Testing, testing!

Goodness, I haven’t been writing for a long time! In my defence, I have been preoccupied with the small matter of the second draft of a PhD thesis, which has been culled from 116,000 words to 100,000 and spanner-checked to death. My lack of writing has nothing to do with the content of the previous post, honestly.

In the interests of keeping the blog fresh, I thought I’d just throw together a few sentences on the prospects of the various Formula One teams for 2011. If I have more time I might write about the situation on Bahrain, but that is for another day.

It is notoriously difficult to draw any conclusions from the times teams set in testing, and even the best of journalists frequently get it wrong or at least have the decency to admit they don’t know what’s going on. What I have here, then, are just a few hunches, inklings and (probably wrong) conjectures on how 2011 might pan out…

Red Bull seem to be sandbagging. If you’re one of the top teams, you don’t want to show your hand too early otherwise everyone else will copy your ideas and/or ramp up their development programmes accordingly. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say they will be right at the sharp end come the first race in Australia;

Ferrari look pretty handy too. Alonso is one of the best racers out there, so even if the car is a few tenths off he will be able to drag it kicking and screaming to race wins. As for Massa, who knows?

McLaren have been rumoured to be having a pretty shaky time of it, but given how clever they were with the F-Duct last year, they may well have something up their sleeve. No matter what, though, if the new Pirelli tyres are as shreddable and wearable as the drivers are saying they are, the one-finger-one-thumb deftness of Button is going to pay dividends;

Mercedes are hard to gauge. On one hand, they have been working on that car for a long time – and that’s exactly what the same staff did with the brilliant Brawn car back in ’09. On the other hand, there have been rumblings of discontent and a lot of breakdowns in the tests so far. Verdict? Too early to say;

Renault stole the march with the floor-exiting exhausts, and from what I’ve read/heard the car is generally acknowledged to be Pretty Good. The loss of Robert Kubica will be a big blow, but in Nick Heidfeld the team have a rock-solid replacement who should be able to move the car forward and give a true indication of its pace. Petrov is showing all the hallmarks of being the next Takuma Sato – quick enough, but an over-driver who crashes a lot as a result;

Williams have been very quick, especially with Barrichello behind the wheel. In fact, I’d say they have been a little too quick for a midfield team. When that happens in pre-season testing, the alarm bells usually start going off in my head, because it tends to mean the team is still trying to woo sponsors by filling the car up with only a little fuel, putting soft tyres on and going as fast as they can. In turn, what that suggests is that the team still needs some money to secure its future. Maldonado isn’t a bad driver, with a respectable pedigree, but he probably won’t be the best either;

Force India have had a low-key start. The loss of James Key to Sauber could really set the team back – when Key left in the early part of last year, the FI stagnated whilst the Sauber came on in leaps and bounds. Still, when one considers how much of a joke the team was in the Midland/Spyker days, their progress is pretty good. Encouraging to see Paul di Resta finally get his chance too, and in Adrian Sutil he has a good benchmark against which to measure himself;

Sauber are another team who are probably going a bit light to try to get some more stickers on the car. Kobayashi is definitely quick enough, and Perez, like Maldonado, doesn’t have the worst racing pedigree despite what his big wallet may suggest. A lot will hinge on Kobayashi’s ability to give the team good technical feedback – last year, Pedro de la Rosa could have really helped to bring the car on in that regard;

Toro Rosso interest me a lot. Alguersuari and Buemi have both been very speedy in the tests but, like Williams, I worry they have been a little too fast for it to be solely down to the car. There are two reasons I can think of for this. (a) Although they don’t need money, the team is now of limited value to Red Bull due to the change in rules regarding customer chassis. So whilst they might not be out to impress sponsors, they could be trying to attract potential buyers. (b) Daniel Ricciardo has been lurking in the shadows for a while now, and given his apparently staggering pace the management would have every right to want to give him a try out. Alguersuari and Buemi probably know that Toro Rosso will be looking for any excuse to give Ricciardo a race seat, and it may well have given the two drivers the kick up the backside they needed after a season and a half together in the lower-mid field;

Lotus definitely seem to have made a step up, but the car is now about as reliable as a mid-80s Esprit. Trulli and Kovalainen will give a strong indicator of the car’s true pace;

Virgin also seem to have improved, but perhaps not as much as Lotus;

HRT aren’t even going to start the season, if you ask me. Still using the old car, Karthikeyan has done a few tests and has been signed for 2011. Some drawings of the new car with an admittedly cracking livery were circulated the other week, but the new machine has yet to be seen in the flesh. Smoke, mirrors and goodness knows what else. I really hope they do make it, though!

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