with a decent car will be the most entertaining driver on the grid. Kobayashi has proved that he can go wheel to wheel with anyone on the grid and he will not get intimated by any names. If they have a good enough cars he could consistently get to the podium. While his teammate Sergio Pérez may be a bit too early for the sport but he is backed by Carlos Slim the richest man in the world and his money would help the team in beating rivals like Williams and Force India.

Toro Rosso – The sister team Red Bull won the championships while STR after having a decent start just managed to finish ahead of all the new teams only. So far this season after testing STR may have the surprise package and even if they do manage to finish ahead of Williams, Sauber and Force India, it would be a great achievement for the team. In Buemi and Alguersuari they have one of the youngest driver line-up in the grid and with highly rated Australian Daniel Ricciardo as reserve both the drivers are under immense pressure to perform.

Team Lotus – The team which along with Renault was in the news for all the wrong reasons have made some huge progress during the off season with a new engine deal with Renault and also a technical partnership with Red Bull Technologies the team would be hunting for its 1st points and also will try to challenge the likes of STR and Force India. They have retained Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen which has showed that the team wants continuity and they could by the end of the season could challenge some of the mid-field teams.

Hispanic Racing – The only team during the 2010 season which failed to manage a single update from the start of the season had as many as 4 drivers racing for them and at one stage anyone with cash was offered the seat. The 2011 car will not be any better but they have signed a technical partnership with Williams and in Liuzzi the have a very decent driver. Narain Karthikeyan will bring in the money for the team and he completing races would be huge for the team.

Marussia Virgin Racing – The only team which does not do testing by using wind tunnels but rather use CFD alone well last season they were just about challenging fellow newcomers HRT and this season to the team would be stuck behind the pack. Timo Glock by being part of this team would have sealed his F1 future while Jérôme d'Ambrosio will join him to just make up for numbers.

2011 Constructor Championship Predictions:
1. Red Bull Renault
2. Ferrari
3. Renault
4. Mercedes
5. McLaren Mercedes
6. Sauber Ferrari
7. Toro Rosso Ferrari
8. Williams Cosworth
9. Force India Mercedes
10. Team Lotus Renault

2011 Driver’s Championship Predictions:
1. Sebastian Vettel
2. Fernando Alonso
3. Mark Webber
4. Felipe Massa
5. Nick Heidfeld
6. Michael Schumacher
7. Lewis Hamilton
8. Nico Rosberg
9. Kamui Kobayashi
10. Jenson Button