F1 2010 Season Preview – Team News

In Part 2 of our Preview of the new season, we now look at the 12 teams  in this years championship.

The main news is that Brawn GP, the drivers and constructors champions of 2009 are no more, they have now been brought out by Mercedes, giving the team that nearly folded this time last year a much-needed stable financial grounding. One of the most depressing stories of 2009 was the constant threat of withdrawal from the sport of some F1’s teams and Manufacturers. In the end, BMW and Toyota have decided to the sport behind and Renault, who stay in F1 in name have been brought out by a new investor.   However, with a new year brings positive news and new additions to the grid.  Firstly the BMW team have been saved by former team manger Peter Sauber, and will be known as Sauber going forward, and there are 3 brand new teams that will be joining the big boys on the grid on Sunday.

The historic Lotus name returns after its last race in 1994. Despite the team being based in Norfolk like the original Lotus team, this carries very few ties with the dominant team Colin Chapman built up through the 60’s and 70’s. Backed by Malaysian investment, Mike Gascoyne is the experienced figure-head that has helped formalised and design the car, and will be vital for the teams development.

Despite being a sponsor to the Brawn team last year, The Virgin name returns for 2010 with its own team.  Richard Branson has paid for the naming rights of the team which was formerly Manor Motorsport. The most important factor about this team is that the car will be the first ever F1 car to have been designed completely on computer and without using a wind tunnel to aid and improve the car’s aerodynamics performance.  Through using just CFD (Computation fluid dynamics) the team aims to compete competitively while reducing costs needed to have their own wind tunnel.

The third and final team coming to F1 this year is the HRT team (Hispania Racing Team).  This is a Spanish based team that looked like it was not even going to make the start of the season.  It was going to be called Campos however funding for the team never arrived and it was saved at the last moment.  The car and team are completely untried has not even turned a wheel in testing. Friday morning in Bahrain will be the first time the team, car and drivers would have all been in the same place at the same time and will surely be the tailenders for the first park of the season at least.

Another legendary name also returns, Cosworth will provide engines to the 3 new teams and Williams this year.

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F1 2010 Season Preview – Driver News

This weekend marks the long awaited return of the FIA Formula One World Championship.  When the red lights go out on Sunday it will mark the start of the 61st Championship.  The new season is eagerly anticipated for many reasons and the winter has seen an unprecedented amount of news.  Here is a preview of how the start of the 2010 season will look a lot different to the end of 2009.

Firstly Jenson Button moves from his old team to join fellow Brit Lewis Hamilton at Mclaren. Jenson’s motives for leaving Brawn have been much debated, and whatever the reason, he will face a terribly tough time up against Hamilton who has pretty much built the Mclaren team around him. How Button settles in to his new team and performs against Hamilton will be one of the season long plots that will add constant pressure to the team despite who is performing best.

2 times World Champion Fernando Alonso leaves Renault, where he endured a horrible 2 years that was dogged with terrible cars and controversy, to join Ferrari to try and resurrect the Italian teams chances of returning to the front of the pack. He will join Felipe Massa who returns to the cockpit after suffering serious head injuries during the Hungarian Grand Prix and having to miss the second half of the season. Will the Brazilian be able to return to his good form or will the edge have been taken off the 2008 runner up, remains to be seen, but testing seems to indicate he will be fine.

The biggest headline since the chequered flag fell in Abu Dhabi in November is that 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher makes his return to the sport.  He joins the team that helped win last years World Championships and which was Brawn but is now called Mercedes.  In fact Michael joins pretty much an all out German team, with Nico Rosberg taking Rubens Barrichello’s seat.

Despite the driver changes at Mercedes, Mclaren and Ferrari, Red Bull have kept Mark Webber, and Sebastian Vettle, who will be hoping that consistency along with the Adrian Newey’s new car design will help them kick off the new season on the front foot, as they seem to be the team to beat during the second half of the 2009.

2010 will see one of the most competitive fields in decades.  There will be 4 different former World Champions on the grid, sharing 11 different championships between them.  However there are easily 8 drivers with a realistic chance of winning this years championship.  We have lost 2007 Champion Kimi Raikkonen, who left Ferrari to drive rally cars this year, which is a shame to lose a talent but it seemed his heart just isn’t in it at the moment.

Other noticeable driver moves sees Rubens Barrichello move to Williams, where his team mate will be promising young German Nico Hulkenberg.  Timo Glock move to Virgin, ex Mclaren driver Heikki Kovalainen move to the new Lotus team with F1 journeyman Jarno Trulli.

The legendary name of Senna returns to F1 this year, with his nephew Bruno Senna.  It will be an emotional and evocative image seeing the yellow helmet in racing again, but we will have to get used to seeing it at the back of the field for a while at least until Bruno is given a better car as his HRT Cosworth has a lot of catching up to do.

Autosport International 2010

For the last 20 years many UK motorsport fans look forward to the now traditional Autosport International show held in mid January at the NEC in Birmingham.  After a particularly excellent motorsport season for Britains best drivers the show was almost guaranteed a large number of fans, particulary with 2009 Formula One World Champion Jenson Button in attendance.

I have been going on and off since 1992, I would say that while I have not been a regular through the last decade, I still feel there is a place for motorsport shows such as Autosport International for the “fan” in the street to get a chance to see some of the years important cars and see of of the sports personalities in the flesh.

Before I set of this year I was aware of critisim towards the even, mainly focusing around a couple of key points. Some of the questions poised by bloggers were asking 1. Is the show is relevant any more as business/marketing  activity in todays ecommerce and internet age.  2. Is the tried and tested format the Autosport have stuck to over the years boring and uninspiring?  3. Is the cost of attending too expensive? 4. Should the event be carbon neutral considering the amount of energy used to set up and travel to the event by it’s organisers and public?  The list goes on….

Despite the negativity toward what is at the end of the day just a show to me I set of with camera to hopefully get an injection of motorsport that I have being missing since the season came to a close in November.

One the whole I was not disapointed and had a thoroughly good day and here are some of my show highlights using some of my own photos.

Alan McNish

The ex Toyota F1 driver was on the Autosport stage as I arrive and was giving a talk his plans for 2010 and for LeMans.  He then can out and signed autographs for fans just off the stage.

Martin Brundle

F1 pundit for BBC and previously ITV brought his 19 year old son Alex Brundle along presumably to get the young lad some experience up in front of a large motorsport audience and also perhaps to drum up some interest in his career which hopefully will take him to GP3 if he can find the budget.  Brundle was superb, always candid in his comments and he was happy to answer lots of questions from the audience.  I got the impression Martin understands the importance of events such as the Autosport show in it’s ability to let the public get close to drivers and cars and Martin gave plenty of time to autograph hunters after his talk.

Jenson Button

The current F1 World Champion was undoubtably the shows biggest draw and was on the main stage a couple of times throughout the day to give fans a good chance to see him, he was also on the F1 racing stand signing autographs and he finally made an appearance in the live show at the end of the day.  Jenson was as smooth as ever with the public, commenting of how his successful 2009 campaign had gone and most importantly why he was moving the Mclaren in 2010.  While I still am not sure about his move to Mclaren personally, the show gave him a chance to try and convince some of the public why he had moved from the Mercedes/Brawn team.  I get the impression the more he says his reason he hopes we will buy in to it.  Jenson did however make a fitting tribute to Rubens Barrichello, whom he said was a great team mate and friend.

There was a mixture of new and old cars on display, thankfully there was the winning Brawn car from this years F1 championship on display. Also from 2009 was the Mclaren, Redbull and Force India. There was representation from Renault, Williams and Ferrari – however the seem to have sent chassis made up of a collection of parts that might have been laying around in their factory. In fact I have no idea what car the Renault team had sent – It was orange, that’s all I can say. Historical cars on display of interest to me was the JPS Lotus 79, a ground breaking car that dominated the 1978 season through Colin Chapman’s pioneering of the Ground Effect car.

A car more relevant to my time as a F1 fan was the Williams FW14B that took Mansell to his only F1 drivers championship in 1992.  This car like the Lotus 79 stole a march on it’s competitors by mastering a previously undeveloped area of design – Active Suspension. The Adrian Newey designed car still looks relevant today with it’s raised nose.

I was also pleased to see the Lotus 102 as driven by Martin Donnelly in 1990, a car which he suffered a horrific accident at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez in 1990.  The Camel Lotus is certainly a very odd looking car and it was no supprise when it failed to perform out on the track some 20 years ago.

A beautiful car at the show was the Maserati 250F driven by Fangio and Moss in 1954.

The Beatrice THL-1, the car Alan Jones tried in vain to mastermind a comeback in to the sport in 1985/1986 was sat amongst a 1995 Benetton B195 which was for sale and an interesting Dallara BMS – 192 from 1992

I also spotted the burnt helmet of Jos Verstappen from his incident in the 1994 German Grand Prix, when a pit stop for fuel went wrong and ended up with a flash fire while Jos was still sat in the cockpit. These images serve to remind how dangerous fuel stops could be and how the move to ban them in 2010 is a positive decision in my book.

Now I come to the biggest let down of the show the Live Action Arena.  This years line up was particularly uninspiring and whether I was luck or unlucky I found myself in the front row.  Not only did the poor line up of cars get to me, but the fumes and the lack of light, meaning I could hardly see the cars as they made there way around what seemed to be a multistory car park.  I left with about 10 mins to go as it was I found it quite teadious as I couldn’t see or take pictures either. Although I did see the Lancia Stratos which kind of made up for it.  I wonder if they could try and get the event to be outside next year, so at least the fans can see and breath.

As always I picked up a few purchases, Lotus and Ferrari DVD’s and a copy of Sid Watkin’s book.  It never amazes me how expensive F1 merchandise is, with models pushing £40 and team clothing needlessly expensive.

After all that I was extremely tired and headed home.  Yes it is fair to say, it felt like any other of the Autosport shows from the last 20 years, but, there is a recession on and I am sure the organisers have struggled to get extra companies and teams to attend.

From a fans point of view I think it gives just enough. I was happy with the photo’s and racing drivers I met on the Saturday and yes it is sad that fans only get a 10 minute window to get Jenson Button’s autograph, and that Jenson was the only driver representing the current crop of F1 drivers at the show, but this I cannot deny that it does give the fans a early shot of motorsport hysteria that should tie them through until March.

Red Bull keeps the F1 world waiting

For the second year running the Red Bull team have elected to skip the first official pre-season test  held at Valencia on February 1st-3rd

Like last year the team are saying that they would rather have extra time in the wind tunnel to further improve the cars areodynamic efficiency rather than on track running.  However, that was a understandable justification last year when the rules and regulations had been turned upside down and the more time the teams spent in the factory seemed the best idea.

Red Bull where one of the last few teams to launch their car last year and when they did it came with widespread acclaim that Adrian Newey and his team had brought along some interesting design details, many of which the rest of the F1 teams seemed to acknowledge as superior to their own.  Detail like the high raised nose and pull-rod rear suspension. The RB5 is thought to have been the best overall design in 2009 despite the Brawn getting a 6 race advantage with the double defuser, and many teams are expected to replicate some of the RB5 designs in to their 2010 cars.  Already there is gossip about Ferrari having a car that looks very similar, as reported on James Allens F1 Blog and with an image on The Art of Formula 1’s website

Is there more to the story here or is wind tunnel running better than actual physical testing?  I suppose the more you prepare the better results will be, but by missing Valencia the team will only give themselves 12 full days of running, and with the current climate in Europe being so cold and wet, one wonders how many full dry days the team might get in before travelling to Bahrain.  A Cynical view could be that Red Bull are trying to keep wraps on their RB6 design for as long as possible allowing the teams even less time to catch any of the new detail on the Red Bull and have their own interpretations on their cars ready for the fly away races in mid March.

An interesting game of cat and mouse, or is F1 moving away from days of testing at circuits to days in the wind tunnel running complex equations? Being a bit of a traditionalist I hope it’s the former.

De La Rosa rumours intensify

The web if full of gossip this week that the former BMW team, now back in the safe hands of Peter Sauber, is set to announce that current third driver at Mclaren, Pedro De La Rosa is to be their driver for the 2010 season alongside Kamui Kobyashi.

This seems an odd choice for me, Pedro has been out of F1 for 3 full years, in fact his last race was back in 2006 when he deputised for the sacked Juan Pablo Montoya at Mclaren

Despite competing in some 72 races the Spaniard’s best result is 2nd place behind Jenson Button in the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix and has competed in just 9 races in 7 seasons.

He is by no means a ‘spring chicken’ and there are no indications in his previous form that he has the speed to lead the team towards top-level results, so why are the team interested in Pedro?

Firstly Pedro’s experience at Mclaren where he has spent the last 7 years as its official test driver, from which he would have gathered plenty of experience on how a top-level team operate – vital for Sauber.  He is also a mature head in that he has a strong presence on the GPDA and could be seen as a safe pair of hands on the track and not put added pressure on the team by crashing.

It is this experience and safe profile that I believe Sauber are attracted to in order to balance out the raw and potentially erratic nature displayed by the exciting prospect that is Kamui Kobyashi.

Hold on a minute though, Nick Heidfeld the driver previously employed by BMW and before then by Peter Sauber himself, is in limbo at the moment looking for a drive. He already fits all those criteria I previously mentioned but is able to boast continued experience of racing which De La Rosa cannot hold a torch to.

So what does this mean? Is Peter Sauber finally drawing the curtain on the nearly man Heidfeld? Are the team that has recently been saved tight on budget and unable to afford Heidfeld – This seems unlikely has one expects that Nick wouldn’t have been on superstar money, which leaves the only other possible option in that Nick is about to join Renault to complete his partnership with Robert Kubica.

With the car launches eminent and the first test under 3 weeks away it would be a worry for Sauber to have to rely upon Kobayashi who has zero experience in developing a car.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next week or so.

Renault name new boss but no news on second driver

Renault F1 have announced the full time replacement for Flavio Briatore as team principle.  Eric Boullier will assume responsibility of getting the team which has been dogged with scandal and dreadful results for the past 3 years, back to the front of the grid.

Boullier comes from his ties with Gravity Management who now owns a large stake in the F1 team having purchased it off of the French Manufacturer in December 2009.  Bob Bell will continue on the technical side.

Speculation will now turn to the drivers of the team for the new season.  Robert Kubica who signed for the team late last year has officially declared his intention to drive for the team despite the Manufacturer taking a less directive roll.  This will be good news for the team as it really needed to hold on to its star driver having lost Alonso to Ferrari.  The second driver is yet to be announced.

With Schumacher now taking the final seat a Mercedes for 2010 the Renault seat looks to be the best seat remaining on the market and drivers will be keen to try and get themselves in at Renault.  There are quite a few good drivers on the market, most noticeably old boys such as Nick Heidfeld and Giancarlo Fisichella.  But it remains to be seen if the team have the confidence to stick with youth by going with Roman Grosjean or another GP2 driver.  Results will be important for the team especially in building credibility and attracting sponsorship after losing its major partners on the back of the Crash-Gate scandal.

I think they should go with Fisichella, he knows the team and is clearly still fast despite what the F60 did to him in the final races of last year.  Heidfeld to me is just a journeyman and without winning a race, one wonders if he ever will stand on the top step of the podium.

With the first testing a month away the team has a couple of weeks to make this decision.

Flavio Briatore’s life time F1 ban overturned

Disgraced former Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore has had the FIA life time ban overturned today by French courts.  Briatore was given the life time ban by the FIA at the back end of 2009 after the widely publicised F1 Crash-Gate controvisy.  Flavio argued that the ban the FIA has imposed upon him was far to harsh and was influenced by the then FIA president Max Mosley, who seemingly was acting out his own personal vendetta towards Briatore.

This is bad news for F1 and the FIA. Firstly the negativity that surrounded the Crash-Gate story will be brought back to the headlines, promoting the sport in a dismal light again, and secondly new FIA president Jean Todd has his first significant issue to tackle.  The F1 community and worlds press will be interested to see if the new broom in Jean Todt can act decisively against Briatore or if the same old murky waters still flow through the FIA towers.

Ultimately though the question begs if anyone in F1 would want to be associated with Briatore having been made scapegoat for the deliberate accident caused at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix involving Nelson Piquet Jr and Pat Symonds.  Piquet Jr is finding it incredibly tough re-establishing his name and credibility and one wonders if Flavio despite the ruling today will find his attempts to get back in to F1 futile.