2011 F1 Season Preview - Murray's view on the year ahead

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Is he excited at the prospect of so many potential GP winners? Of course!
If the 2010 Formula 1 season was good, 2011 has the potential to be even better. Until the cars have done two or three races and we’ve seen what the comparative form is, nobody knows what’s going to happen. But we’ve got five World Champions on the grid, which is a really appetising prospect. McLaren should have closed the gap to Red Bull, and Ferrari should be as good as either of them. So as long as poor Felipe Massa is not constrained by team orders you’ve got six potential winners there, with not a lot to choose between Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Vette! and Webber.

Ever since Michael Schumacher came back I’ve been a voice in the wilderness saying, give him a chance. He’s 42, he was out of it for three seasons, and getting back up to speed in an Fl car obviously isn’t easy, even for him. In 2010 he was getting better race by race, in a car that didn’t suit him. Ross Brawn will be fighting to maintain his extraordinary reputation for winning races and championships down the years at Benetton, Ferrari and Brawn. He’s now got the right people in place, he knows what needs doing, and I can see no reason why both Schumacher and Rosberg can’t win. So there’s eight potential winners. Rubens Barrichello seems to be ringing the bell at Williams, so he might get lucky. I can’t remember a season when there were so many good drivers in cars that were potential winners.

If the 2011 McLaren suits Jenson Button as well as it suits Lewis Hamilton, could we see internal strife there? All I can say is that I’m amazed how well those two get on, and not just how well they appear to get on. I did a TV interview with them in the pitlane at Silverstone last year, and they were genuinely joshing and matey with each other, in a way I haven’t seen in modern Fl. Of course, when push comes to shove each wants to beat the other, and maybe friction will arise if something goes wrong, as allegedly happened in Turkey last year. But remember it was

was Webber and Vettel who collided that day.

In 2010 I was pitching for Mark Webber. He’s always done a cracking job. Only last year, really, did he have a car capable of winning. And he won. But Sebastian Vettel has to be Red Bull’s dream of home. He’s fantastic in the cockpit, and he can only get better. They say when you’ve won your first GP, everything gets easier. Now he’s won the title Vettel will be more relaxed, more confident, and Webber will have a hard row to hoe.

I’ve got a soft spot for Button. During the Honda years he rarely had a car that his talent deserved, but he was always friendly, cheerful, wonderful with the sponsors and unflappable. He’s just a nice bloke. Lewis I’ve had less to do with. He has a gigantic natural talent, but it’s been nurtured and developed almost regardless of cost by McLaren from his karting days, so he’s always been in the right car. I do think there’s a world of difference between how Lewis won his title and how, say, Damon Hill won his.

I like Fernando Alonso more than I suspect most British enthusiasts do, because via my mate Paul Stoddart I got close to him at Minardi in 2001. He’s got an inner fire but also a sense of fun did you know he’s a talented magician? His card tricks are amazing! For me Alonso is the most complete driver in ability, team leadership, strategic acumen and all the other ingredients you need to be a champion. He’s stepped into Schumacher’s shoes at Ferrari and, as Michael did, moulded the team around him.

As for Nico Rosberg, you can maybe say that Nico is to Keke as Damon Hill was to Graham. Both had characterful fathers, both sons are less extrovert, but just as Damon ended up a better driver than Graham, so I think Nico could achieve even more than Keke. He is much better than most people think.

Finally, a word about the Lotus name saga. I find the whole thing very sad. Both teams richly deserve their place on the grid, but neither should be called Lotus.To me,Team Lotus died when Colin Chapman died. But, whatever happens with that, I think we’re in for a fantastic, vintage Grand Prix season.

Murray Walker was talking to Simon Taylor