The 2011 Season Preview - Part Three 18 Mar 2011
In the final instalment of our look ahead to the 2011 FIA Formula One World Championship, we consider the chances last years midfield teams have of challenging the frontrunners, and the odds on the newest teams breaking free from the back of the grid (Continued from Part Two)
11 Rubens Barrichello
12 Pastor Maldonado
In Rubens Barrichello and reigning GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado, Williams have two very aggressive drivers. And now they have an aggressive car too, in Sam Michaels FW33 which features one of the most tightly packaged rear-ends in the business.
The team have full sponsorship for 2011 and were recently floated on the German stock market, so things are looking up and there is an air of confident determination to get back to mixing it with the top teams the way that last happened at times during the ill-fated alliance with BMW.
Michael said in 2010 that Barrichello was the best driver he had ever worked with in F1, and the evergreen Brazilian still has much to give. Maldonado is an unknown quantity thus far in F1, but the Venezuelan brings welcome financial support from his national oil company, and could spring some surprises.
14 Adrian Sutil
15 Paul Di Resta
Force India-Mercedes VJM04
Out goes Tonio Liuzzi and in comes promising Scottish rookie Paul di Resta. Part of the Anthony Hamilton-managed youngsters dowry is reportedly Mercedes KERS system, and that should help the Silverstone-based team to fight hard for its place in the upper midfield.
Adrian Sutil stays for another year, after plans to have him replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari fell apart in the aftermath of last years team orders argument. This will be a crucial season for the German, who showed great pace in 2010 allied to the occasional brain fade (Korea springs to mind). Di Resta will be praying for better reliability than Liuzzi enjoyed (notably with his cars F-duct), and the man who beat Vettel to the European F3 title is itching to show that he can do the same to Sutil.
16 Kamui Kobayashi
17 Sergio Perez
Confounding the critics, Peter Saubers little team regrouped again in 2010 after the departure of BMW. Times were still tough for the men and women from Hinwil, even though there was some helpful BMW cash to smooth the transition, but they made it.
Along the way they acquired James Key from Force India as long-time technical director Willy Rampf retired, and the Englishman did not lose much time pointing the C29 in the right direction. At the same time Kamui Kobayashi established a reputation as a racer that was only marginally diminished by a penchant for long opening stints which meant he was later able to use fresher rubber to embarrass rivals towards the end of a race. Good tyre management will be a feature of 2011 races, so watch him.
In GP2 runner-up Sergio Perez, Kobayashi has a team mate who will push him all the way and the money that the fiery young Mexican brings from Telmex will undoubtedly help the team.
18 Sebastien Buemi
19 Jaime Alguersuari
Toro Rosso-Ferrari STR6
This time last year Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari had been setting some very quick times during testing for Franz Tosts Red Bull-supported satellite team. But in the races the STR5 disappointed more often than not. This time around the story looks the same, and even Lewis Hamilton was recently moved to suggest that the STR6 might spring a surprise.
But will all that apparent promise just turn out to have been some low-fuel grandstanding in an attempt to draw attention to a team that still needs to find decent funding? Time will tell, but it would indeed be surprising to see an outfit that has to design its own car these days being able to run at the pace of one penned by Adrian Newey.
Meanwhile, Buemi and Alguersuari will be looking over their shoulders in the first half of the season as World Series by Renault racer Daniel Ricciardo is waiting for the chance to step into one of their seats at the midpoint.
20 Jarno Trulli
21 Heikki Kovalainen
By the time his team heads to his native Malaysia, Tony Fernandes should know whether he can still use the Team Lotus name, as the court case with Group Lotus will be heard in Londons High Court during the Australian Grand Prix. But regardless of the outcome, the AirAsia boss has clearly won the right to race at the highest level.
Last years start-up T127 was a necessarily conservative machine intended simply to get the team racing. This year technical director Mike Gascoyne has been more adventurous with the aerodynamics, while mating the chassis to a Renault rear end complete with the pull-rod rear suspension made fashionable again on last years Red Bull RB6.
With Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus have two proven race winners who can deliver the goods, and who should be able to challenge Toro Rosso and Force India if either of those more established teams falter. Reliability issues in testing, however, will be an early concern.
22 Narain Karthikeyan
23 Vitantonio Liuzzi
On the face of it HRT are in as much trouble in 2011 as they were heading to the first race of 2010 when neither of their cars had turned a wheel, after the sleek new F111 was unable to run as planned in the last Barcelona test. Ironically, the teams national customs held up their dampers.
However, the new car comes from respected F1 designer Geoff Willis of BAR and Red Bull fame, and the statement livery from famed Hollywood designer Daniel Simon signals a clear intention by team principal Colin Kolles to move far away from the drab grey image the team had in its rookie season.
Signing Narain Karthikeyan, who last raced in F1 in 2005, is something of a gamble but makes sense as he brings strong budget from Tata and can be quick when the mood is upon him, while opting for Force India refugee Tonio Liuzzi is clear indication that Kolles values speed, experience and technical ability over other renta-drivers potential budgets.
24 Timo Glock
25 Jerome Dambrosio
Like Lotus and HRT, Virgin defied the pessimists and go into 2011 stronger than ever thanks to recent investment by Marussia. The result is a sound financial position and enhanced management, but the early signs are that the latest car from Nick Wirth is some way off the pace. Glock, the tough German racer who is recovering from a recent appendectomy, admits that they are some way off realising their early season targets. DAmbrosio, the quick young Belgian who replaces Brazilian Lucas di Grassi, will find his graduation to race seat status even harder as a result.
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