Six appeal

Six appeal - the 2012 Season Preview 


f1 6ws


There have never been six world champions on a Formula One grid. That’s how special 2012 will be, with 25 per cent of the field having at one time or other held the crown and accounting for 14 titles between them.


As Sebastian Vettel aims for a third consecutive drivers’ championship (and Red Bull ditto in the constructors’ stakes), Michael Schumacher strives to show that he is still capable of taking a record eighth with Mercedes, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso wants to move a title ahead of Vettel, whilst McLaren team mates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and the returning Kimi Raikkonen for Lotus all seek to draw equal with the young German, who has dominated for the past two seasons.


As if it isn’t good enough having those six heavy hitters slugging it out, and in particular a revitalised Hamilton seeking to re-establish himself over the super-relaxed Button, who is the only team mate to have bested him, Red Bull’s Mark Webber is intent on taking the fight again to Vettel just like he managed to in 2010. Felipe Massa is desperate to get on to terms with Alonso, to stake his claim to continue his F1 career by staying with Ferrari in 2013. And Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg wants to prove once and for all to a still undecided world that he truly has the ability to put Schumacher away and win races.


Then there’s the French renaissance, led by Romain Grosjean at Lotus, where his speed against Raikkonen’s will be hotly debated. Will it mean that he really is that good, or just that the Finn has been unable to rekindle past glories? Both will be out to prove that they deserve their second chances. For Francophiles, there’s also Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso and Charles Pic at Marussia. 


The battle between the drivers rightly puts the focus of the sport where it belongs, but the inter-team fight will determine which of the above named pilots gets the chance to strut his stuff. 


Which leads us to the vexed question of testing form… Don’t forget that running weights could vary between 10 and 160 kilogrammes, and that 10 kg of fuel load adds 0.3 seconds to the typical lap time.


Williams did the greatest mileage, followed by Ferrari, Sauber, McLaren, Force India, Caterham, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus. But Lotus (ne Renault) looked very strong as they set fastest times on several occasions, with Ferrari, Force India, Williams and Sauber amongst those also making appearances at the top of the timesheets. 


Red Bull and McLaren seemed quietly content with what they achieved, despite some minor reliability issues in each camp, while Ferrari appeared to struggle to match the pace of their long-distance runs. 


Both Mercedes and Lotus are confident that they will be able to get a lot closer to the top three.


The midfield fight will be tougher than it was last year. Force India are determined to hold on to their sixth place, but Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg face strong opposition from Toro Rosso and their two new young chargers Daniel Ricciardo and Vergne, Sauber with their established pairing of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, and the revamped Williams equipe with Bruno Senna joining Pastor Maldonado. 


Tony Fernandes is also determined to get in on this act with his newly-renamed Caterham team, pairing Heikki Kovalainen with Vitaly Petrov. Marussia and HRT suffered hugely from problems passing the mandatory FIA crash tests, and are left to fight one another at the back, after doing next-to-no testing.


In the second installment of our look ahead to the start of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship, we discuss this year's rule book changes 


DRS and KERS remain for 2012, but changes elsewhere to the technical regulations have thrown things back into the melting pot and it remains to be seen who has done the best job of re-interpreting them.


Gone are the exhaust-blown diffusers, exploited so effectively by Red Bull last year. The FIA have banned trick exhausts that send airflow over the diffuser by insisting that the pipes exit the bodywork vertically. That has led to loss of rear-end downforce, sending aerodynamicists searching for fresh ways to regenerate it and rebalance their cars.


The FIA has also closed a potential loophole that would have enabled some teams to design engine maps to achieve a similar effect of blowing the exhaust even when the driver is off the throttle.


The other major change is to the height of the nose. Currently the maximum height of the chassis’s front bulkhead is 625 mm, but it must now drop to 550mm at the very front over a distance of just 150mm, hence the unsightly step that all but the McLaren and Marussia cars feature.


There have been suggestions that both Red Bull and Mercedes have developed frontal intakes (Red Bull’s in the step) that direct air through channels to the front wing to speed up airflow beneath it, this creating an F duct-style downforce generator, but the truth remains to be seen. It’s another thing that should become clearer in Australia.


Pirelli certainly spiced things up in 2011 by deliberately creating short-life tyres. Now they will introduce some even softer compounds, thus making it even harder to keep the rubber alive and putting even more of a premium on pit-stop strategy and efficiency. They will also make it easier for spectators to differentiate visually between compounds.


Drivers may now only move once while defending their position in corners, while under safety-car deployments lapped cars may un-lap themselves so race leaders to do not get artificial cushions to their immediate challengers.


The use of helium in wheelguns has been banned, which will make pit stops slightly slower, and there will also be a test session mid-season - in Mugello in Italy in May - after three years in which all in-season testing was banned.


F1 returns to Bahrain, after that country’s political troubles led to the cancellation of last year’s race, and in November it will also return to the US. The exciting 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, at the all new Circuit of The Americas, will thus bring the season to 20 races for the first time.


The last two seasons have been fantastic for Formula One racing, but just buckle up and get ready for 2012. It promises to be the best yet.

In the third installment of our look ahead to the start of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship, we examine the prospects of the key contenders in the race for the drivers' and constructors' crowns


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Red Bull Racing

1 Sebastian Vettel, 2 Mark Webber

Red Bull-Renault RB8 

Will Sebastian Vettel remain Formula One racing’s yardstick and take a third consecutive world championship? Or will Mark Webber provide the sort of challenge he did in 2010, now that he has come to terms with Pirelli’s tyres?


Many questions surround the team that have dominated F1 in recent seasons, not the least of which is did Adrian Newey resist a rule change that would have led to prettier cars without the ugly stepped noses, because he knew something about the slotted version that he planned? Is it part of a front wing ducting system similar to the old rear-wing F ducts that is the next performance-enhancing breakthrough?


It says everything about Newey’s status that such fears exist, for the dread of rivals is that he will have found something they missed. Webber, however, suggests that the title fight will be closer than ever… Is he talking things down, or merely being realistic? Thankfully we’ll start to get an idea on his home ground in Melbourne, where it will be interesting to see if a front wing and then gearbox troubles which blighted their testing have had a deleterious effect on the champion team’s immediate performance. 


McLaren

3 Jenson Button, 4 Lewis Hamilton

McLaren-Mercedes MP4-27

What a difference a year makes! This time last year McLaren were in huge trouble with a fancy exhaust system that barely lasted 10 laps all through pre-season testing. They turned that around by Melbourne, in one of the surprises of 2011, but it affected their season.


This time the elegant new MP4-27 has been pretty reliable in testing, with just a couple of hydraulic leaks and a KERS problem hampering its running, and Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button go to Albert Park with a solid knowledge of the platform beneath them after 2,978 miles of decent test running.


There is an unmistakable air of optimism in the British camp, especially as both drivers have hinted strongly that they were running heavy fuel loads all through testing. Certainly, there did not seem to be an awful lot of interest in going for fast times purely for the sake of it.


For the past few seasons McLaren have had difficult starts and then worked their fingers to the bone developing their car into a race winner by season-end; this year there is a definite belief that they have got it right and can thus start taking the fight to Red Bull right from the beginning of the title campaign.


Ferrari

5 Fernando Alonso, 6 Felipe Massa

Ferrari F2012

Ferrari say that they don’t expect to take podium finishes in the opening races with their F2012, which deliberately ploughs a radical furrow in the massive effort to get on to terms with Red Bull and McLaren. Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, says that things aren’t as bad as they might have seemed in testing.


So who’s right? Are Ferrari trying to play things down back home, having resorted to some grandstanding fastest lap stuff in testing? Or is Alonso trying to talk things up?


The team took the deliberate policy to be aggressive with development of the new car, and while testing suggests that it has good single-lap pace, it is harder for the engineers, led by former McLaren stalwart Pat Fry, to get a handle on balance over long runs. But it’s not been all bad news. Their test mileage was the second highest at 3,098 miles, beaten only by Williams.


Two things are clear here: another season of failing to fight for the world championship simply won’t be tolerated and could trigger some wholesale management changes, while as in 2011 Felipe Massa knows that he has to deliver some really good results this year if he is to remain a Ferrari driver in 2013.


Mercedes

7 Michael Schumacher, 8 Nico Rosberg

Mercedes F1 W03

Mercedes have an awful lot to prove this year. They bought Brawn as a title-holding team for 2010 but have yet to get on terms with their top three rivals.


In Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, however, they have an undoubtedly strong driver line-up, and the signs from testing have been promising even if mileage has been a little on the low side (2,411 miles).


The latter is determined to show that he really does have the pace to run at the front, while the seven-time champion wants to prove detractors wrong and demonstrate convincingly that the old skills remain intact. The one thing that the team don’t have to worry about is the commitment of the men behind the steering wheels.


After the team went on an acquisition trail last year and recruited Bob Bell, Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa on the technical side, team principal Ross Brawn believes they are ready to step up. Rosberg recently suggested that they will have the pace to ‘annoy’ Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.


They had better hope so, because more than any other team except perhaps Ferrari, Mercedes are on their mettle to deliver in 2012. They cannot be seen to struggle behind customers such as McLaren or even Force India (as they did at times in 2011), and another weak season of finishing fourth and being threatened by Lotus simply won’t do.


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Lotus

9 Kimi Raikkonen, 10 Romain Grosjean

Lotus-Renault E20

‘Beware false promise’ might be a wise maxim when it comes to studying testing form. Few will have forgotten the pace that Renault showed in testing with Robert Kubica last year before the Pole’s rally accident had such a debilitating effect on their chances. Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov showed flashes of pace in the opening races, but soon that faded and the team slipped to an unimpressive fifth place overall.


Now reborn as Lotus, with a new type number - E20 - which reflects the 20th year of making cars at Enstone, the team have new purpose. The decision to grab Kimi Raikkonen is inspired, and already the signs from testing are that the oft-misunderstood Finn is as hungry as he was in 2007 when he won his world championship with Ferrari. But that isn’t everything, as new team mate Romain Grosjean has also been very quick as he prepares to grab his second chance in F1 with both hands as he spearheads the French renaissance.


The team might be down on test mileage after missing the second Barcelona test due to a problem with the front-suspension mountings, but the pace of the car in the final test there suggests that they lost little ground. Without question, Lotus start the year as the dark horse that might just get in among the top four.

In the final installment of our look ahead to the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship, we consider the midfield teams and those at the back of the grid


Force India

11 Paul di Resta, 12 Nico Hulkenberg

Force India-Mercedes VJM05 

The Silverstone-based team did a fantastic job in 2011, beating Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams hands-down on their way to sixth in the world championship for constructors’. Without an awful lot more luck, they might even have challenged Renault for fifth.


Rookie Paul di Resta showed immediately that he could match team mate Adrian Sutil’s renowned strong pace and they made a great pairing as they pushed one another hard on every occasion. Now Nico Hulkenberg takes over from Sutil, after a year playing the test and reserve driver role following his impressive rookie season with Williams in 2010. With a full season apiece under their wheels, these two will bear watching closely, especially as the new VJM05 looked pretty strong in testing.


At the very least, the team that were revitalised by investment last year from Roy Sahara must retain their sixth place, but they have showed the signs that they can improve on that if everything goes right.


Sauber

14 Kamui Kobayashi, 15 Sergio Perez

Sauber-Ferrari C31 

Peter Sauber is one of the sport’s great survivors, and 2011 saw his team making further progress as CEO Monisha Kaltenborn and Peter’s son Alex played greater roles in the management.


They might have lost talented designer James Key, as he moves back to the UK to take a role believed to be outside the racing industry, but there is consistency in the choice of drivers as Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez remain partnered for a second season.


The Japanese driver retained his reputation as one of the sport’s great overtakers last year, while Perez kept him on his toes after recovering slowly from the major shunt he had in the chicane at Monaco. They are a pair of hard chargers that will get the best out of the new C31, which showed good reliability in testing as the Hinwil team clocked up the third highest mileage (3,055 miles). Expect them to fight strongly with Force India, Toro Rosso and Williams in the midfield.


Toro Rosso

16 Daniel Ricciardo, 17 Jean-Eric Vergne

Toro Rosso-Ferrari STR7 

Formula One racing’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ has created a new look to Toro Rosso’s driver line-up. Out have gone Swiss Sebastien Buemi and Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, two promising Red Bull Young Driver scheme graduates (the former now the reserve driver) and in their place come the equally promising Australian Daniel Ricciardo and much-vaunted Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne.


They will form a powerful alliance, the former having done a number of races with HRT last year, the latter impressing on the occasions when he has tested for Red Bull in Abu Dhabi. And both of them are aware that the one who performs more strongly could have a shot at Mark Webber’s seat alongside Sebastien Vettel at Red Bull in 2013, depending how things work out for the veteran Aussie this year.


Nothing could be a greater spur as each embarks on his first full season in a new car that has shown strong midfield promise in testing.


Williams

18 Pastor Maldonado, 19 Bruno Senna

Williams-Renault FW34

Change is in the air at Williams, after their most disappointing season ever in 2011. Patrick Head has retired and Sam Michael is now at McLaren, handing the technical reins to Mark Gillan and Mike Coughlan, while recently Sir Frank Williams stepped down from the Board to leave running the company to chairman Adam Parr.


Cosworth power has been replaced by Renault, and evergreen Rubens Barrichello’s Formula One career has finally come to end after 329 Grands Prix as younger fellow countryman Bruno Senna replaces him as Pastor Maldonado’s partner.


These are serious changes for the only F1 team quoted on a stock market, but there is a new air of optimism and sense of rebirth at the Grove-based squad that takes it into the new season on the back of some solid testing performances which saw the them amass more mileage than any other with their new FW34 (3,172 miles).


Caterham

20 Heikki Kovalainen, 21 Vitaly Petrov

Caterham-Renault CT-01 

Much of last year for Tony Fernandes’ improving team was tainted by the on-going battle over naming rights with Group Lotus. But eventually the savvy Malaysian businessman was ‘persuaded’ to cede the rights and to change his beloved Team Lotus into Caterham for 2012.


That’s not all that has changed. Mike Gascoyne has been promoted to wider technical duties within the Caterham Group, so responsibility falls more on designer Mark Smith. Jarno Trulli is gone, the Italian veteran being ousted late in the day by Renault refugee Vitaly Petrov. 


But the green and yellow colour scheme remains, together with Fernandes’ implacable determination to move firmly into the midfield. This year they need to get into the points on a regular basis if they are to improve further, and the signs in recent testing are that the CT-01 - the team’s first KERS-equipped car - could provide the basis for that significant step.


HRT

22 Pedro De La Rosa, 23 Narain Karthikeyan

HRT-Cosworth F112 

Narain Karthikeyan is one of the few things that haven’t changed at HRT, under their new management which took over from the Carabantes in 2011. Gone is Colin Kolles as team principal, and former F1 racer Luiz Perez-Sala is now calling the shots. There’s a new headquarters in Madrid, and, eventually, the new HRT F112 was ready to do film running at Barcelona, having missed the final test by a day.


Given the circumstances of the restructuring, it’s a miracle that the team will be ready to roll in Melbourne. Like Marussia, they need to make some serious progress this year, but now find themselves yet again on their back foot. But they have one bonus: the experience and massive enthusiasm of former Arrows, Jaguar and McLaren racer Pedro de la Rosa.


Marussia

24 Timo Glock, 25 Charles Pic

Marussia-Cosworth MR01 

With the Virgin team renamed Marussia the aim was to take a big step forwards in 2012. But when the all-new MR01 failed its crash test the season could not have got off to a worse start. You are no longer allowed to test unless your car has passed all of the intensive tests mandated by the FIA, thus the team go into their 2012 campaign with only filming mileage at Silverstone under their belt. Effectively, that means they have done a minor shakedown and go to Melbourne with zero idea of what their car can really do. It’s going to be an uphill struggle for them.


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