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The 2010 Season Preview - Part Two 05 Mar 2010

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/25. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday 28 February 2010. Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01. Formula One Testing, Day Three, Jerez, Spain, Friday 19 February 2010. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB6. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Jerez, Spain, Thursday 18 February 2010. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F10. Formula One Testing, Day Three, Valencia, Spain, Wednesday 3 February 2010. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Williams FW32. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Jerez, Spain, Saturday 20 February 2010.

Continued from Part One

Although there are several new teams joining the grid this year, few would bet against the old established outfits sharing the majority of this year’s championship spoils amongst themselves. So do the big guns head to Bahrain with the power to stay ahead of the chasing pack? We consider their chances…

1 Jenson Button (GBR)
2 Lewis Hamilton (GBR)

If race wins were awarded purely on the basis of looks, McLaren’s MP4-25 would already have a bunch of them this year. A cross between a Formula One car and a Bonneville lakester, the new car is as impressive as last year’s MP4-24 was dull. It looks right, and a huge amount of research and development has gone into it.

It remains to be seen how long peace reigns as 2009 world champion Jenson Button joins 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton. Predictably, all parties say they are getting along, and both drivers stress that will be the key to developing so they can win races. But let’s just say we’ll see how things pan out when the chips are down and two winners vie for the same trophy.

One, Button, has everything to prove against the other, who could stand to lose his reputation as the best driver out there. Testing has proved they have a very fast car.

3 Michael Schumacher (DEU)
4 Nico Rosberg (DEU)

How much harder will Michael Schumacher find it this time around to establish himself as Formula One racing’s top dog? That’s precisely why 2010 is going to be such a tremendous season. Can a 41 year-old, super-fit, super-determined former champion who hasn’t raced in F1 for three seasons come back and take on all the young lions? Or will team mate Nico Rosberg blow him off?

Few doubt that Schumacher will at least win races; it remains to be seen whether he can challenge for an eighth championship. But how about this scenario? If Rosberg fails to match Schumacher’s pace, and Schumacher thus scores the majority of Mercedes’ points, he might do what Jackie Stewart did in 1973 against the warring Lotuses of Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson, and snatch the title from beneath the noses of McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari as their drivers take points off each other.

Mercedes had weight distribution issues initially, but came back strongly in testing in Barcelona, and Schumacher believes they will be strong. They weren’t exactly weak as Brawn in 2009, were they?

5 Sebastian Vettel (DEU)
6 Mark Webber (AUS)

By the end of 2009 the Red Bull RB5 was the car to beat, and there was no question that had it reached its peak sooner it could have won the world championship. That was how much progress the team made. This year brings with it Adrian Newey’s evolutionary RB6 - and the pressure of expectation. Now we expect the cars not just to win, but to lead the fight for the titles. There is one wealthy Austrian entrepreneur (Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz) who is going to be very angry if his team do not go one better than they did in 2009.

Sebastian Vettel is relishing the chance to prevent Michael Schumacher from regaining his status as Germany’s leading driver, while Mark Webber begins the season in much better shape than he did in 2009, when his legs were still hurting after his Tasmania Challenge charity event shunt. Their prospects look very rosy. The RB6 is very quick, but is it reliable?

7 Felipe Massa (BRA)
8 Fernando Alonso (ESP)

Ferrari had a terrible time in 2009, after they focused so much on the title challenge in 2008. The F60 scored only one victory, and it was aided by KERS. That wasn’t enough. Part of the problem was that car’s architecture prevented use of a proper double diffuser. Now that shortcoming has been resolved, along with a general lack of downforce, and the F10 has been impressive throughout testing.

Ferrari’s V8 is perceived to have relatively high fuel consumption, however, which could oblige them to run more fuel load than their rivals. If this proves to be the case, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso could find themselves able to qualify well but less competitive than they should be in races. The inter-team battle between the feisty Spaniard, who is desperate to get back into a championship-contending car, and the fully-recovered Brazilian, will be one of the season’s highlights.

9 Rubens Barrichello (BRA)
10 Nico Hulkenberg (DEU)

Will 2010 be the year in which Williams score their first win since 2004? In Singapore last year Nico Rosberg ran strongly enough to suggest that just a little more luck might tip the balance, and the new FW32 is, according to technical director Sam Michael, an aggressive design that started with a clear computer screen.

The switch from Cosworth to Toyota never did the team any real good, apart from bringing US$20m of the troubled Japanese company’s money (which was offset by Kazuki Nakajima’s allergy to scoring points). But the switch back to Cosworth might just prove hugely beneficial. A lot of work has gone into reconfiguring the CA2010 version of the engine around a 18,000 rpm limit, and it was always pretty good on fuel economy, which will be a crucial factor this year.

The team’s form in testing has looked good, especially as Williams habitually ran with plenty of fuel, so they are definitely a dark horse. Rubens Barrichello left nobody in doubt about his hunger last season and still has the fire to win, while Nico Hulkenberg has the perfect opportunity to learn from the most experienced man in Formula One racing.

11 Robert Kubica (POL)
12 Vitaly Petrov (RUS)

If ever there was a team in the middle of a major rehabilitation programme, it’s Renault. After the departure of Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds in the wake of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix scandal, Renault has had to regroup and pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

The technical team remains unchanged under Bob Bell, and so far the R30 hasn’t looked too bad in testing, as many of the R29’s shortcomings have been addressed. But it could be a while before things gel fully as the team has two new drivers to work with. Robert Kubica has talent the equal of Fernando Alonso’s and Lewis Hamilton’s, which means he can win races and challenge for championships - if the machinery is right. Team mate Vitaly Petrov is less easy to quantify; he has won GP2 races and shown well in that series, but so did his predecessor Romain Grosjean.

The team are now 75 percent owned by entrepreneur Gerard Lopez, who has entrusted experienced team manager Eric Boullier with masterminding the overall programme. The first signs are that the Frenchman is approaching his job the way a racer would, focusing entirely on performance and leaving the theatrics to other outfits. They’ll be less flamboyant at Renault this year, but you know what they say about the quiet ones…

Continued in Part Three