Teams square up for battle of 2012

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Caterham kicked off the 2012 launch season when it issued computer images of its new car on January 25, but the first real example to be shown was the McLaren on February 1. By the start of testing at Jerez on February 7 nine new cars had been unveiled, leaving the latest Mercedes, HRT and Marussia to make their debuts at the subsequent Barcelona tests

RED BULL [1] Adrian Newey insists that there’s a direct line between the RB5 of 2009 — the team’s first race-winning car — and the new RB8. There is certainly an ongoing family resemblance, but Newey also says that last year’s car was designed to fully exploit blown diffuser technology, and with that no longer relevant, this car is different. What caught the eye on its launch was the slot on the nose step (or as Newey calls it, ramp), which he claims is “primarily” for driver cooling. This is the second year with KERS, and one assumes that there won’t be a repeat of the problems that plagued RBR in the early races of 2011.

McLAREN [2] The McLaren MP4-27 has already attracted positive reviews owing to the fact that it does not feature a step atop the nose, since the team already had a low chassis and was able to meet the new rule requirements without a step. In its initial configuration the car featured exhausts housed in bulges at the rear of the sidepods, although like others the team is still experimenting. The drivers made it clear in Jerez that they were much happier than this time last year.

FERRARI [3] The Ferrari F2012 is the first car to be produced under the leadership of technical director Pat Fry. The management (and drivers) called for major progress, and Fry and his men duly took a radical approach. Alas, even by the standards of other 2012 machines, the boxy front end looks hideous. Pullrod suspension all round is the major novelty, and it remains to be seen whether the claimed aerodynamic benefits translate into actual results.

MERCEDES Now with AMG acknowledged in its official team name, Mercedes took the decision to run its 2011 car at the Jerez test and delay the debut of the 2012 chassis until Barcelona on February 21, after Motor Sport had gone to press. The revamped technical team thus had an extra 14 days to hone its design. Aldo Costa only joined in December, so that allowed the former Ferrari man to have a bigger input, although the fundamentals were already set. The team used its old car to build knowledge of the 2012 tyres, and Michael Schumacher pronounced himself happy with them.

LOTUS [4] The former Renault team is reborn this year after officially securing the right to use the Lotus name — although curiously it no longer has sponsorship from the car company. The return of Kimi Raikkonen has already attracted much coverage, not least after the Finn topped the times on the first day at Jerez. His new teammate Romain Grosjean was also fast and it seems that the E20 — so named as the 20th car from the Enstone factory — is potentially a competitive package.

FORCE INDIA [5] The team’s VJMO5 became the first 2012 car to run when it was shaken down at Silverstone on February 3. The team appears to have made progress over the winter, and with Nico Hulkenberg promoted to a race seat alongside Paul Di Resta, it has an enviable line-up. At Jerez a crash for new test driver Jules Bianchi cost a day of running but the car looks promising.

SAUBER [6] On the eve of the car’s launch Sauber made the shock announcement that technical director James Key was leaving the team. He will not be replaced and chief designer Matt Morris, an ex-Cosworth and Williams man, now heads the C31 project. The car has pullrod rear suspension, since it uses a Ferrari gearbox, and thus the team had to make the same call.

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO [7] The third car produced in the Faenza factory since the FIA forced the team to become independent of Milton Keynes, the STR9 appears to be a very tidy package, and could give new recruits Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo a chance to shine. Indeed, both men were regularly near the front in Jerez. Extra backing on top of the regular Red Bull support means the team can afford to do more than it used to.

WILLIAMS [8] The team faced a huge challenge over the winter because not only was it the only team to change engines — switching from Cosworth to Renault — but a new technical structure was also being put into place. Led by Mike Coughlan and Mark GilIan, backed by new aero head Jason Somerville, the revamped team has produced a tidy-looking package in the FW34, which like last year’s car has a particularly neat rear end. Title sponsor AT&T has gone, and while new recruit Bruno Senna has brought some backing, there still appears to be a lot of empty space on the car.

CATERHAM [9] After two years as Lotus the team has a new name in Caterham, although it retains its green and yellow livery. The addition of Red Bull’s KERS — worth 0.3sec a lap — will not be enough on its own to close the gap to those ahead. However, the new CTO1 already appears to be a significant step forwards relative to its predecessors. A planned move to Leafield, former home of Arrows and Super Aguri, will help to attract staff who did not fancy life in Norfolk.

HRT The new Spanish owners of HRT have parted company with former team boss Colin Kolles and installed Luis Perez Sala in his place, and it remains to be seen how the team will fare without the Romanian wheeler-dealer. The split also precipitated the loss of many German-based team staff. A temporary base has been established in Valencia, prior to a planned move to a new facility in Madrid in May. Pedro de la Rosa used the 2011 model for the Jerez session, while crash test problems have further delayed the new car. Narain Karthikeyan was a late choice as second driver.

MARUSSIA Following last summer’s split with Nick Wirth the technical department of the former Virgin team has been restructured by Pat Symonds, and its base moved to the former Ascari/Wirth facility in Banbury. There was no time to put a wind tunnel programme in place, so the MR01 was designed via CFD, although it will be developed in the tunnel. Running late, the team missed Jerez completely, and then took its 2011 car to the first Barcelona test to gather data. The schedule has made life even harder for French rookie Charles Pic.

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