Our final segment of our F1 2011 pre-season review concludes with the 3 freshman of the sport, now entering their sophomore year: Team Lotus, Virgin Racing, and Hispania Racing Team.
The teams have struggled to cope with the lack of testing that Formula 1 provides, coupled with lack of funding and sponsorship available in the strained world economy. Fortunately for some of the teams, they’ve had drivers that have been able to provide funding for their own seats, saving money to allow for any developments possible on limited resources.
Team Lotus have been the top of the pops, with the most experienced driver pairing of the newbies. Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen have helped the team develop reliability and drivability out of their T127 chassis, and managed to place highest among the rear-fielders, with Heikki finishing in 12th at the Japanese Grand Prix. Fortunately, the T128 holds promise as the team have acquired a deal with the other Lotus teams’ supplier, Renault. They will be using their engines and rear end and will more than likely be challenging the slower established teams (yes Force India, you…). The team have developed a good looking car with some of the popular bits and tricks of this year but unfortunately will not feature KERS. Their preseason reliability has been patchy, but that’s to be expected with all their new gadgets. Good news is that their aero developments have been working, utilizing new front wings and the blown exhaust to gain grip and confidence for the drivers. Trulli has said that the team have made a great leap forward. And I believe him.
Hispania… Oh Hispania… Where do I begin? A scrapped together car that wasn’t even running until qualifying in Bahrain, it’s safe to say that adding any new parts to this years’ F111 chassis would be a development. To have them show up for the first practice in Australia is actually an improvement! Hard to say how far forward they have come but they’ve brought what appears to be a reincarnation of BrawnGP’s BGP001 front wing setup utilizing their 3 element set. They also look like they have a similar large cooling exit as Red Bull and a large undercut incorporated to the sidepods. The engine is still provided by Cosworth but the gearbox was acquired from Williams. The team didn’t experience many of the issues the other teams faced with the Xtrac box used last year, but the design of the Williams part should bring a bit more performance out of the car. The chassis is also no longer designed by Dallara as the team and Italian company have decided to end their partnership, meaning their chassis has been designed in house by Geoff Willis and Paul White, an ex-Honda engineer. No KERS though as the team’s budget will not allow for it. Hopefully the team shows improvement as I am personally rooting for Tonio Liuzzi. Narain Karthikeyan hasn’t been in F1 in a few years and even when he was, didn’t exactly dazzle the world. We’ll see if he has anything to bring to the table.
Virgin Racing is in a strange spot. A seasoned driver in Timo Glock and a bit of an unknown in Jerome D’ambrosio, but I’m not sure of anything they have done in the offset to really improve their car. It looks as though the car is a bit longer, will not have KERS, and Nick Werth still insists on a CFD based approached. I’m not expecting a great leap forward from them and honestly feel like they may only be able to keep up with the HRT boys. Last year’s car failed to have a fuel cell large enough to get them through a race, at least at the beginning of the year. This year, Virgin’s MVR-02 chassis should not have any issues with this. The team are also still using their own in-house built gearbox featuring Xtrac’s internals, which proved to be quite a problem, but the team have claimed that this years box will be a bit better. Fortunately, they’ve put some mileage on the car, which is a step in the right direction for the new season.
Where any of the teams stand, from top to bottom, we’ll only know when we get to Albert Park in Australia. The new teams have all improved in at least small ways and have learned lessons from last year’s mistakes. The 2011 season is right around the corner and I’m sure will not disappoint in any way.