Harried and Random 2011 F1 Season Predictions – PART III

Finally, I bring you Part III and the conclusion to my harried and random 2011 F1 season predictions…

Lotus T128

Lotus and their T128 are set to impress in 2011

10.  Some teams will impress, some will disappoint, and others will maintain the status quo.

Aside from what we think we’ve learned from winter testing, the best predictor of the 2011 Formula One season’s outcome will be the teams’ relative performances in 2010.  So let’s take our mind off the driver’s and constructor’s world championships for 2011, and instead simply think about how the teams will do compared to their 2010 performances.

Teams that will impress:

Team Lotus – When a driver like Jarno Trulli says things like “the car is a huge step forward” at the dawn of a new season, there’s reason to expect good things.  See, he never said that about his Toyota.  And he was right not to.

Despite the handful of seasons spent as Technical Director of Toyota F1, the now Team Lotus Chief Technical Officer Mike Gascoyne has forged ahead with the Lotus T128 using a ‘clean-sheet’ approach rather than trying to evolve last season’s challenger.  Their Cosworth engine has been removed and replaced with the Renault power-plant.  Also brand new is their gearbox which is now supplied by Red Bull.  Lotus will be starting the season without KERS, but plans to implement the system 3-4 races into the season.  There’s every indication that they will see a marked improvement in 2011.

Red Bull Racing – Red Bull Racing won both the driver’s and contructor’s championships in 2010, so how could they possibly do any better in 2011?

While many are expecting a season every bit as exciting and dramatic as last year, I’m personally concerned with the pace, kindness to tires, and now the newfound reliability Red Bull appear to have with their RB7 chassis.  With defending champion Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel of the #1 RB7, I do have a reserved fear that the 2011 World Driver’s Championship may be decided with a handful of races to go.

Sudden unreliability issues and a massive charge from the other top teams aside, there’s not much that would appear to be able to stop Red Bull from walking away with at least the constructor’s title for a second consecutive season.

Williams – Q: What do the Williams FW33 and Kate Moss have in common?  A: No backside to speak of.

Williams FW33

Baby got no back

This may be a case where it’s easy to say Williams will impress in 2011 simply because they underperformed a bit in 2010 (aside from Hulkenberg’s fantastic Brazilian pole), but the changes made to their car are relatively more aggressive than what we’ve seen from the Grove squad in recent years.  The Sam Michael designed FW33 turned quite a few heads in pre-season testing due to it’s compact rear end and sleek packaging, and I see this season’s risks providing rewards for Sir Frank William’s team this coming championship season.

Toro Rosso – In 5 years of racing history, the only guy named “Sebastian” to ever do anything worthwhile in an STR would be Herr Vettel.  He’s moved on to to big sister team Red Bull Racing, and Toro Rosso haven’t had a truly competitive driver since.  Or before, for that matter.

STR has proven that they can make a car capable of scoring points, podiums, or even an odd win at the hands of a quick driver in mixed conditions.  STR’s lack of grand prix points since the 2008 Formula One season has been largely due to the graduation of Vettel to Red Bull.  There simply hasn’t been a driver quick enough to show off what was once a half-Newey designed machine.

This season will mark the 3rd consecutive pairing of STR teammates Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari.  While most prognosticators tip Spaniard Alguersuari to pip his Swiss teammate in points for the coming season, there really isn’t much between the two Toro Rosso pilots at all.  In lieu of signing a fast, star driver to score points, STR has opted instead to create and put all their faith in what will be only the 2nd car they’ve designed all on their own.  Unveiled on February 1st in Valencia, Spain, the STR6 has looked very promising by setting some fast times in winter testing, and may very well be fast enough to encourage Franz Tost to sign a competitive driver or two for the 2012 season.

Teams that will maintain the status quo:

Renault R31

"Guys, can we make the front and rear end plates red instead of the black and gold we use everywhere else? Great! Perfect! Now it looks like shit!"

Ferrari – Is the status quo for a team like Ferrari really such a bad thing?  With one race to go in 2010, it was almost a certainty that we’d see Fernando Alonso take his 3rd world driver’s crown for his brand new team.  Yet as we all know, it wasn’t meant to be for the man from Oviedo and the boys back at Maranello.  Whether 2011 is triumphant, or tragic for the Italian squad, it’s going to come down to the last race once again.

2011 promises much more of the same for the Scuderia, unless of course broken man Felipe Massa can fix himself and take some points of Alonso’s rivals, OR more interestingly still, make a run at the driver’s crown for himself with Ferrari’s bullet-proof looking Ferrari 150th Italia.

Some pundits are saying that if Massa can regroup and get on with the Pirelli tires this season, it could cause problems by taking important championship points from Alonso.  But it may just be that he’ll come on strong this season to take points off Alonso’s rivals — a task he was either not up to, or not willing to do last season.

McLaren – The MP4-26 is behind in mileage and has shown some niggling problems during pre-season testing; but it’s highly innovative and will develop throughout the season at a rate faster than any other team’s car.  Change MP4-26 to MP4-25, and it’s all the same story as last year and thus, the “status quo”.

As I’ve eluded to in my Top 6 Reasons Why McLaren Fans Shouldn’t be Worried in 2011 post, I really do feel the weight of McLaren’s 2011 prospects will fall heavily on one Lewis Hamilton’s shoulders.  I do not subscribe to the theory that Jenson is going to be much kinder to his tires and won’t have the same degradation, or perhaps even number of stops as Hamilton will.  I’m not willing to just assume that in what will be only his 5th season of F1, Lewis Hamilton has completely peaked as a driver, and cannot learn new things like controlling tire wear and making the necessary tweaks to his often aggressive driving style.

But in fairness to all my dear Jenson Button fans who do not think I give him enough credit:  Yes, he’s a nice guy, he drives pretty smooth, and his freckles are really cool.  For the sake of entertainment, I really do hope to see some good intra-McLaren duels this year, and perhaps initially, Hamilton will struggle with the new Italian tires and we could see Jenson Button out in front after several races.  But Lewis Hamilton is more than just a lead-footed gambler.  Assuming he’s learning from the mistakes he makes, he’ll finish on top of Button by season’s end.  That could be quite moot, though, as both may finish the season outside the top 3 in points.  Again.

Get well soon, Kubica

Well-wishes for Kubica on the McLaren

Renault – Front-exiting, diffuser-feeding exhausts and John Player Special-ish livery certainly aren’t the status quo for Renault.  Innovation however, is.  The Renault R31 in both creativity and form put it instantly ahead of last year’s R30, but the loss of Robert Kubica’s driving services will certainly neutralize some of the performance gains expected by Renault’s latest challenger for the forthcoming season.

Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld will be piloting the R31 for the whole of the 2011 season in what could prove to be one of the dullest intra-team battles of the season.  With Heidfeld’s experience and eagerness to show what he can do in a top-tier car – and Petrov’s aversion to tarmac – it could be a whitewash for the German over his Russian teammate for the 2011 season.

Sauber – Low-fuel qualifying runs in winter testing haven’t fooled me, but many are predicting a return to decent form with the Sauber team and their James Key designed C30.  With Ferrari powering both their engine and KERS units, the C30 will likely maintain it’s place as a front-running backmarker.  The car may perhaps weigh in a bit heavier than last year’s C29, with all the new sponsor stickers slapped onto it.  Glad to see the team with some early sponsorship; sad to see Burger King gone from the sidepods.

Another interesting forecast is that rookie driver Sergio Perez will give early challenge to Kamui Kobayashi, and will perhaps up the ante all season long.  I think both drivers will have plenty to prove, and Sauber’s teammate war may certainly be one of the most entertaining of the year.

Teams that will disappoint:

Mercedes MGP W02

From a second off the pace to Red Bull fast in just 1 test session?

HRT – If you expect more from HRT this year than last, you’ll be disappointed, too.  As already predicted in my Harried and Random 2011 F1 Season Predictions – PART I, I don’t believe the team will score a point in 2011.  I’m told the F111 was launched 9 days ago (I must have been doing something else), but the car was unable to be fully assembled or tested due to key suspension components flown in being held up by Spanish customs.  That, my friends, is disappointing.

Narain Karthikeyan and Vitantonio Liuzzi will perform as they usually do (Karthikeyan coming off a 6-year racing hiatus), but in an even slower and mishandling car than usual.  HRT’s driver line-up may have improved slightly, but with the 107% qualifying rule making it’s return for the 2011 season, we may see a few Sundays where an HRT F111 won’t line up for the race.  And if recent speculation about their financials is to be believed, the team may not finish out the F1 season.

Force India – Every year Vijay Mallya tells us the Force India will go from top of the mid-field to bottom of the front-runners, but it just hasn’t happened yet.  Are they standing still with development again on their VJM04?  Or has their driver line-up been long-suffering because Adrian Sutil is a bit overrated as a measuring stick?  If rookie Paul di Resta can give Sutil a run for his money in 2011, we may just find out that the Force India chassis hasn’t been the problem all along.

Virgin – The new Marussia Virgin “MV”, fangy-looking logo seems tough.  Aggressive.  Fast.  Therein lies the disappointment.

The MVR-02 along with pilots Timo Glock and rookie Jerome d’Ambrosio will suffer from the mere fact that the car is designed solely by a computer, and not an Adrian Newey.  Not even a guy who looks like Adrian Newey actually runs the computer, just some guy named Nick.  If the car proves more reliable than the HRT, then they may not finish stone last this season.  Glock will handle d’Ambrosio with ease.

Mercedes – Let me read you some pre-season news headlines from a reputable F1 news source:

Mercedes currently outside top ten – Haug

ESPNF1 Staff
February 21, 2011

Mercedes can catch Red Bull – Brawn

ESPNF1 Staff
March 10, 2011

Brawn admits to pre-season worries

ESPNF1 Staff
March 15, 2011

Is Mercedes GP schizophrenic?  I just don’t believe that a single new aero package brought the MGP W02 from “a second off the pace” to able to catch Red Bull in just a week’s time.  I do believe all of the Mercedes GP quotes about being worried ahead of the season, however.

Nico Rosberg will again be pairing with and beating 7 times world champion Michael “Should’ve Never Came Back” Schumacher on points for the season.  And though I suspect a surprise podium from each of them this year, I feel the downward slide since Brawn’s 2009 successes will only pick up speed for the 2011 season, and like those of Sauber, their occasionally fast lap times during winter testing were due to very low fuel in a bid to impress, but ultimately mislead and disappoint.

11.  Fernando Alonso will win the 2011 Driver’s World Championship.

Alonso Celebrates

"Victory will be MINE!"

Finishing the job his efforts and machinery would not allow him to last year, Fernando Alonso will hoist up the Ferrari marquee to championship glory in 2011.  This will make Alonso the youngest 3-time world champion, and the last 3-time champion we’ll have crowned since the great Michael Schumacher himself.  Love him or hate him, it’s quite easy to argue that he’s just 5 championship points and some iffy tire pressures shy of 4 world titles already.

Just as last year, Alonso will start off 2011 in winning form, but will keep up the charge and learn from the mistakes of the 2010 mid-season slump.  While Massa will have an improved season and make a title run for himself, he’ll be mathematically out of the title challenge with a 2 or so races to go, and the points he takes off Alonso’s rivals will be invaluable in securing the title for the Scuderia.

Think I'm wrong?  
Have your say in the comments!


Posted on March 20, 2011, in Season Predictions. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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