Sunday, 26 February 2012

F1 2012 Season Preview: Ferrari - Red Revival?

Ferrari have been the talk of pre-season testing. But, unfortunately from their perspective, it's not been for the right reasons necessarily.

Credit: Gil Abrantes / CC
From looking at the F2012 it's clear that Ferrari have gone radical this year. The machine features, among other things, an aggressively sculpted rear end and, for the first time since 2001 on an F1 car anywhere, pullrod front suspension (bringing aero/packaging benefits). In an probability, this is exactly what they need - the Scuderia have been accused of creeping conservatism in their designs in recent years. However, the flip side of this approach is that, from testing, it appears that it's taking a while for them to get their heads around their new creation.

Ferrari's success this season therefore hinges on whether these struggles reflect merely time taken to find the sweet spot of their radical design (and if so how quickly they can do this), or whether they reflect fundamental flaws in the car.

F1 2012 Season Preview: McLaren - Playing it straight

Prepare yourself for an amazing fact. Since the end of the 1991 season there have been 40 F1 world championship titles available (20 for drivers and 20 for constructors), and in this time McLaren have only won only four of them. Indeed, of the 20 constructors' titles McLaren in that period have won just one.

Credit: Gil Abrantes / CC
This clearly isn't good enough for a team of McLaren's resources, heritage and ambition. And while there have indeed been near misses in that time, it was their former team principal Ron Dennis who was prone to say that second place is but the first of the losers.

Last year was more of the same for the Woking outfit: while they can console themselves that they were by far Red Bull's (or rather, Sebastian Vettel's) closer challengers, championships were out of their reach, and indeed were never likely.

They were compromised by starting the year on the back foot. Pre-season testing was to a large extent a write-off, with their complex and troublesome 'octopus' exhaust system the culprit. They abandoned the idea prior to the opening round, thus saving face, instead going with a system remarkably similar to that on the Red Bull (even Paddy Lowe concedes it was essentially a copy). In the end, they took six fine wins in 2011 and were stronger than Red Bull in some areas, such as switching on their tyres in cool conditions (it's perhaps not coincidence that three of their wins were on cool/damp days), and on occasion they appeared the faster race car (though almost never in qualifying). But the pre-season malarkey rather precluded a serious run at the titles: McLaren were never more than an occasional irritant to Vettel and Red Bull in that sense. There is a view in and around McLaren that with a more solid pre-season they could have been champions last year. This may well be true, but it's worth reflecting that even in the latter part of last year they weren't on the Bulls' pace consistently (though they rarely were too far off). Only in Japan in that period did they clearly beat them.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

F1 2012 Season Preview: Red Bull - Continuing to charge

Each of the 12 teams in F1 no doubt will have been locked constantly in disparate and frenzied design and development of their 2012 machines over recent months. But across all of this activity one question will have run through it like in a stick of rock: 'have we done enough to match Red Bull?'

Credit: Gil Abrantes / CC
At the outset of yet another year the Red Bull is the car they all fear, the car they all must beat. The eager anticipation of the RB8's launch, in particular how it would interpret the new nose regulations as well as whether it would feature the 'next big thing' in F1 design, demonstrated the extent to which the Bull has become the gold standard.

The pace of the car, helped by Adrian Newey's design genius and a technical department moulded in his own image, has been there for a few years, and last year the Red Bull squad moved to another level by showing the same preponderance organisationally. The slight waywardness of 2009 and 2010, almost like they couldn't quite cope with the prodigious car they had at their disposal, is now long gone. Almost never did Red Bull fail to make the most of their potential in 2011, they were quick everywhere, dominating even at tracks like Spa and Monza that were previously perceived as their weaker venues. Strategies were razor sharp, and their pit stops (alongside those of Mercedes) were the quickest out there. And, unless you include Sebastian Vettel's puncture early in the Abu Dhabi round, never once did a car failure stop them in a race. For a designer like Newey who isn't shy to take things to the edge, that is an astonishing achievement.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Retro F1: the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix

The latest Retro F1 was held yesterday, watching the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in Italy.

For those who don't know, Retro F1 is watching a classic F1 race in full on YouTube and chatting on Twitter with like-minded F1 people as we go. This race was memorable and controversial, featured Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, as well as other great drivers, and was run in the classic turbocharged machines of the mid-1980s.

The YouTube footage that we watched is below (or you can click here) as are the highlights of our Twitter chat.

Right, ready, let’s do this. I’m clicking play now. Everyone else please do the same.

@mario_eb Of course. I couldn't miss this one :) All systems checked over here :) -O=O'
@DavidHer228 And here we go, 1985 Imola GP live Twitter commentary :)
...with the legendary Murray Walker and James Hunt :)
@kanemelegatti Here we go!
@djtrickster77 Never seen this one before so looking forward to it...
@mario_eb You'll have fun :)

Hordes of tifosi at Imola as you’d expect. After a difficult 1984 Ferrari was showing signs of returning to form in this early part of 1985.

Some scene-setting: this is race three of 1985. McLaren had dominated 1984 (Niki Lauda pipping Alain Prost for the title, despite Prost usually being the quicker of the two) and were expected to dominate again. Prost indeed won round one in Rio, but in round two Senna announced himself properly with his debut win in the pouring rain in Estoril. And he’s on pole again here at Imola...

@djtrickster77 Ayrton Senna on pole with the JPS lotus...Legendary.
@DavidHer228 Senna on pole position more than one second ahead...
@mario_eb Those names, those cars, Turbo Era, those races. GREAT!!!

@SartoMutiny Where is Gerhard! I MUST KNOW.
Gerhard (Berger) qualified 10th :)

Off we go... Senna leads team mate Elio de Angelis, with Michele Alboreto's Ferrari 3rd. The roar of the tifosi can be heard above the engines.
@ElenaF1 Clean start and Senna running away!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The next Retro F1: 1985 San Marino Grand Prix, this Sunday at 1500 GMT

Retro F1 number five is on its way this weekend. It'll take place this Sunday, 19 February at 1500 (3pm) GMT and we'll be watching the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

Retro F1 is where we watch a classic F1 race in full on YouTube, and post updates and chat about it on Twitter as live. The race we'll be watching this Sunday is memorable and controversial, it's around an excellent circuit and stars the likes of Ayrton Senna and Alan Prost in the turbocharged F1 monsters of the 1980s. So it will be a good watch!

It will be great if you can watch along with us and have some Twitter chat as we go. The ones we've done so far have been really enjoyable with lots of welcome insight and contributions on Twitter from a wide range of people watching along.

You can follow, and contribute to, the chat with the #retrof1 hashtag here, and the link I'll be using to watch the race is here.

Michele Alboreto in the Ferrari 156/85
Credit: Lothar Spurzem / CC
I also put a write up of the Twitter chat on my blog after the event. Those for the previous Retro F1 events can be read here (if you scroll down).

If you're anything like me, watching old F1 races is a real treat, and it'll be good to hear your thoughts through the race. I'll be delighted if you can join in.

You can work out how to convert 1500 GMT to your local time using this website.

Keke Rosberg in the Williams FW10
Credit: Lothar Spurzem / CC
Please let me know any questions or comments you have via the comments below or on Twitter. I'm also happy to hear requests for future Retro F1 races to watch (the selection of this race to watch is as a result of a request!), though bear in mind it needs to exist in full (and for free) on the internet.

See you Sunday, hopefully.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Making bricks with straws in the wind: What we learned in Jerez

The story of the 2012 F1 season began in earnest during the week just passed, in the four-day testing session at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain. Like all good stories, F1 seasons tend not to reveal their plot with any certainty in the opening paragraphs. Red herrings are just as likely as signposting at this stage.

Trying to work out how a F1 season is likely to pan out on the basis of pre-season testing, let alone on just the first pre-season test, is rather like trying to make bricks using straws in the wind. It doesn't stop us trying though.

So, what can we decipher from the four days at Jerez? Firstly, aesthetics. Even if F1 exists for another one hunderd years, 2012 will in all probability be looked upon as the year of the platypus. Noses with an unsightly downwards step just ahead of the front wheels are now, with the honourable exception of McLaren, de rigueur it seems.

The Ferrari F2012 - a prime example of the platypus
Credit: Gil Abrantes / CC
The obvious thought on first sight is that they can't possibly work, seeming like anathema to the usual sleek lines on an aerodynamic racing car. But as is usually the case, they reflect the restrictions of the rules and necessary compromise by the designers to produce the best performance. One of the few rule changes for 2012 is that the maximum height of the nose (measured just in front of the front bulkhead) has been reduced by 75mm, so to avoid side impacts involving the nose of one car coming into contact with the driver's head in the other car potentially. However, a parallel reduction in the maximum height of the front bulkhead itself couldn't be agreed, and most teams prefer to keep the bulkhead high to maximise the area under the nose for aerodynamic reasons (such as to channel more air through to the diffuser as well as to have more space for undisturbed front wing airflow) and are prepared to sacrifice a smooth plane along the top of the nose to achieve this. Hence the platypus look.

I'm told that once the cars are moving one gets used to their eye sore noses pretty rapidly, and indeed F1 fans have an uncanny ability to 'get used' to designs that look rather odd at the first look. I'll believe it when it happens in this case though.

And on to the important stuff: the pecking order. Well, the first point isn't a surprise. Red Bull still look like the team to beat. Of all the cars on show at Jerez, theirs looked the most planted and stable, and the consistency of rapid lap times looks ominously like that seen for most of last two seasons.