The first race of the 2011 Formula One season is only a few days away. I am excited by this.
Sadly, very few people I know can bear to listen to me droning on about how the teams and cars are shaping up; so I'm going to drone on here instead. If you find this tiresome, you can always fuck off and look at captioned pictures of cats instead.
Great car, great drivers. What more is there to say? They've been quick in testing, and are widely regarded as the team to beat this year. Expect the press to continue to try and play up the tension between Webber and Vettel, and more than a few disparaging comments along the lines of "drinks can on wheels."
In the last few years Renault have turned up at the start of the season with a distinctly average car, which they then develop into what seems to be a genuine contender by the final races, before drifting back to mediocrity the following year and doing the same thing all over again. It's like they just don't do any work over the winter. This year though, things are different; the R31 has been quick in testing, and sports a very fruity exhaust concept in which the exit point for the exhaust gases is at the front edge of the sidepods. I think they're in with a shout for third place and maybe even a win or two this year.
They've faced a fair few challenges over the winter break too; lead driver Kubica managed to impale his car and himself on a crash barrier during a rally a few months ago, and nearly lost his right hand, arm, leg and life. He won't be racing this year, but the hugely talented Nick Heidfeld is standing in for him. They've retained the services of Vitaly Petrov, who last year revealed his prodigious talents as a screaming liability.
Renault also got involved in the second most ludicrous naming row over the break, when they sold a considerable stake of the team to Group Lotus. They declared that they would be changing the name of the team to Lotus Renault, and would be running in the classic black and gold John Player Special livery made famous in the eighties. Which kind of upset Team Lotus, who are supplied engines by Renault but are funded by a Malaysian consortium including Proton, who own Lotus Cars, and (allegedly) own the rights to use the Team Lotus name, and had announced a month or so previously that they would be sporting the classic black and gold John Player Special livery made famous in the eighties.
See above for all the winter break gossip.
Car-wise, they look to be a good deal more sorted than last year, and have adopted Mercedes' split intake design from last year (which Mercedes themselves have abandoned this year). Trulli and Kovalainen should be able to start bothering the midfield a bit more, and may even pick up the odd point if enough other cars explode.
McLaren have turned up with the fruitiest looking car of any of the teams this year, with funny sidepods, secondary intakes and another weird exhaust layout. Mostly none of it seems to work particularly well, so they'll be running a more basic set-up at the start of the season and scrapping for points in the midfield. They're very good at finding extra pace during a season though, so expect them to be serious challengers by the end of the year.
There have been some suggestions that the new crumble-tastic Pirelli tyres will favour Button's driving style this year; but I reckon that there's no substitute for raw speed, so expect Hamilton to come out on top.
Nothing particularly remarkable about the design of this year's Ferrari, but it is undeniably quick and looks to be the most significant challenger to Red Bull. There have been some suggestions that the new crumble-tastic Pirelli tyres will favour Massa (who struggled to get heat into his Bridgestones last year); but I reckon that there's no substitute for infantile whinging and monolithic eyebrows, so expect Alonso to come out on top.
Ferrari were involved in the most ludicrous naming row over the winter break, by giving their car the name F150th Italia as a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. The Ford motor company attempted to sue them, claiming that Ferrari had misappropriated the F-150 trademark of their best selling truck in order to capitalise and profit from their good reputation.
Ferrari responded by saying that it was hard to see what their point was, since the Ford F-150 is a truck and the Ferrari F150th Italia is a single seater race car that will never be sold to the public.
Team Germany were looking a bit ropey in early testing; apparently they were just checking reliability and making sure that the wheels went round properly, and only brought their full car to the final test.
Which all seems a bit unlikely to me, since testing time is very limited and there is little to gain from not running using your actual car if you can. Still, they were proper quick in the last test and have a good pair of drivers in Schumacher and Rosberg, so they should be near the front of the grid for the first few races at least.
Williams traditionally do the opposite of Renault, in so far as they start the season with a pretty nifty car which they then completely fail to develop throughout the season.
And it seems to be business as usual, except that their car might be extra nifty this year thanks to a redesigned gearbox and back end that is so low it's practically subterranean. It makes for a quick car, and is so fundamental to the overall design of the car that other teams will find it near impossible to duplicate. Barrichello is a safe pair of hands that should be able to rack some decent points for the team; not so sure about his rookie team mate, the Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado... he's shown good pace in testing, but that doesn't always translate into race results. Still, he brings a lot of personal sponsorship with him; which should help to pay for all the cars he writes off as he tries to work out what all the buttons on the steering wheel do.
They've looked pretty good in testing; but then again they looked pretty good in testing last year, and were still struggling at the back of the midfield. Should be exciting to watch though, what with Kobayashi's banzai approach to overtaking and new boy Sergio Perez having never driven in an F1 race before. Expect a lot of exploding cars.
Remarkably unremarkable last year, and probably the same again this year - though their pace in testing suggests that they might be able to pick up a few points here and there if the Saubers can take a few other cars out with them.
They need to as well. Buemi and Algueruarsi have each completed a full season for the team, and can't really use the rookie excuse anymore. I'd put fairly good money on one of them being booted out in favour of Red Bull reserve driver Danny Ricciardo if they don't start delivering results, because that boy is the tits.
Hmm. The car looks a bit... well... fat.
And slow. They got a few good results in 2009, but this was largely down to the fact that the Mercedes engine they were using was considerably more powerful than all the rest. Things have evened out a bit since then, and I don't see them achieving much this year. Which is a shame, because it means that their drivers Sutil and Di Resta (a Scottish rookie, previously very successful in DTM) are pretty much doomed to languish in back-of-the-grid obscurity, despite their considerable talents.
Running with one of the lowest budgets in modern F1, only undercut by Hispania (whose entire operation is funded by the loose change they find down the back of sofas in other teams' hospitality suites). Kind of shows too, as their pace in testing plants them firmly at the back end of the grid. Star driver Timo Glock had to miss the last rounds of testing thanks to appendicitis, and new boy Jerome D'Ambrosio looks to be struggling with... well, everything really.
I'd really like to see them do well, as I like their all-digital approach to design and general entrepreneurial spirit; but I can see them struggling this year.
At first glance their car seems to be quite well sponsored; but closer inspection reveals that all of that writing actually says stuff like "your company name here." They haven't been able to test the new car because they didn't have it built in time for any of the test sessions, and their drivers Karthikeyan and Liuzzi have largely made names for themselves by driving slow cars slowly. Still, they might not finish dead last if the Virgins fall to bits as consistently as they did last year.