Category Archives: Season Predictions
Finally, I bring you Part III and the conclusion to my harried and random 2011 F1 season predictions…
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.
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:
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.
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:
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
Mercedes can catch Red Bull – Brawn
Brawn admits to pre-season worries
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.
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!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally intended to be the “Top 10” reasons for McLaren fans to feel good going into 2011, but I could only come up with 6. Apologies.
If you have access to an internet-enabled web device and decided to read about F1 in the last 2 days, then you already know that McLaren, their drivers, and most of their fans are cautiously pessimistic about the impending 2011 World Championship season. Tweets, news, and statuses were all doom and gloom about the MP4-26’s performances and limiting running thus far in testing, and so in turn were McLaren’s prospects according to many a worried fan for the upcoming season.
Well, fret not my tea-drinking Macca friends from o’er the pond. I’ve come all the way from Amarika to give you my top 6 reasons why McLaren fans shouldn’t worry a bit about the upcoming Formula One season. It will be a cracking, spot-on banger!*
*I don't know what any of that means
REASON 6: The MP4-26 is the best-looking car – again
To clarify, best-looking is not synonymous with fast-looking. But the MP4-26 – as the McLaren challenger has been for the last 14 years; ever since the MP4-12 was launched in 1997 – is the most beautiful machine on the grid. Sure, I realize this doesn’t affect performance and therefore points scoring potential, but dammit, it should be worth at least 5 bonus points per season. McLaren and their livery design team take what others treat as just a 200mph billboard with pinstripes, ghastly colors and goofy tribal shapes and turn it into something truly beautiful — every year since 1997.
From sidepod (title) sponsors West, to Johnnie Walker, and now Vodafone – no car has a better-looking paint scheme than the McLaren. Even when it just said “Mika”, “David”, “Kimi”, “Juan”, or “Pedro” on the side, it was still the sharpest color-scheme around. It’s all in the sidepods, baby – it’s all in the sidepods. And now that they’re U-shaped, we should all feel like that’s going to make it faster over time and (for reasons unknown to myself and fellow non-engineers / aerodynamicists) shouldn’t be surprised when we see other teams changing their own sidepod profiles throughout this season and next to match the McLaren U-Pod.
REASON 5: One of your drivers is named ‘Lewis Hamilton’
He’s about as “gangsta” as… well… a British racing driver; but damn he’s fast. And entertaining behind the wheel. And perhaps most importantly, he’s damned ballsy, too. Surely McLaren fans must feel the same amount of reassurance as I do fear when Lewis is on a charge through the field with his next target in sight.
And for the record, he won Spa 2008 fair and square. That tremendous drive from a 2nd year pilot in mixed conditions against the likes of the one they call “the ICEMAN” was epic. Lewis gave the position back and then some, slowing while crossing behind the Finn from left to right whilst out-smarting and later out-braking veteran Kimi that rainy day in Belgium. That should be gospel coming from an Alonso fan.
I assure you, it’s every bit as awkward to compliment Hamilton when you’re an Alonso fan as it is for Hamilton fans to say something nice about Alonso. Lucky for me (while puzzling for others), they’re my 2 favorite drivers. When you have Lewis Hamilton driving for you, it’s a reassuring feeling. Sure, he might make a dumb mistake or 2 a season where he bins the car, someone else’s in the pit lane, or just dumps it in the gravel during a high pressure race; but it’s all the times in between where he’s pure magic. He’s the outright fastest driver in the sport, and he would have won WDC last year with 2 races to spare had he been given the RB6 to drive. Much like his counterpart at Ferrari, Hamilton doesn’t need the best car. It just needs to be good enough.
REASON 4: Nobody gets on with development throughout the season like McLaren
In the last 10 years, McLaren have continually managed to demonstrate that not only is the car they end the year with radically different from the one they start the year with, but it’s generally much faster, too.
Sure, recent testing restrictions have infringed upon McLaren’s ability to close or increase the gap throughout the season, but even still 2010’s challenger usually got a bit better every race. No reason to expect less this year. And there’s every reason to expect good development feedback from Button, too.
REASON 3: McLaren invented the F-Duct
Need I say more? Sure it’s banned for the 2011 season, but still… they came up with it. Who knows what other ideas are on the MP4-26 that don’t require a plainly visible snorkel?
REASON 2: Dennis may be “gone”, but he’s still looking over Whitmarsh’s shoulder
While seeing Ron Dennis on the McLaren pit wall isn’t exactly a sign of encouragement for some McLaren fans, it is for me. See, under the control of Ron, McLaren has won 10 Driver’s World Championships. If my math is correct, that’s 10 more championships than Martin Whitmarsh has won as Team Principal.
I realize Ron Dennis is tackling many new ventures not associated with grand prix racing, but I also happen to know 5th-hand that his mouth is in Whitmarsh’s ear. He may not be wearing the white shirt and Kenwood headset much anymore, but he still wants McLaren to win, and he’s keeping a close eye on the happenings in Woking and around the F1 calendar while advising Whitmarsh and other team personnel. And lastly, Lewis is like a second son to Ron; Mika of course, being the first. I’m not really sure how Mr. Dennis feels about the 3 children he actually has…
REASON 1: They’re due
Last 5 years of WDC teams and drivers:
- 2006 – Renault – Alonso
- 2007 – Ferrari – Raikkonen
- 2008 – McLaren – Hamilton
- 2009 – Brawn – Button
- 2010 – Red Bull – Vettel
If you study the pattern carefully, you’ll understand why Hamilton and McLaren are due for WDC glory in 2011:
On to Part II of my harried and random 2011 F1 season predictions…
6. Michael Schumacher will podium this season
However, the Red Baron will not win a race in 2011, or maybe ever again. Honestly though, it’s not him. It’s his car, his fierce competition, and their own very fast cars which will keep Schumacher off the top step of the podium this year. Instead, I see him taking a P3 at a frenetic race like Brazil this season, in mixed conditions.
Surely if Michael’s and Mercedes’ joint venture for world titles was a 3 year plan, then certainly we should see some kind of results by the end of this year. But to be frank, even a podium is a bit of a long shot if the MGP 02 is really a full second behind the front-runners as was stated by Merc GP at this late point in the pre-season. Ross Brawn better hope all those holes he had to cut in the interim car to keep it cool were the majority of that full second gap.
7. Intra-team battles won’t be as dramatic, or surprising as some are predicting
Here in the US, we are very lucky to have the SPEED channel crew of Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, and David Hobbs calling all the F1 races of the season. And as all 3 are fond of saying, “to finish first in F1, you must first beat your teammate.”
However, I don’t think we’ll see too many surprises this season and the tally at the end of the year will mirror 2010’s status quo for the most part with few exceptions, and no big surprises:
- Vettel slams Webber
- Hamilton pips Button
- Alonso buries Massa
- Rosberg edges Schumacher
- Heidfeld embarrasses Petrov
- Barrichello schools Maldonado
- Sutil handles di Resta
- Kobayashi takes Perez
- Alguersuari over Buemi
- Kovalainen dusts Trulli
- Unnamed Driver beats Karthikeyan
- Glock pummels d’Ambrosio
As advertised, this blog is one of opinion and bias, but even I hope I’m wrong on a few of the above teammate battles. It would be an empty victory for me to be 100% correct, but still have to stomach a season that plays out like the snore-fest above. I’d love to see MSC beat Rosberg. I want to see Button prove that he really is a smart driver; smooth, kind to his tires and not just a lucky guy with freckles and a penchant for triathlons. I would go crazy to see Webber handle Vettel this season, take the WDC and retire on top and in good form; Fosters in hand. But this isn’t Fantasy Island, and nothing of the sort will happen in 2011.
8. Felipe Massa will win a race
Sure, I’ve already said that a 7-time World Champion wouldn’t win a race this year, and I believe that. I also believe that Fernando Alonso thoroughly thrashed Felipe last year. He might even do it again in 2011, but not without Felipe sneaking a well-deserved win or two. If Bridgestones really were the problem for Felipe in 2010, then Pirelli just may be the Italian solution that gets him back to the front of the grid. If Massa can win races early, it will be very interesting to see how Ferrari manage their drivers with team orders being perfectly legal from the start of this season. I feel it would only be fair to back Felipe if he shows in good form by the time Germany rolls around. We shall see…
But enough about team orders and more about Massa — I’m not sure which round(s) he’s going to win, but if he comes to terms with the Pirelli rubber early, I can definitely see him getting some good qualifying performances — and once he grabs that pole at a track he likes, he’ll just do one of those start-from-P1-and-never-look-back races that some of us sorely miss seeing from the likable Brazilian.
9. The RB7 is still a cut-above, and will take the Constructor’s Crown once again
Ferrari and Red Bull have both looked solid on long runs in testing, while the Lotus Renault and McLaren definitely have some new tricks up their sleeves, but Red Bull Racing and their RBR look to be at least fastest outright, and fastest in simulated qualifying runs. Obviously, the car that’s easier on tires can make fewer stops, and perhaps Ferrari might look a bit more consistent over long runs, but it may be at some circuits that Horner and RBR will opt for an additional stop (or 2) from the rest of the front-runners simply because the RB7 is fast enough to allow that. I’m reminded of Magny-Cours in 2004 when Michael Schumacher won on a 4 stop strategy that included a late ‘splash and dash’ (despite all the other front-runners opting for 3 or even 2 stops) to take best advantage of his tires, fuel load, track position and traffic to ultimately win the French GP. If the degradation of the Pirellis and the speed of the RB7 allow for races like Magny-Cours ’04, we’re all in for some very special races.
Stay on the lookout for Harried and Random 2011 F1 Season Predictions – Part III
Not to be braggadocious, but I’ve accurately predicted many an F1 happening over the last 10 years. I selected Michael Schumacher to win the world title from year 2001 to 2004; a bold prediction at the time. I also have an 87% success rate of describing the Ferrari livery before their car is even launched. Spooky.
But for all my successes, there have been an equal amount of failures. For example, I picked Hakkinen for the driver’s title in 2000. I also thought he’d come off his hiatus one day. Damn. I also recall the time I predicted that I would see Jacques Villeneuve win another F1 race in my lifetime. Shame. I really thought Raikkonen would win a world title before the end of his McLaren days. Pity.
Well for this 2011 F1 season, which looks to be a real classic, I have resolved to make what’s usually wrong sometimes right. And with that I present to you, my harried and random 2011 F1 season predictions…
1. Neither HRT will score a point
Sure, maybe that’s not exactly a long shot, but I don’t want to be completely wrong this season. I do love an underdog, but then HRT driver Bruno Senna retired from 9 races in just the ones he actually participated in last year. With no sign yet of HRT’s 2011 challenger, I don’t think they’ll improve in the reliability department.
2. The McLaren drivers will be even more evenly matched and will tangle… on track
As many others have either speculated or hoped, I too believe that degrading Pirelli rubber will help Jenson Button get on even closer terms with his lightning fast teammate Lewis Hamilton. One can take from this that we’re likely to see them battle more on track this year as they’ll likely be running closer together in races, and with varied usage of the Pirelli tyres, possibly we’ll also see them on much different tire strategies than last year.
What I don’t see, is the impending fallout between McLaren teammates that seemingly every F1 media outlet is hoping for. I feel that F1 in its pure form gives plenty of drama without the need to fabricate a bit of it. And I think there will be plenty of dramatic intra-McLaren wheel banging this coming season.
3. Pirelli will be the savior of the season
I really do feel Pirelli in general is going to make this season exciting by forcing the use of clever strategy and quick improvisation back into the pit wall. The only people really complaining are the drivers, and the teams with cars that aren’t kind to their tires.
And to that point, I really am sick of hearing the negative side of the Pirellis from some teams and drivers. Tires that rapidly deteriorate and differ greatly between compounds are a no-brainer win-win for us fans, and you’re all getting the same tires! Sure, it’s a deficit for the teams that chew their tires up, but you need to engineer your way around that problem just like every other team. It’s F1, remember?
4. Sebastian Vettel will not defend his world title
OK, before I get a bunch of hate mail, let me explain myself. It’s not that I don’t feel like the RB7 won’t indeed be the quickest car out of the gate this season. Nor is it because I somehow think Vettel’s skills or mental state will decline rather than improve this coming year. I don’t believe either. The problem is going to be that both his competition, and perhaps even his teammate will close the gap this season. It’s hard to read much at all into testing, particularly this season, but something tells me that some of Red Bull’s rival teams have already closed part of the gap, while others are poised to do it in the first few races. While some are doubtful (including the drivers) of the new McLaren MP4-26, no other team seems to get on with development throughout the season like the Woking squad. And in a season where driver technical smarts instead of pure race craft may prevail, Fernando Alonso won’t be looking to repeat the few costly mistakes of the 2010 season. Vettel’s competition will come in all forms this year, and I don’t see another miracle, last-gasp victory for him again this season.
5. We will see “legal” team orders this season, but they won’t be as brazen as when they were “illegal”
For the 2003 Formula One Season, team orders were banned. This was brought on after the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix in which Rubens Barrichello let Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher’s car pass him quite intentionally just meters from the finish line on orders from the Ferrari pit wall. Mind you, team orders were technically legal at this time (the only penalty was for the breach in podium conduct), but nobody at Ferrari or the FIA took a firm stand at the time and said “hey, this is legal and within the rules of our sport”. Instead, a new (and unenforceable) rule banning team orders was introduced for the following season. Fast-forward to the German round of the 2010 season, and “Alonso is faster than you,” and “I’m sorry lad” dominated headlines and meme sites. What some considered a “coded message”, I felt like was a blatant order. And the irony of it all is that this year, team orders which manipulate a race result are perfectly legal, but I am very doubtful that we’ll ever hear this exchange on the radio:
“Felipe baby, we’re implementing Team Order Blue — make way for Alonso and let him pass. Again, this is a legal team order for you to yield to your teammate. Let him pass. Can you confirm you understood this message?”
If Rob Smedley gets on the radio and says that this season, I’ll eat my shoes.
Stay on the lookout for Harried and Random 2011 F1 Season Predictions – Part II