Sunday, 13 March 2011

Are McLaren in serious trouble? (The 2011 Formbook)

The previous two years of Formula One testing were notoriously difficult to read - and 2011 has by no means bucked the trend. Some teams decided to start with their 2010 cars, others used their new cars straight out of the box and one team haven't even tested at all (I'm looking at you, HRT). But I've tried my best to analyse the four tests so far to try and predict the running order come Melbourne in exactly two weeks time.

McLaren look to be entering another of their 'cold' years

1. Red Bull
Last season's RB6 was so fast, you could be excused for thinking that Adrian Newey has had the Winter to relax - no such fun. The new RB7 again looks the class of the field, and worryingly for the other teams it looks like Red Bull's reliability bugs have been sorted - the new car has racked up a total of 6124.87km, only second to Ferrari.

2. Ferrari
Whilst Ferrari have had some trouble naming the F150 F150th Italia F150° Italia, there does not seem to be too much to worry about on the pace front. Whilst many commentators originally accused the Scuderia of being conservative with their design approach, the new car, named in honour of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, has quietly posted times near the top of the timesheets at every test so far with only one reliability scare so far in Felipe Massa's fire at the first test. Since then, however, the most experienced team in F1 has travelled an astonishing 6984.76km in 2011. This number is even more impressive when you realise it is almost 860km more than their closest rivals. Very worrying indeed.

3. Renault
I had some trouble choosing between the team formerly known as Renault and Mercedes for third spot. The R31 broke cover at the first test in Valencia and almost immediately people started to ponder where its exhausts were. Did it even have any?! However, further inspection showed that the exhaust were blowing gas out of the sidepods, under the car to allow for better downforce. Only time will tell to see whether other teams feel this is the right direction to go. However, after Kubica's all-too-well documented rally crash in February, the sport now focuses on the steady super sub Heidfeld and his hot-head team-mate Petrov. What will we be talking about come November? How the team won all those races against the odds? Or what a wasted opportunity? Let's wait and see.

4. Mercedes
As mentioned above, splitting the R31 and W02 was a very difficult task indeed. However, I chose to go with my gut feeling and place the black-and-gold car higher on merit. That said, Mercedes' drivers are much more reliable and slightly faster. I look forward to seeing the quick Nico Rosberg picking up podiums and maybe even a win or two during the year. Mercedes also deserve a shout-out for having the best looking car by far this year. Just wow.

5. Williams
A controversial choice, maybe, but the Grove-based outfit look quite quick this year. The retro liveried FW33 has a very small 'coke bottle zone' which, in layman's terms, will make it go faster. With the arrival of Pastor Maldonado from GP2 and a flotation on the stock market, the team's financial future looks to be relatively secure, and in Rubens Barrichello's hands the car has a very experienced driver. I have no doubt the team will be better than 2010, but how high will they go? I am confident that they are looking at their most successful season in a long time.

6. McLaren
Yes, you read that right. The team that supplied the 2008 Formula One World Champion, two wins in 2009 and five in 2010 seem to have hit a bum note for 2011. Not only has their car covered the least mileage of all the 2011 cars, its pace seems to leave it in the midfield. Hamilton said yesterday: "Yesterday I looked at the times and everyone was in the 1’21s and I can’t get into the 1’21s." If that isn't worrying enough, the guys from Woking are also worried about the reliability of their new steed. Is it too futuristic for its own good? And will McLaren repeat their feat of 2009 and score a couple of wins later on in the year? Only time will tell.

7. Sauber
Peter Sauber's second name translates from German as 'clean'. This Swiss team definitely know how to run a professional racing team and sometimes they can go unnoticed, under the radar. Japan's Kamui Kobayashi rarely fails to disappoint with his flare for overtaking, and offers a nice contrast to the methodical ex-sports car manufacturer. The arrival of Sergio Perez has also brought the team some much needed sponsorship, but the team is surely focusing on returning to the heights they enjoyed with BMW in 2007 and 2008.

8. Toro Rosso
For the first time since the team's previous identity as Minardi in 2005, the team has enjoyed a stable driver partnership in Buemi and Alguersuari. Their 2011 car, the STR6 is the second to be made entirely by the team themselves and is the fifth highest machine in mileage covered, with 5351.89km to its name so far. It has also surprised many by popping up the timesheets every now and again. I predict them to be faster than last year, and the main talking point will be for how long Buemi can protect his seat from the devastatingly fast Daniel Ricciardo, the team's new test driver.

9. Lotus
2010's undisputed best rookie team are now looking for better things in 2011. With a Renault engine and Red Bull rear end at their disposal, ninth place in the championship at the very least is theirs for the taking. They have almost certainly leap-frogged Force India, and will be concentrating on the heels of the next big name, Toro Rosso. If they manage to take on Toro Rosso and win this year, they will almost certainly earn more credit and possibly even more parts from Red Bull - a team that now looks to be fuelling the race for eight an ninth in the constructor's championship. Furthermore, I don't see Jarno Trulli lasting beyond this year and the question towards the end of the season will be that of who will replace him in the green and yellow car.

10. Force India
After finishing seventh in the championship in 2010 (their best ever result) Force India must have been looking to improve even further this year. However, it appears they have taken their eyes off the ball somewhat. A car described by some as a dog, it has still managed just a whisker less than 900 laps so far. The young Paul di Resta will be one to watch this year, and I can't see Adrian Sutil sticking around for another year at the back of the field - he'll probably move on after this year. Oh well, at least they'll be good at Spa!

11. Virgin
With new title sponsorship in the shape of Russian sports car manufacturer Marussia, Richard Branson has probably reduced the volume of money he is pouring into the team formally known as Manor Grand Prix. With a 2011 livery that Midland would be proud of, the Yorkshire team will be hoping for an increase in pace this season. However, hoping isn't always enough. Whilst battling for most of the first half of last year with Lotus, they lost sight of their opponents come the second half of the year. And into the mix a new driver by the name of Jerome D'Ambrosio, I cannot see Virgin following Lotus to points any time soon.

12. HRT
Not a lot to say here, really. The lovable Spanish squad endured a torrid 2010 and many, myself included, couldn't realistically see them making it to testing at all. Whilst the F111 hasn't ever even turned a wheel in anger, its appearance in Barcelona on Friday has shown that it does actually exist. 2011 will be another difficult year for the team, with two drivers that have never driven a race for the team before.

Image (c) Sutton Images

All mileage data retrieved from F1Fanatic here.


  1. Great article. It's too hard to read with testing but I think you're pretty much on the money. If Mclaren do have a pretty slow car to start with though their inseason development is usually superb so I think they can fight back, it'll be a tough fight and the first few races could lose them the title but I think they can still challenge. There are some good sounds coming from STR too so maybe they'll be a surprise.

  2. I don't neccessarily agree with everything, but I really like the article, well written. Will surely tune back.