The development race begins
The longest season in Formula 1 history looks set to be a question of who can keep ahead in the development race over the course of 20 Grands Prix, rather than who kicks off the season with the most competitive package.
While early testing in Spain suggested that the usual contenders are likely to set the pace, the major rule changes mean teams have much to learn, and only in the opening race in Bahrain will a true picture emerge. Even then the sheer number of events — with a finale as late as November 28 — means engineers have time to turn troublesome cars around.
“Every team knows in the first half of the year whether they’re in contention or not,” said Ross Brawn. “I am sure there will be some people who set the standard at the start of the season. We want that to be us. If not, we will respond. If we don’t find a suitable response, then we won’t be challenging. But I don’t think you can judge from the first few races where things are going to develop.”
Ferrari won the race to be the first car on track with its F150 — later renamed F150th Italia after pressure from Ford — running at Fiorano on January 28. Seven other cars were ready to run in the following week’s group test at Jerez, while McLaren, Virgin and Force India ran their new models only in the second test at Jerez.
For all teams there is a huge learning curve. They’d previously tried the new Pirellis over two days in November at Abu Dhabi, with their 2010 cars. Since then the Italian company has developed the tyres.
In the cool weather of Spain teams struggled with massive tyre degradation, and didn’t necessarily get a clear picture of what might happen in the hotter early races. The focus on coping with the tyres made it harder than usual for teams to fully understand their new cars.
Getting a handle on the tyres was made more difficult by the cut in downforce they have had to face since 2010, not to mention the learning curve with KERS and the moveable rear wing.
Inevitably most teams have studied the title-winning Red Bull RB6 — aero-friendly pullrod rear suspension has almost become standard — and encouragingly designers have been trying different approaches. After the flow of exhaust gases and their effect on aerodynamics came to the fore last year, the Renault R31’s exhausts exit at the front of the sidepods, a route others are exploring.
“I think you’ll see a number of teams with different solutions before you get to Bahrain,” said Brawn. “There are a few solutions you can use to get the benefit from the exhaust energy.”
The Williams FW33 has an impossibly compact gearbox and differential, while even a small team like Toro Rosso — now in its second year of independence from Red Bull Racing — is using a complex sidepod arrangement.
“I don’t know what the reason is, but there’s more technical differentiation with the cars than there has been previously,” said Patrick Head. “Evaluating why that is will be interesting.”
Other secrets remain hidden and more novelties might not be fitted to the cars until Bahrain, when teams unveil their definitive starting packages.
Kubica may miss whole 2011 season
Robert Kubica is likely to be out for most or even all of the 2011 season after crashing his Skoda Fabia on a minor Italian rally.
Nick Heidfeld took over the car for the Jerez test that followed the crash, although the Lotus Renault team had not yet confirmed the German for the Bahrain Grand Prix as Motor Sport closed for press.
Kubica crashed on the Ronde di Andora just three days after topping the times in the opening Formula 1 test of the year at Valencia.
His injuries were caused by a guardrail puncturing the footwell. Surgeons, including a renowned specialist who fortuitously worked locally, saved the Pole’s right hand, although it’s too early to tell how much functionality he will regain or how long the recovery process will take. Leg and elbow injuries have further complicated the matter, although the early indications are positive.
Most F1 driver contracts forbid any other motor sport activities, as much due to potential commercial clashes as any safety concerns. Any exceptions rarely stray beyond the winter Race of Champions event. However, Kubica had requested permission from Renault to compete in his spare time, indicating just how much the sport meant to him.
Nigel Roebuck, page 20
Di Resta lands his big break
One of the final pieces of the 2011 puzzle has fallen into place with Paul di Resta replacing Tonio Liuzzi at Force India.
Only 15 months younger than Lewis Hamilton, the Scot beat Sebastian Vettel to the Euro F3 title in 2006. But he was in danger of being typecast as a touring car driver after four years in the DTM with Mercedes. Having finally won the title last year he thus moves on at the perfect time.
Last year the 24-year-old took part in eight Friday practice sessions with Force India, an experience that gives him a useful head start.
“I need to enjoy the experience, that’s the key thing,” said di Resta. “I just want to get out there, get going and try and work my way up.”
Date set for Lotus hearing
The battle over the Lotus name will go to London’s High Court on March 21.
Mr Justice Peter Smith brought together the different actions related to the saga, insisting it be resolved soon. The two main elements are the decision by Group Lotus to revoke a five-year licence awarded to what was then Lotus Racing, and the true ownership of the Team Lotus entity, which was acquired by David Hunt in 1994 and sold to Tony Fernandes last year.
Fernandes has confirmed that he was offered £6 million by Group Lotus to drop the name, which would have meant starting afresh in terms of FOM commercial rights.
“I was prepared to give up the name,” he said. “But £6m would have put us into bankruptcy. It’s not right — we spent £80m building this team up.”
Williams to sell quarter of team
Williams is to sell 27.3 per cent of its business to the public, with trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange starting on March 2.
Suggestions that the team was in dire need of a cash injection were proved wrong when it was revealed that existing shareholders Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head are selling a chunk of their personal stock in Williams Grand Prix Holdings, with the majority coming from the latter, who turns 65 in June.
Sir Frank will retain majority control with 50.3 per cent, while Head is dropping to 5.8 per cent. The midpoint of the expected offer price values the company at €265 million.