With the 2011 Pre-Season test sessions in the books, the time for real racing is upon us. The Australian Grand Prix is right around the corner now, and at the time of this writing, only 12 days away. Going into the new season, the question seems to be which team will be able to utilize the new Pirelli tires to the maximum? The teams have been working hard trying to make up for the lost aerodynamic downforce produced by 2010′s cars. The cars no longer have the Double Decked Diffuser, an added weight penalty, a set weight distribution, and KERS/Active Rear Wing to deal with. The drivers are sure to be busy in the cockpits, having already had a multitude of buttons and adjustments to make, but now sorting the new ARW with KERS will add an extra degree of difficulty.
The top teams have wracked up a massive amount of time with Ferrari constantly putting in 100+ lap days save for one incident with Felipe Massa’s prancing horse having it’s arse go up in flames. The team’s Ferrari 150* Italia features seemingly small cooling margins for aerodynamic gain and a re-worked rear suspension arrangement that still uses the pushrod cleverly sorted into a very small and compact package. Meanwhile the sidepods, bargeboards, and floor have been revised to clean up the airflow around the sides of the car.
Ferrari 150* Italia
Red Bull look again to be the favorites for the season, despite Mark Webber believing the Fezza are the team to beat, putting in consistent fast laps and blistering pace during long run simulations. Their RB7 chassis looks to retool some of the ideas used on the clever RB5 that was able to keep up with and beat the championship winning BrawnGP car of 2008. Again, like it’s predecessors, the RB7 is very clean cut, with very sleek and slender rear body lines to maximize the usage of their exhaust blown floor along with a very neatly packaged pullrod rear suspension. The team have decided to tighten up the rear body work to take full advantage of the air available to the rear diffuser and wings.
Mercedes looked to have set their mark with the fastest overall time in Barcelona at a 1.21.249 done by the reborn Michael Schumacher in the W02. The team have introduced a rehash of the Brawn001′s front wing element and sleeker side pods that have helped the team find a good chunk of time and have helped to put them right back in the thick of things. Ross Brawn has stated that:
“The car is more consistent now, we are able to make changes to it that have an effect. Everything is moving in the right direction.”
Read the interview here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/motorsport/formula_one/9422249.stm
It will be interesting to see if they can turn their 2010 struggles into 2011 championship points.
McLaren have had a bit of a struggle this pre-season, juggling the radical concepts of their heavily undercut floor along with their L-shaped cooling inlets. Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have both admitted that their new MP4-26 contender may not be quite the contender they had hoped for. The reliability of the car has been shaky at best and the drivers have said that the balance of the car is not quite right. Although they may be struggling now, McLaren have always had a good reputation for being able to develop a car throughout the season from a zero to a hero.
Grading the pre-season thus far and how the top 4 teams have managed, I’d say that the Red Bull is still the favorite with Ferrari just behind. Meanwhile, Mercedes’ upgraded body work have seemingly put them ahead of McLaren. There is still some work to do for the Woking team and it will undoubtedly be an uphill battle as the other contenders will be developing as fast as they can.
Tomorrow, I will go through the midfield to review the Lotus Renault, Sauber Ferrari, Williams, Force India, and Scuderia Toro Rosso and see what they have done to bring them closer to the top.