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The 2010 Season Preview - Part Three 05 Mar 2010

Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 VJM03 Formula One Testing, Day Three, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday 27 February 2010. Jaime Alguersuari (ESP) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR5. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday 25 February 2010. Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Lotus T127. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Jerez, Spain, Thursday 18 February 2010. Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) BMW Sauber C29 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, Friday 26 February 2010. Lucas di Grassi (BRA) Virgin Racing VR-01 Formula One Testing, Day Three, Jerez, Spain, Friday 19 February 2010.

Continued from Part Two

Can the midfield teams really upset the order at the head of the grid? We consider their chances…

FORCE INDIA
14 Adrian Sutil (DEU)
15 Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA)

Force India was the surprise of 2009, especially in the second half of the season when the Mark Smith/James Key VJM02 really came on strong on the fast circuits where its relative lack of downforce was not such a disadvantage and its low drag made it very fast in a straight line. But for Ferrari’s KERS, Giancarlo Fisichella would have won at Spa, which just goes to show just how hot the car was there.

The VJM03 has addressed the downforce problem, and after his first experience with the car in the first test at Jerez Vitantonio Liuzzi described it as “the best Formula One car I have driven.” They might not be fighting for the championship, but Liuzzi and team mate Adrian Sutil will be another mano a mano act well worth watching. The German is quick but erratic, the Italian quick, smooth and smart.

It remains to be seen whether running third driver Paul di Resta on Fridays will take away anything from the race drivers’ progress, but it’s a great way to play the young Scot in for the seat he is expected to take from Sutil in 2011. This is another dark horse worth keeping an eye on, even though Key recently left to join Sauber.

TORO ROSSO
16 Sebastien Buemi (CHE)
17 Jaime Alguersuari (ESP)

If you focused only on testing times from Jerez, Toro Rosso are likely to run at the front this year. Both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were very fast there in the new STR5. This is the handiwork of the team themselves for the first time, as the rules now preclude teams sharing a design with others as Toro Rosso did since 2006 with elder sibling Red Bull.

Of course, you’d have to be remarkably naive to believe that there hasn’t been some benefit from having Adrian Newey working for your big brother, and the STR5 bears a strong resemblance to last year’s car and the multiple race-winning Red Bull RB5. Whether it too can win this year is a moot point. Franz Tost’s team does not have the same budget as Red Bull itself, and there were plenty of times last year when that was clearly a serious disadvantage. There is no reason to suppose this year will be that different on that score.

Buemi showed a lot of flair last year and comfortably saw off Sebastien Bourdais who, though he never clicked in F1, was no slouch as all his Indy car wins demonstrated. Alguersuari came into Bourdais’ place with less Formula One experience than any graduate in history - a few straight-line tests and nothing else - but demonstrated that he is not out of his depth. It’ll be interesting to see how these two youngsters develop, and just how competitive their rides will prove.

LOTUS
18 Jarno Trulli (ITA)
19 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN)

Air Asia boss Tony Fernandes has infectious enthusiasm for the Lotus marque, and race fans all round the world have welcomed back the iconic green and yellow colours made famous in the sixties by legends Innes Ireland, Jim Clark and Graham Hill.

Arguably the most focused and cohesive of the new teams, Lotus Racing’s T127 is the work of Mike Gascoyne whose pedigree includes spells with McLaren, Sauber, Tyrrell, Jordan, Renault and Toyota. His new car is a no-nonsense, smartly conceived design intended to give the new team the ideal equipment with which to learn its trade. Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen are both Grand Prix winners who can be relied on to squeeze out everything it has to offer.

Fernandes has been discovering just how big a mouthful he has to chew and even he does not have endless cash to spend on his latest venture, but the team have ambitious plans to score world championship points and is determined to get among the tail enders of the 10 established teams. On paper, at the very least, they have the best chance of doing that of the new equipes.

HRT
20 Karun Chandhok (IND)
21 Bruno Senna (BRA)

The Spanish team was one of the first to announce a driver - Ayrton Senna’s popular nephew Bruno - but have since been troubled by financial problems. Then majority shareholder owner Jose Ramon Carabante took full control of the outfit from founder Adrian Campos, and it was announced that former Force India manager Colin Kolles had joined, together with ex-BAR Honda/Red Bull technical guru Geoff Willis.

Both are smart moves, and the latter was credited with engineering reliability into the hitherto fragile Red Bulls last year. The team has also been rebadged HRT (it was Campos) and this week signed GP2 winner Karun Chandhok to partner Senna. And even though they will arrive in Bahrain having completed no pre-season testing, Kolles was in a positive mood at Thursday’s official presentation launch in the Spanish city of Murcia.

BMW SAUBER
22 Pedro de la Rosa (ESP)
23 Kamui Kobayashi (JAP)

Many people thought it was all over for Peter Sauber when BMW announced that they were pulling the plug on their Formula One operation. But Peter is a tough cookie and there was no way he was going to lose the team he built up. Eventually BMW accepted his offer to buy it back.

It’s going to be a tough struggle, but the Swiss independent was one of the last privateers standing when all the manufacturers had found a musical chair, and if anyone knows how to survive in the Piranha Club, it’s the team from Hinwil. Pedro de la Rosa brings huge experience from his six-year spell as McLaren’s test driver, while Kamui Kobayashi showed fantastic potential in his three outings at the end of 2009.

VIRGIN
24 Timo Glock (DEU)
25 Lucas di Grassi (BRA)

Virgin’s whole Formula One venture has been an oddity, right from the start of Richard Branson’s tense involvement with Brawn last year when it soon became clear that he had paid a little but got a lot in terms of exposure. He’s paying even less this time around, if you believe the stories, but now the cars are painted in his colours and called Virgins. Will he succeed, the way he has in the airline business?

Team manager John Booth has a Yorkshireman’s detestation of nonsense, and while he has no Formula One experience he knows how to run a race team. Nick Wirth has been in F1 before, with the ill-fated Simtek team and then Renault. Designing the VR-01 wholly by computational fluid dynamics and without any recourse to a wind tunnel was a bold move, especially for a newcomer.

But that is something to applaud. Losing the front wing in the car’s first test at Jerez - a problem that also beset the Simtek at Imola when Roland Ratzenberger was killed in April 1994 - isn’t. Timo Glock is a great little race driver whose feistiness will stand the team in good stead; Lucas di Grassi has done well enough in GP2 to deserve this chance to show his Formula mettle.