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WGP F1 2010 Preview

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So, here we are then. The most exciting time to be an F1 fan – those last couple of weeks before the season begins. The anticipation of another great year. A longing for everything to begin, for the cars to fire up and light up those rear tyres, and get back to competitive action. There are less than 11 days to go until the first race of the season, less than 9 days to go until FP1. And now is invariably the time for journalists, bloggers and fans to post their season previews, so I’ll jump the bandwagon:

McLaren – The best of British
1) Jenson “Push the” Button (GB)
2) Lewis “Insert Senna comparison” Hamilton (GB)

It is perhaps inevitable that most of the focus here in Britain will be on McLaren, who employ both the last 2 world champions. This is an almost-identical situation to Lotus in 1967, who signed 1962 champion Graham Hill to join double champion Jim Clark. Clark was considered the faster, dynamic team leader, whilst Hill was slower but more consistent. In the end, we never really got a fair comparison, as 1967 was a year filled with unreliability and Clark was killed after a single race in 1968.

In the year 2010, Hamilton is considered the stronger of the pair, despite having the number 2 on his car (again). Many expect him to comprehensively outperform Button. Most expect him to at least beat him. Very few are expecting Button to beat him. And I can see why. Button is Clark’s Hill, Fangio’s Moss, Stewart’s Cevert, Hakkinen’s Coulthard, Frentzen’s Boullion…well, sort of – good but not as good as the other guy in the team. He only gets the most out of a car when it’s perfect. With his team mate and 6 other drivers out there who are at least just as good as him in very good cars, he’s in for a tough fight.

As for Lewis, he has to keep winning, or else public opinion of him will wane. Defeat to Button this year will just give those who don’t like him an excuse to say he’s overrated. But at least they cannot say he hasn’t had to deal with a poor car now. And he dealt with it very well, on the whole. Now he has to step up a gear if he’s to reclaim the big prize. And persuade his dad not to turn up at races.

A good 2010 for McLaren: Winning the titles
A bad 2010 for McLaren: Not winning the titles. Or at least it would’ve been in the Ron era. Otherwise, another year in the midfield is not needed

Mercedes – Deutschland uber alles
3) Michael “Oh no, he’s back” Schumacher (Ger)
4) Nico “Is he really German?” Rosberg (Ger)

Hey, it’s das Deutsche mannschaft. Brawn GP, promulgator of miracles, operator of the purest-looking F1 cars this century (at least until Sauber turn up this year) and the best true privateer team for a generation or 2, has been given a splash of silver and a funny green colour and told to wear lederhosen. Not only that but they now have a famous name in the team – yes, Nico Rosberg has signed to drive for them.

On a more serious note, he has a big challenge this year. He has to face Der Kaiser (and no, I don’t mean Dieter Zetsche, although he does look like Wilhelm II) and no one has got out of that with their career in tact since…oh, Felipe Massa. Even so, Michael looks to be back to something approaching his best, so Nico will have to be at his to match or beat him. The question still remains, though – what is his best?

As for Michael, he’s a known quantity. Sort of. He may have been out since 2006 but unlike others (yes, that means you, Luca Badoer), he has been driving F1 machinery every so often since and has had a full pre-season testing programme to paint over the rust. Although a handful of the younger drivers haven’t driven against him, there are still plenty who have – Rubens has had to put up with him, on and off, for 17 years. It’ll be interesting to see how he compares to the younger guys, the Hamiltons and Vettels of the field.

A good 2010 for Mercedes: Another title is what they would want, but just to maintain their foothold in the top couple of teams would be nice
A bad 2010 for Mercedes: Losing that foothold. If they do that, they may not get back up there, which could lead to the Merc bigwigs baying for blood

Red Bull – From cowboys to contenders
5) Sebastian “The new Schumacher” Vettel (Ger)
6) Mark “I come from a land down under” Webber (Aus)

Number 5 has been quite an important number for Michael Schumacher – it was his number when he first won the title in 1994, and also in the near-miss years of 1997 and 2006. Now another young German will bid for his first title with the same number. Sebastian is the man most Red Bull supporters or those that think the RB6 will clean up will think will win the drivers’ title. There is no doubt that this is a realistic expectation. The car has been quick in testing, albeit unreliable, and chances have been talked up in the usual bullish manner (pun intended).

Seb is the ‘in’ driver to support right now amongst F1 fans – i.e. if you don’t want to be seen to be supporting the Brits or Schumacher, you become a Vettel fan. But I wonder how much longer this will last for. Through last year, gradually the facade of Mr Cool Funny Germanic Youngster slipped, being replaced by a more Schumacher-esque determined, give-nothing-away, serious personality. Or maybe you think the latter is a facade that has been raised. Either way, don’t expect him to be cracking jokes anymore. I think we’ll see a different Vettel this year.

And maybe that’s something Mark Webber can exploit. He proved last year he was a match for him in the races, making far fewer mistakes and proving he can do the business when it counts. The large points gap belied the actual gap between them. Mark has also been one to play mind games, so if he can get under the skin of his more serious team mate and out-psyche him, he could be a key player in the title battle. Or Seb could just come back stronger, more motivated and make less mistakes and annihilate him. Who knows? It’s one of the more intriguing team mate showdowns of the season.

A good 2010 for Red Bull: Again, they’d love the title, but like Mercedes, they may be happy just to remain a top team if McLaren and Ferrari return to form
A bad 2010 for Red Bull: Slipping back into the midfield and/or losing Vettel to one of the bigger teams

Ferrari – Red, red whine
7) Felipe “Can’t drive in the wet” Massa (Brz)
8) Fernando “I have no problem with my team mate” Alonso (Esp)

The Prancing Horse managed to impose their headlines on the F1 world recently by whinging about the new teams and how they were taking prize money off…I mean making F1 look less professional. It’s a shame, really – with the last element of the Dream Team disappearing off to start a new life in south Northamptonshire, Ferrari were starting to become a likeable team again, focusing more on their ‘Italianness’. But it seems some elements of the team still believe the red team is blue-blooded. But I’m sure we’ll all soon forget about it when we get to Bahrain.

Once again, the ‘team leader’ is the one with the higher number, although Felipe will contest that. Having written off last year (or rather he had it written off for him), he must now return to action and hit the ground running in Bahrain, a circuit he knows well and has won at twice. Defeat to Alonso here, especially if Ferrari maintain the slight advantage they have, would be quite a psychological blow. I’d have him down as a good bet for the first race, and the odds of a title win are very good. Check them out – might be worth popping a few quid on.

As for Alonso, he will arrive in the Middle East as title favourite thanks to the Ferrari’s testing pace and reliability. And it’ll be good to see him back in a proper front-running car, something he’s not had from the beginning of season for 3 years. His talent deserves a good car, not a car like the chunky R29. But it won’t be easy – his old German sparring partner is back, his old British buddy will have a competitive car from the beginning too, and there’s the obstacle of a team mate that we all know, despite how often they tell us otherwise, he doesn’t get on with

A good 2010 for Ferrari: Back to winning ways and for Alonso and Massa to not have broken noses from smacking each other in the face
A bad 2010 for Ferrari: See 2009

Williams – Starting again again
9) Rubens “Second fiddle” Barrichello (Brz)
10) Nico “The new new Schumacher” Hulkenberg (Ger)

Why does it always seem that Williams are starting from scratch? They even had a good year last year and are doing it again – brand new car, new engine, and 2 new drivers. Although the latter is somewhat understandable, with Rosberg moving on up and Nakajima moving on out. But, again in the words of the M People, the search for the hero continues. Heidfeld, Webber, Rosberg, Wurz and Nakajima have all passed in and out of Grove without winning a race. It’s now over 5 years since they last won a race, by far the team’s longest barren run. Can they do it this year?

Well, in Rubens Barrichello, they have a proven race winner. This is the first time since Senna signed 16 years ago that the team have taken on a driver with race wins to his name – one of those stats you think is amazing when you first hear it but then makes total sense when you think about it. It is thus ironic that it is a friend of the Brazilian legend that will become the next. And already he looks to be at home there. It’s just something that seems and feels right.

His team mate is Nico Hulkenberg, a youngster who most serious fans will have heard of but not those who don’t follow the sport. Basically, he’s brilliant. And he’s German. And his manager is Michael Schumacher’s manager. He comes in as the most prepared rookie of the year, having been testing for the team for a couple of years, as well as a big long list of titles to his name. Just like a certain McLaren driver. However, unlike him, he’ll have to start off in what looks to be a midfield car and team. But don’t be surprised if he’s beating Rubens by the end of the season.

A good 2010 for Williams: A win. That’s all the want right now. Doesn’t matter how it comes
A bad 2010 for Williams: Going backwards and ending up thinking “you know, if we’d just developed last year’s car instead of starting from scratch…”

Renault – Oh bee-have
11) Robert “Blessed are the big-noses” Kubica (Pol)
12) Vitaly “Ladaist” Petrov (Rus)

It is fair to say that to say last year wasn’t a very good year for Renault is the vastest understatement in F1 history since Jordan’s engineers in 1991 said “that Schumacher bloke is pretty good, you know”. They could do with not getting into trouble and having a quiet year this year. But at the same time, they would like to be at the front winning races again, but I doubt we’ll see them at the front. The car does seem to lack pace and for their new team principal, Eric “Who-llier”, it is very much a learning year, so I don’t think winning is necessarily at the top of their list of priorities right now.

The key question surrounds Robert Kubica’s patience – the team have signed him up to lead the team but does Renault figure in his long term plans or is it just an interim year for him before he leaves for Ferrari? That may depend on other events. The team have already said they’re concentrating on getting back to the front in 2011 so you can see what they’re hoping for. Otherwise, it may be another difficult year for the Pole stuck in the midfield. He deserves better than that.

We should all be thankful that the first Russian in F1 has a pronouncable name. But Petrov will be hoping that by the end of the year, he is considered to be more than just “that Russian bloke”. Given that he had never driven an F1 car before January’s Valencia test, he has adapted well and seems to be reasonably competant, but then the second Renault seat is not always a comfortable one, to say the least. A good, solid year with few dramas is what he will be hoping for.

A good 2010 for Renault: Some podiums, and no bans, suspended bans, court cases or any trouble of any kind, please and thank you
A bad 2010 for Renault: Kubica leaving at the end of the year

Force India – May the force be…err, battling for podiums and race wins on a regular basis
14) Adrian “Definitely not gay” Sutil (Ger)
15) Vitantonio “Save me from di Resta” Liuzzi (Ita)

India’s favourite F1 team nearly scored one of those wins not even Mystic Meg would’ve seen coming. Not that she sees anything coming anyway. A couple of good results put morale sky high at Silverstone (I mean the Force India base, not the home of the British GP, even though it’s the same place) and despite a dip towards the end, including Sutil’s unfortunate early exit in Brazil, the team carries confidence and momentum into this year.

Sutil is very much the forgotten German of F1 right now, in the shadow of just about all the others, although at least he still has a drive (yes, I’m looking at you, Nick Heidfeld). Debate remains over how good he is and what future he has in the sport, but I am a fan of his and I think if he can avoid getting caught up in accidents, not all of which have been his fault despite the reputation he has, he can prove he is worth another decade in the sport. He also brings money to the team which is key to keeping his space.

Liuzzi can’t say the same, though, and thus his place is under pressure. Despite a good start at Monza (where, let’s be fair, they only drive in a straight line for most of the time), he couldn’t quite match Sutil in the remaining races, and rumours soon circulated that the Italian would be dumped in favour of someone else. Confirmation erased those doubts until it was confirmed that Paul di Resta was to become 3rd driver and would get Friday running. The DTM ace and ex-F3 Euro Series champion is believed to have a race deal in his pocket for 2011, much like Liuzzi himself, so the pressure is on the former F3000 champion to deliver to save his presence on the grid.

A good 2010 for Force India: Like from Belgium on last year
A bad 2010 for Force India: Like all the races up to Belgium last year. Including lots of races like Germany

Toro Rosso – Mini-bull disruption
16) Sebastien “Swiss cheese” Buemi (Swz)
17) Jaime “Paella” Alguersuari (Esp)

This year sees Toro Rosso switch from being lazy and buying cars they didn’t design to doing all the hard work themselves. But, on a more serious note, this is quite a transition. However, they have done a superb job, getting their car ready before the big brother team and they go into the season better prepared and perhaps more competitive than last year. They also seem a bit more stable, with Buemi now experienced, settled and ready to lead the team.

I bet he’s also glad he didn’t accept the offer he received from a certain Japanese manufacturer that’s no longer in the sport. But that offer does show what progress the young Swiss made last year. Dismissed as mediocre before he’d even arrived, he made a big impression in early races and his solid performances led to Bourdais’ dismissal (or at least that was the reason given, anyway…). He is still young and has much to learn but he will have his sights set on a promotion to the big team in the near future.

As for the young man with the most difficult name to spell in F1 (perhaps apart from Jacky Eeckelhaert), he will be grateful just to keep his drive for the year. The time it took for him to be confirmed as the team’s second driver echoed the similar lengths of time it took for Speed and Bourdais to be confirmed. With Daniel Ricciardo dominating British F3 last year, performing well in the junior driver test and now moving up to join Brendon Hartley in the World Series by Renault, there will be no let up of pressure on the young Spaniard.

A good 2010 for Toro Rosso: For people to remember them in all the fuss at the front
A bad 2010 for Toro Rosso: For them to be remembered for the wrong reasons, or for them to have one of their Antipodeans in the car by the end of the season

Lotus – Return of the Loti
18) Jarno “Stop calling me a qualifying specialist” Trulli (Ita)
19) Heikki “The Flying Finn…by default” Kovalainen (Fin)

Whether they are the ‘real’ Lotus or not is irrelevant – there is a team called Lotus on the grid again in F1 and it is connected to the company founded by ACB Chapman Esq. It is also green, and we are loving seeing a green F1 car on the grid once again. Their driver line-up is the strongest of the new teams, there is no doubt – 2 race winners is nothing to sniff at. A good fact to remember is that they have the same nationality combination of drivers as in their final race in 1994.

The Italian named after a Finn had a difficult year despite being gifted with a very good car. 3 podiums and a career-first fastest lap after 204 grands prix cannot disguise the fact that he missed out on some great chances to win a race for Toyota and perhaps thus save the team. But, having said that, it often came down to circumstances outside of his control. Like other drivers being better. Or other drivers driving into him on the first lap. Surely the move to a new team signals the winding down of a career that promised so much but has so far delivered so little.

As for Heikki, this is his chance to start again, wipe the slate clean, and rebuild a reputation that over the last 2 seasons was battered by the equivalent of hurricane-force winds of underachievement and disappointment. Being paired with Hamilton has perhaps ended any chance of becoming a top line driver, but this is his chance to try and start a new life as a midfield journeyman. He is undoubtedly quick. He just needs to find steadiness. Another year like 2009 and Fairuz Fauzy will snatch his drive from him.

A good 2010 for Lotus: For people to stop saying “they’re not the real Lotus”
A bad 2010 for Lotus: Tony Fernandes in a Virgin air hostess outfit

HRT – Owner replacement therapy
20) Karun “The new Karthikeyan” Chandhok (Ind)
21) Bruno “The new Senna” Senna

There has been a very noticeable slide in fortunes. As recently as the last couple of months, the Team Formerly Known As Campos was considered to be the best proposition of all the new teams, with Dallara doing all the hard work and a formidable record in junior formulae for the team. A team led by Adrian Campos, Daniele Audetto, Toni Cuquerella and Bruno Senna, nephew of Ayrton, sounded like it had potential. But it seems that the uneducated sponsors didn’t think so or know so, and in stepped stakeholder Jose Ramon “What does he do, again?” Carabante, who bought out Campos and brought in The Doctor – Colin Kolles, that is, not Valentino Rossi – to see if he could find a cure for the team’s problems.

One of the treatments he has prescribed is Chandhok, the only man in the world with bushier eyebrows than Fernando Alonso. Karun is a decent guy and a decent driver, although he’s hardly the next Senna – that role quite literally falls to his team mate. He has picked up a couple of wins in GP2, proving he is no idiot, but during his best season, 2008, he was overshadowed by his team mate, who just happens to be a certain Bruno Senna, nephew of Ayrton. Better results, a greater impact and lasting longer than Karthikeyan is the target. Hopefully they won’t be bidding “tata” to him any time soon…

If you hadn’t already heard, Bruno Senna is the nephew of Ayrton Senna, who was very good. The media like this as it gives them plenty to write. Even so, he originally got this drive without bringing too much sponsorship, although his choice of number in the team reflects his main backer, Embratel (it’s their dialling code). But how good is he, you ask? Pretty good. Runner-up in GP2 in 2008, he took a year out of single seater racing last year by driving for the Oreca sportscar team, whilst working on trying to fix up an F1 drive with a team that wouldn’t pull out. Funnily enough…

A good 2010 for HRT: Surviving
A bad 2010 for HRT: Not surviving. Other than that, what could happen that is worse than what has already happened?

Sauber – Not one but two manufacturers
22) Pedro “Para bailar la bamba” de la Rosa (Esp)
23) Kamui “Domo Arigato, Mr Roboto” Kobayashi (Jpn)

With their numbers finally confirmed, this now gives Sauber a shot at the title – after all, the last 2 champions have had the number 22 on their cars, so maybe this now means de la Rosa has a chance. Well, the team has produced race-winning cars and this year’s car’s development was largely funded by BMW, so it wouldn’t be that surprising if they did produce a gem. But they are seemingly struggling for funds, with hardly any sponsors so far, although they will remain hopeful of “doing a Brawn”.

De la Rosa gets another crack at F1, but he is now the second-oldest driver in the field. Despite only starting his F1 racing career in 1999, he has been around F1 for some 12 years, starting out as Jordan tester in 1998 and becoming McLaren tester after his release by Jaguar at the end of the 2002 season. His F1 racing career has been intermittent, starting 2001 as a tester at Prost before moving to Jag, and then after leaving there only substituting for Montoya. But he is phenomenally experienced, well-respected in F1 and a decent chap all round.

Kamui is at the other end of the spectrum – young, inexperienced, and untamed. His two race performances at the end of the season for Toyota sent shockwaves through F1 – here was a Japanese driver who, whilst aggressive, was clearly very quick and very talented. He has the potential to better his fellow countrymen. Sauber is a good place to start – whilst it would’ve been nice to get a Toyota drive, he is still at least in the midfield, remaining in F1 without having to resort to joining a new team. Indeed, he’s probably glad to still have a racing career instead of being stuck in his dad’s sushi bar.

A good 2010 for Sauber: Picking up some sponsorship and some decent results to guarantee the long term future of the team
A bad 2010 for Sauber: If the car is still blank by the time we get to Singapore

Virgin – Computer love
24) Timo “Autobahn” Glock (Ger)
25) Lucas “err, The model…(sorry, ran out of Kraftwerk songs to use)” di Grassi (Brz)

I tried to avoid any puns on their name, unlike some, but the Virgin Racing team is here. It could be said that their arrival into the F1 world last year was long overdue, being quite a trendy sort of brand with lots of money to spend. But Sir Richard Branson doesn’t like to spend money, hence why the idea of supporting a new team planning an F1 assault on a small budget appealed to him – that goes for last year and this year. As for the team behind the brand name, Manor Grand Prix is a fusion of the highly-successful Manor Motorsports junior series team and top constructors Wirth Research, run by the guy that formed Simtek. They do had a trendy company backing them…

To sign Glock when they did was quite a coup – this was before Lotus hired their drivers, and Glock was known to have an offer from Renault on the table, so it was a surprise to see a driver from an established team taking a step down. He has been impressive during his time at Cologne and perhaps deserves a better drive, but he fancied the challenge of becoming team leader at a new team, so you can’t argue with that. Unfortunately he still has “Glockdog” written on his helmet.

His team mate is his 2007 GP2 title rival, who, instead of following Glock into F1, was forced to persist in the series with no opportunities to race. A top 3 finisher in the series in 2008 and 2009 is evidence of his competance, but he is more consistent than outstandingly quick. Nonetheless, he is a useful and deserving addition to the grid, if a bit late in his career – F3 rivals Hamilton and Sutil and numerous GP2 rivals have got to F1 before him, but his patience has been rewarded. For now, anyway.

A good 2010 for Virgin: Seeing Branson’s smug face on the TV a lot. It might not be what we want but it’s what he wants
A bad 2010 for Virgin: A virus

In Memorium
We have come to that time where we must take a moment to remember those that are no longer with us this year:

– Toyota
– Kazuki Nakajima
– Peter Windsor’s reputation
– Max Mosley
– That Finnish bloke who’s gone to rallying
– The monkey on Mark Webber’s back

Right, now we’ve got that over and done with…

Here is what I think will happen this year:

Bahrain – The first race of the season is blighted by a sandstorm. Mark Webber leads until the final lap when he is blinded by a load of sand and he spins off. Massa inherits the win. In other news, Zoran Stefanovic is seen on his knees begging for entry

Australia – Again, the race is blighted, this time by the sunset. Mark Webber leads until the final lap when he is blinded by the setting sun and he spins off. Vettel inherits the win. In other news, HRT’s pace “improving” as Chandhok “only” 6 laps down at the finish. Despite 3 safety cars

Malaysia – Again, the race is blighted, this time by a thunderstorm. Mark Webber leads until the final lap when he hits hitting standing water and he spins off. Button inherits the win. In other news, Eric Boullier blames Renault’s lack of pace on a lack of grip

China – Again, the race is blighted, this time by smog. Mark Webber leads until the final lap when he is overcome by the awful stench and he spins off. Hamilton inherits the win. In other news, Ferrari whinge

Spain – Again, the race is blighted, this time by being utterly terrible. Mark Webber leads until the final lap when he is overcome by the sheer boredom of leading a completely uneventful race and he spins off. Alonso inherits the win. In other news, something silly/controversial/totally predictable happens

etc etc etc

More 2010 preview articles coming soon


Written by James Bennett

March 3, 2010 at 21:41

Posted in F1, F1 drivers, F1 teams

One Response

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  1. Great article and a great year ahead, I’m so excited I could crush a grape or something. Come on the Lewis!

    Barry BURBs

    March 4, 2010 at 05:57

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