04 February 2011

Happy days all round for F1 teams!

Well the first official test of the 2011 season has come to an end in Valencia with Lotus-Renault GP driver Robert Kubica ending the time sheets on top. Despite technical problems early in the final day of running, he came out ahead of Adrian Sutil and Jenson Button running interim 2010 cars and Mark Webber’s RB7 in 4th. It was interesting to see the top 10 drivers spread by just 1.6 seconds as the day came to a close, with only Hispania’s Narain Karthikeyan and Jarno Trulli’s Lotus falling outside this range; the latter of whom did not complete a single competitive lap time during the day as he waited for new power steering components to arrive. It was also interesting to see Virgin’s Timo Glock finishing 6th overall and just 1 second off of Kubica’s pace setting time, but of course fuel loads are totally unknown at this early stage of testing. The thing I find most interesting however are the post test comments made by the teams and drivers:

‘Red Bull have done an awesome job’ Mark Webber said on the new RB7; Kubica said he was ‘satisfied’; ‘Happy’ was how Sebastian Buemi felt after his first taste of the STR6; Button feels that the new MP4-26 was ‘built for him’; Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado said the first impressions of the FW33 were ‘really good’; and Sauber rookie Sergio Perez was also ‘very happy’. Even Hispania, having finished 3.3 seconds off the pace, declared themselves ‘really satisfied’. ‘Obviously the lap times are not so important’ the teams' new Indian recruit said post-test… Well, sorry Narain, but they are actually pretty damn important!

I always find it fascinating at this time of the year when the teams talk up their chances ahead of the seasons opening round, yet I wonder how many of them are sitting down in their debriefing sessions saying to themselves, ‘F#@%! We have really messed this up!’ Wouldn’t that make for a headline! It’s almost as if every year the drivers get so accustomed to driving their every day road cars during the winter, that when they arrive for the first test they’re just blown away by how good F1 cars are again! In which case, I’d be really satisfied too driving a Hispania shitbox!

Nevertheless, time will be the judge as the opening round in Bahrain draws nearer and with just 12 days of testing left until opening practice in the desert city, the true pecking order will soon come to light and the facts sifted from the annual pre-season bullshit.

02 February 2011

We are go for launch!

First of all my apologies to the loyal GP Blog readers for such a delay in posts; I can’t seem to be able to tear my eyes from the F1 websites with all these car launches and testing updates happening! I’ve got the Christian Horner foot twitch happening yet again as I sit here waiting for the next picture to come out from Valencia testing or the next article to come up on F1-Fanatic. I’ll try and keep this post brief as I’m sure just in writing this paragraph I’ve already missed 20 twitter updates from the F1 paddock and at least 594824053 important pieces of F1 gossip...

After my last post, we’ve seen the launch of no less than 6 different cars; some radically different from their predecessors and others merely evolutions. So far evolutions seem to be the general trend much to my disappointment. I always like seeing big changes to the cars and how the engineers’ ideas varied to come up with what they thought would be the best way of getting their car to drive around in circles in the shortest possible time.

 The Red Bull appears to have changed the least from what I can see, with the only noticeable differences being the monocoque ‘horns’ trimmed and stretched out along the body; the sidepods cut back towards the gearbox more aggressively and earlier than on the RB6; and the engine cover ‘shark fin’ seems to have had a bite taken out of it and no longer connects to the wing itself. The rest of the car appears very similar to the RB6; after all, it did win the championship! While the car looks as good as it has always done, the thing I like most about this year’s Red Bull has nothing to do with the car! The new Alpinestars race suits sported by Sebastian and Mark are stunning! I think there’s at least a half a second gain in them alone, hence why Sebastian topped the first day of testing. It’s got nothing to do with the car I promise! Adrian who?

Sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso also released their car yesterday, though it’s possibly the ugliest of the 2011 spec cars so far. It looks as though it ate a bad curry the night before the launch and is desperately trying to keep its ‘load’ in as to avoid a red flag situation for the other teams... and boy, if that thing let loose what’s bubbling away inside it, it’d be game over for the Circuito Ricardo Tormo! The sidepods are fat, high and disgusting and the front of the car looks as though it was involved in a nose to tail accident on the way to the track. On a more serious note however, the front wing looks as though it’s basically the same spec as the 2009 (yes the 2009) Red Bull and the top of the monocoque looks suspiciously like the new RB7... Most of the mechanical components look like those off the STR5 too. The team needs money end of story.

Outside of the Red Bull family now and Sauber also presented their new car to the media yesterday, but it also appears to be just an evolution of its predecessor. It does sport a sexier front nose however and nicer paint detailing, nevertheless it does still have the BMW-esque livery that I thought would have been gone for this year. Even the team font is still the same as what BMW used... the race suits too! Whether the car performs or not doesn’t bother me. So long as it’s good enough for overtaking genius Kamui Kobayashi to be battling in the midfield somewhere and entertaining me the way I liked to be entertained on my Sunday afternoon/evening, then I’m happy!

7 times world champ Michael Schumacher will be hoping the new Mercedes challenger is a step up from his 2010 beast and the changes to the car are obvious immediately. Higher pointier nose, Mclaren MP4-22 shaped sidepod inlets, pull rod rear suspension, normal airbox opening and a slick new paint scheme are all but a few of the most noticeable changes. Some were quick to show their dislike to the new Ross Brawn inspired design, but I reckon if it goes as good as it looks, we should see the Schumacher name on the top step of the podium quite soon! Rosberg too!

Now... Lotus... I was hoping to avoid talking about anything to do with Lotus for a while but sure enough here I am yet again. Lotus Renault GP has unveiled their new R31, together with the teams 354 test and reserve drivers! What the point of having so many reserve drivers is I have no idea... but at least it was good seeing the Senna name across the belt of a black and gold race suit again. Now soon after the launch, I must admit I spent a good 30 minutes or so closely examining high resolution photos of the rear of the car, trying to find the exhaust outlets, yet I could not find any! It had me baffled! However thanks to the amazingly keen eyes trackside in Valencia, it was soon discovered that the outlets were pointing forward from underneath the sidepod inlets. Now don’t ask me to explain how this system works, you’ll need to visit Scarbs-F1 for that, but I’ve no doubt that if the car shows any form of pace, then expect the opposition’s technical boffins to be hurriedly designing their own versions. Rumour has it, that some teams are already on it! Isn’t it amazing how quickly F1 teams catch on! The other big change to the car for this season is of course its livery but I think everyone has seen that already...

Now in my last blog post I talked about how Team Lotus were ‘back’ after from their launch photos it appeared as though they were going for a radical new suspension concept that didn’t have push or pull rods! I was really excited because I love big new innovations; hence why I loved the original Team Lotus so much! I was sitting here with a sketch pad in front of me trying to understand how this new suspension system worked, but in further analysis’ I noticed that the car didn’t have any driveshafts either... Now that one I was not even going to attempt to try and get my head around; something was wrong here! Sure enough, as new photos of the car emerged from testing today, the suspension setup was totally different; much like that of the Red Bull in fact. While I love Red Bull’s suspension, the fact Team Lotus are using as similar setup makes me a little disappointed as I contemplate what I thought was to be. Is ‘Team Lotus’ really back? Time will tell...

So who do I think has the best looking car so far? Well, a fast car is always a beautiful car and hence the fastest the most beautiful, so give me 38 more days and I’ll be able to tell you! Anyway, I better get back to my twitter updates! Who knows what could’ve happened whilst I was writing this...